Belt Me Up, Scotty

“…but dogs can look up.”

If I had to guess, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people that strength train in the past few years. The majority of these people have limited experience with getting stronger. Compound this with all of the new experts in the “functional fitness” community, and you have a lot of misconception on what methods, exercises, and equipment would best be used to get stronger. One of the more irritating topics is whether or not to wear a belt.

It is basic knowledge among strong people that a belt makes you stronger, but the exact mechanism that accomplishes this is not well known. However, the “functional fitness” community likes to make outrageous claims and fairy tails to not wear a belt. We won’t be addressing any of them here; it isn’t worth acknowledging illogical rubbish.

To understand why a belt works, we must understand what is occurring physiologically during a heavy lift. If you have been taught correctly, then you already take a big, deep breath and hold it throughout the lift. This big breath of air increases the intra-thoracic pressure and subsequently the intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure acts like a pneumatic brace against the anterior portion of the spine while the erectors of the back brace it from the posterior. This increases the support of the spine, and more support means more strength.

The belt’s purpose is to constrict the abdominals to give them something to contract against. This contraction of the abdominals with an appropriately tightened belt is like trying to increase the volume in a non-expansible container — it increases the pressure even more. Not only is it helping to increase the intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure more than without the belt, but the abdominals also contract harder into the belt to do so. More pressure is more support which means more strength to do the task at hand.

You can see Mark Dimiduk’s abs bulging into his belt here

You can see Mark Dimiduk’s abs bulging into his belt here



The belt will allow heavier weights to be handled, and then heavier weights can be handled un-belted too — more than if you had not worn the belt to begin with. In other words, it makes you stronger whether you want to believe it or not. If a lifter chooses not to wear a belt while knowing this, then they are choosing to not allow their trunk to become as strong as it could. In other words, anybody who is serious about getting stronger will wear one.

I was having this conversation with two lifters at the gym yesterday, and after explaining the belt’s purpose, I said, “So, just wear the fucking belt, ok? Please?” It would be silly not to (especially because our gym has lots of them hanging on the wall).

Tomorrow we will talk about where to buy belts, what to look for, and how to learn how to start wearing one on your own.

———-

Here is a flashback video from a few months ago. Rip tells a pretty cool story about 70’s Big co-captain, Doug Young.

58 thoughts on “Belt Me Up, Scotty

  1. Justin,

    Great topic!! Will you talk about when to start wearing the belt, the different types and how to wear it in regards to the different lifts?

    AC you aren”t the only one who waits up at night for the new post…..keep it coming Justin. “You are the man!!”

  2. Fantastic post Justin and very conveniently timed. Only last night I was having a discussion at the Crossfit Box I train in regarding belt usage. This should help explain their use far better then I could have managed!

  3. Justin, what is your stance on periods of no gear(belt or wrist wraps) use whatsoever?

    For my current 6-week training block I don””t wear a belt during the first 3 weeks and then introduce it during the second 3 weeks, when the weights get heavier.

    I will not go through a period of not wearing my belt for the reasons that I wrote about in the post today. Wrist wraps and a belt are not equated since they function in different ways. I doubt there is a person that requires wrist wraps on both wrists since it would take a pretty hardcore injury to warrant that (something like Shane Hamman).

    I also am not on “training blocks” because I am not an advanced lifter. I am of the belief that lots of people who think they are advanced lifters (to necessitate complex programs) are actually not.

    –Justin

  4. Perfect topic, I””m finally in the market for a belt!

    Side bar question, my grip failed miserably on my sets of Deads yesterday (370 3×5). I havent had too much trouble with grip until the past two deadlift workouts. Anybody got any good grip strength exercises they like? there is nothing more frustrating than losing a battle with a deadlift due to grip. thanks guys.

    You need to clarify what kind of grip you were using when it failed: double overhand, hook grip, or alternated.

    –Justin

  5. Totally off topic with regards to belts, but does anyone else get this massive food baby when they really gorge themselves? I mean obviously everyone gets a little thicker after a big meal. But I”m talkin” sitting down in the evening with a half gallon of whole milk and a big double decker pb+j sandwich, chowing down, then looking like a 3rd trimester ready-to-pop preggo while I”m brushing my teeth getting ready for bed. I”m telling ya, this food baby I got going on right now is staggering. Is this due to the fact that I”m still really small overall (been a couple weeks since I weighed but should be near 160 lbs) so it just looks big in comparison? Justin, at 225 do you get a big ol” preggo belly after a hearty meal? Others who are even bigger?

