Take Off Your Belt

You wear one to hold your pants up, you wear another to keep you from going through your windshield, and some women wear them ironically around their waist. Fashion eludes me. Belts are a part of the average person’s everyday life, but for a powerlifter they have a completely different meaning. When the MSU powerlifting team/Endunamoo Barbell Club went to A&M last year one of the guys left his belt at the meet. Now, if you’re like me you’re cringing at the thought of a crucial part of competition gear being forgotten. He then explained that he meant his pants belt, not his powerlifting belt – he would never lose something that precious.

Any weightlifter worth his quads has a belt in his gym bag. When it comes to competing or doing heavy lifts a belt is like oxygen; you need it to survive. We know that belts improve intrathoracic pressure which can improve posture and spinal leverage. Wearing one during 1RM attempts is a must do, as it can assist in how much weight you can move. However, when it comes to training and getting better always wearing that safety harness may hold you back. You don’t put a toddler back in diapers because they had an “accident” so why would you always wear a belt during training? I DON’T KNOW EITHER!

Losing the crutch that is your leather friend can take your training to new levels. The first thing you may notice by ditching your belt is an immediate improvement in your six pac. That’s right, training without a belt will increase the amount of abdominal recruitment. Say goodbye to your crunches and hello to beltless squats and deadlifts. Lifting without a belt will also increase the RPE (rate of perceived exertion) during training making lighter weights more challenging and thus better at causing changes. Driving the struggle bus with weights you normally crush isn’t such a bad thing. Some people may look at it like a risk, and it can be if you’re not experienced enough. So when you consider training without a belt you should also consider your skill level. If you’ve been lifting heavy for less than a year you may want to keep it on.

There are some other things you should take into consideration when training without a belt. I usually put on a belt during heavy attempts or if I’m starting to feel fatigued. But if I know I should I be able to hit some heavier sets without a belt I normally take a shot at it. I also program beltless lifts as I approach a meet to help improve strength while challenging myself without adding to much extra tonnage.
When it comes to programming I normally perform beltless lifts (primarily deadlift and squat) with 5% 1RM less than I would with a belt. For example if I was going to program a set of 3 at 90% 1RM on squat with a belt, I’d put in 1 set of 3 at 85% 1RM. It’s a simple rule of thumb that decreases the chance of failure while maintaining a level of intensity that should produce adaptation. Another way to program in beltless sets is to treat the lift as a completely separate exercise. Rather than do two types of deadlift, I might program a few sets of belted and then a few beltless. Here is a template you could use for training (only the lifts tagged beltless will be done beltless).

A1. (warmup etc.)
A2. Back Squat 1x3 @ 80%, 1x3 @ 85%, 1x3 @ 87%
A3. Beltless Deadlift 4x2 @ 85%
A4. Low back/upperback/unilateral leg accessory exercise

B1. (warmup etc.)
B2. Back squat 1x3 @ 80%, 1x3 @ 85
B3. Beltless Back Squat 2x5 @ 75%
B4. Unilateral leg accessory exercise/anterior chain exercise

I obviously wouldn’t recommend jumping into these intensities if you haven’t prepped for some heavy lifting. However, if you find yourself in a rut of just getting through workouts take off your belt and get some cheap PRs. Trust me you’ll like what it does to you, I gurantee it.a

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About Me

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BS, MS - exercise Physiology
EPC - Board Certified Exercise Physiologist

Published Thesis
The impact of three different forms of warm up on performance

The Effects of Glucose Supplementation on Barbell Velocity and Fatiguability in Weightlifting - A pilot study"

The Accute Effects Of Different Squat Intensities on Vertical Jump Performances
The Accute Effects of Different Squat Intensities On Jump Performance

Graduate from Midwestern State University, founder of Endunamoo Barbell Club, and Endunamoo Strength and Conditioning. Working to help athletes physically reach their goals and achieve scholarships while spiritually pouring into as many people as possible on all platforms.