    I feel like the new belly is part thicker trunk from barbell training, part increased bodyfat (who cares), and mostly pure volume of food inside there. I never used to eat this much, and my waist was tiny (and I was weak as shit, go figure), but my stomach has clearly stretched to be able to hold much larger quantities at a given time. Anyway, just a late night thought, its not like I”m about to quit eating and barbell training cuz I have a temporary fat gut after eating a shit ton of food. If anything it provides an easy source of humor haha (a belly laugh, perhaps?) Just wanted to open that up for discussion, what are others” experiences with the food baby?

  6. Justin I have another question… In Rippetoe his book he states that the powerlifting belt is the better choice (this is my own interpretation) because the belt in one size all round and your abdominals have more surface to push against. When I watched the world championships olympic weightlifting past week, the lifters that used belt were primarily belt that were tapered (if this is the correct term). As I remember it correctly, Rippetoe stated that using these belts was evidence of not understanding the mechanisms of the belt. But are these weightlifters using this kind of belt because of the weight that is to be lifted overhead and as such the tapered belt would help enforce the back, so it doesn””t hyperextend?

    thanks in advance

    I would have to see the videos/pictures of the belt you reference for the weightlifters. I doubt they were tapered.

    I will clarify types of belts tomorrow.

    –Justin

  7. I had the food baby yesterday. Found this new deli and ordered a double cheeseburger. When they served that sucka it must have had more than a pound of meat on it. The buns were humungous.

    At nearly 6”3″ and 300 on the scale that stretched out belly made me look like I eat children.

    Lesser men averted their eyes and women wanted to cook for me.

    I”m gonna do it all again, today.

  8. Spectacular post Justin, as always

    Given my unique situation (fucked up anthropometry, not ankle) I need your advice in getting a belt. Such as your suggestions on where to buy, what kind to buy given my short ass torso.

    You may also use me as a case study in tomorrow””s post on how even the most unfortunate among us can use a belt.

    You will probably need one that is 3 inches wide. I will talk about it tomorrow.

    –Justin

  9. Is the quote from Shaun of the Dead?

    I agree with Python. After a large meal, such as an all you can eat at the chinese place, my belly visibly extends forwards, sometimes so much that I have trouble sitting upright, causing me to either have to lie down or stand up to avoid discomfort. Totally worth it. I weight about 235 btw.

    Yes to SotD.

    –Justin

  10. Great article Justin! I can”t lie I used to be one of those people who didn”t think belts really mattered, but then i got one. I”ve had mine for about 3 weeks now and I”ll never go back! It”s Amazing!

  11. I”m glad this post came up. My weights are starting to get to the point that I think a belt would be smart and beneficial to wear. I”m looking forward to tomorrow”s post on how and where to pick one out.

    And…”As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in pie. And there”s an “i” in meat pie. Meat is the anagram of team… I don”t know what he”s talking about.”

  12. agreed, i was using a garbage valeo belt (wide portion for the back then transitioned to 2-3 inches wide for the front, with the pad on the inside of the back) but have since upgraded to a legit belt, and it has made a big difference. looking forward to tomorrow”s post. i”ll comment more then…

  13. Good Topic,

    I really hate people who think a belt makes you artificially strong. Belt selection is also of key concern.

    I for one find a 13mm thick lever belt great for squatting due to being tall and when tightened makes the trunk very rigid.

    Deadlifting is a different story, I prefer a 10mm buckle style. I find the lever belt is to bulky even when the lever is at the back.

  14. I get the food baby almost daily. I agree that it has nothing to do with being tiny (I”m 6”5 270#). The worst part of the food baby is the insane shit that you will inevitably take. Although it is pretty amusing to see how much smaller your belly gets after you get up off of the pot.

  15. I had never worn a belt until recently. When my squat work sets hit 265, I was having trouble keeping my upper back in extension on the way up. I picked up a 10mm Inzer belt, and now my back is rock steady all the way through. 280x5x3 tonight will be no problem. Belts are awesome. Stronger with one = stronger without one plain and simple.

  16. @ Brian G

    I”ve got a few, I”ve had the same issue with deads.

    Use a parallel, non-hook grip for as much of the warm up as possible.

    Heavy weighted pull/chin ups.

    Heavy farmer carries for distance.

    Captains of Crush gripper (not a regular Big5/Sports Authority gripper). Bonus: Look like a nut walking the dog at night with these, stopping every 20 ft to squeeze.

    Are you using chalk?

    @ Python, my chick calls me OctoDad. I”m thinking of patenting a toilet made like a graduated cylinder to monitor output volume and have contests with my friends.

    32YO / 5”10″ / 208BW when empty, upwards of 214 fully loaded.

    3×5 Lifts:
    245 Bench
    320 Squat
    375 Deadlift
    BW+85 Weighted Chin-Up

  17. @Brian G
    In addition to what Grant said above, there are some grip exercises you can do such as one handed pull ups (not one arm, just hold the bar with one hand and your wrist with the other), picking up heavy hard to grip objects is good too. For grip training, some people hold hexagonal dumbbells by the head with one hand for as long as they can or hold a couple plates together with one hand.

    Quick belt question for whomever, does a belt really help that much for a deadlift or is it more squat type movements?

  18. Kincain asked: “In Rippetoe his book he states that the powerlifting belt is the better choice (this is my own interpretation) because the belt in one size all round and your abdominals have more surface to push against. When I watched the world championships olympic weightlifting past week, the lifters that used belt were primarily belt that were tapered (if this is the correct term). As I remember it correctly, Rippetoe stated that using these belts was evidence of not understanding the mechanisms of the belt. But are these weightlifters using this kind of belt because of the weight that is to be lifted overhead and as such the tapered belt would help enforce the back, so it doesn”t hyperextend?”

    I dont like to disagree with Rippetoe and I””m not going to now, but I think Rip overstates the case somewhat. I also pondered the Oly weightlifter belt choice question long and hard, especially during the last Olympics when I saw them all wearing the leather belt that was tapered to 2-3 inches in the front and 4-5 in the rear. I think the answer is flexibility. In particular for the snatch.

    With the snatch a very wide grip is taken, which means the trunk must bend to a greater degree than with the clean or a deadlift. A belt that is too wide may interfere with that bending over action. My own anthropometry (i.e. bodily measurements) is such that I need to wear my belt at or below my navel, or else it digs into my lowest ribs and impedes my beniding at the waist for deadlifts and cleans.

    I think that while some of the larger Oly lifters could wear an evenly spaced wide, powerlifting style belt, certainly for the clean and jerk, if not for the snatch, tradition, entropy and laziness encourage their use of the skinny front belt. So long as the front of the belt is wide enough for the abs to grip and brace against, I see no downside to the slimmer profile belt.

    I came to use a belt on my own, having spurned them for ten years or so as unecessary vanity items – also I never understood how they “supported your back” as the idiots would explain, as my back never bothered me or I left like it needed support. One day I was doing leg presses (I know, I know – I was young and foolish and it was the early 90s) while wearing a neoprene “fat burner” waist belt (I know, I know…) and I got an intense aid in strnegth out of being able to brace my abs against the firmly wound layer of neoprene around my waist. I immediately purchased a belt and have worn it while training ever since, cinched tightly around my bloated gut.

    Anyone who fails to wear a belt while training heavy is missing out on an awesome tool to increase strength.

    This was quite wordy, but I do not know the reason why weightlifters wear such a belt. Objectively (an important concept coming from me), I don’t see how Rip could be “over stating” whatever it was you were claiming he overstated. If you accept what I typed out as how the belt works, then what are you wondering? Just because the top level performer does something a certain way does not mean that it is right or useful.

    And it wearing a power belt while weightlifting is not desirable, and usually not very practical. It gets in the way of the bar path.

    –Justin

  19. First off, love the site. A co-worker and I check it daily.

    Funny that this post should come today since last night was the first time I”ve tried to use a belt in a long time. I”ve been lurking for a while and decide it was time to say something.

    First a some background on me:

    37YO / 6”1″ / 244 lbs.
    3×5 lifts:
    225 Bench
    335 Squat
    440 Deadlift

    I”ve been lifting seriously for about a year and a half once I got tired of being weak. I used a belt back in college, but I haven”t been using one since I started lifting again. As far as I can tell I haven”t had any form issues when I squat, but when I”ve done a number of heavy sets in a row I find that my lower back muscles really tighten up after I rack the weight. While I was messing around with a Texas Method like thing I would end up having to lay down on the floor in between sets to get my lower back to stretch out. Even when I would try a belt it wouldn”t help.

    So anyway, I tried again last night for my last warm-up set and my first work set. I couldn”t quite tell if it helped, but it did hurt my ribs like hell. Now I don”t fancy myself as a Doug Young type who”s going to break a rib, but I also hate to wear the thing if it isn”t going to keep my back from hurting.

    I guess I”m wondering if anyone else has had issues like this with their back.

  20. @ unbalanced
    Thanks for your input. I think you are right but I””””m not sure. I think it could be that it depends on the bending of the trunk, I mean which way it bends. You””””d expect with deadlift and/or squat the trunk bends in the oposite way in overhead lifting so a bigger back side for a belt would be more beneficial for oly lifters because of the hyperextending of the trunk (back). Powerlifters and us (not oly) athletes would be more inclined to use a (powerlifting)belt that has the same width all around, because it gives you more surface for your abdominals to push against. I can for instance remember (a picture, or video) of Rippetoe using a tapered belt but then reversed, probably for more surface to push against.

    Any way I””””m not sure :) so if anyone has 2 cents please chime in.

    Rip does not wear such a belt. I think you saw it wrong, unless it was a vintage picture.

    –Justin

  21. @Brian: The massive shit is the worst part, or the best part of the food baby? I tend to think of the toilet as a man”s throne, and anytime I”m causing destruction while sitting upon my throne, I”m happy.

    @Hutch: “looks like I eat children and shit pythons.” Cute.

    Interesting to hear that even the big fellas rock the food baby. Due to a lack of lactaid, and considering mine was mostly milk, I paid for it at about 4 am last night. The dorm rumbled. Anyway, funny stuff so far, maybe epic food baby pictures are in order?
    Edit: Is that gay?

  22. @ Python2705,
    Hell why stop at food baby pics. Why not get the python in the toilet pics too? Haha

    I ordered a belt 3 weeks ago and I still havent got it!

    Note, I won’t be allowing pictures of shit to be posted on my website.

    –Justin

  23. I just finished lunch. I started eatin at 11 am. First I had my salad (gotta have some fiber), then I had an 8oz chicken breast with a good 1/4lb of bacon. I rested for about 10 mins, then had the McChurger (3 mcdoubles stacked, remove excess buns from the middle). I feel like I could probably still have a milkshake… oh, and I””ll be giving birth in about 2 hours.

    I supplement fiber so I don’t have to waste valuable time or stomach space eating it.

    –Justin

  24. thanks for posting this im stoked.

    i have compressed disks in my lower back and you and rip told me to start wearing a belt at the cert in huntington beach a couple weeks ago. got my belt (25 bucks new, online) and just want to make sure im doing things correctly.

  25. Great topic. Belts make a huge difference, and I”m still learning to use one most effectively (yes, there is a learning curve). I went through quite the run-around in ordering mine, but will wait to see tomorrow”s article before chiming in with my own experiences and opinions about vendors, belts, etc, though it is still very fresh on my mind. Time to go eat like a sumo wrestler again, then change my oil and fire up the grill. Every night is a good night for steak.

  26. Eggnog protein shake…yum

    Justin, a couple posts back there was picture of you and I think Chris drinking post workout shakes. I was wondering if you””d mind posting the recipe.

    I will soon.

    –Justin

  27. @Justin

    “Tomorrow we will talk about where to buy belts, what to look for, and how to learn how to start wearing one on your own.”

    I am looking forward to this.

  28. @python
    Don””t get me wrong. I enjoy taking shits and probably spend way too much time on the toilet (girls think it””s funny that my laptop is usually set up in the bathroom) but when I have a massive food baby, the crap usually is so dense and comes out in such a way as to cause pain to my ass. And I am not a fan of pain to the ass and should never feel such pain being 100% not gay.

    Supplement fiber. You won’t have to pass a brick if you have more fiber.

    –Justin

  29. @Brian
    Agreed. However due to my aforementioned lactose intolerance, I don”t even remember what a dense shit feels like. I am also quite sure everyone wanted to know this information.

  30. Brian, try a stool softener pill with each meal. If you do take these pills (you can swipe them from your grandma”s medicine cabinet), drink at least an extra glass of water with it. They saved my ass during this latest bulking period. Literally.

  31. @ Justin

    I use a mix grip, right hand (dominate hand) Supinated and the left overhand.

    @ Grant

    Somehow over the past 3 months I started doing the deadlifts the same as the squats (3×5 sets across). I must have been doing that for a month. However I was still gettin significant linear progress on both lifts. Thanks for pointing that out for me.

  32. Christ….The Belt debate. Please say some magic shit and end this now and for good. I don””t use a belt right now because things are still progressing steady. Don””t fix it it””s not broke. I keep getting mixed information though and I look forward for some unequivocal info 70””s big style! I am going to buy a damn belt. One question. Olympic lifters are able to back squat tremendously high Numbers with no belt. Is this just the genetic elite talking or is it the lack of belt usage and adapting accordingly, because of the previously stated inconvience of a belt in the oly lifts, have they come to not rely on them? I””m so sick of belt arguments I could puke. End this please!

    There is no debate on belts.

    And if the weightlifters you speak of are more than likely the upper echelon genetic freaks.

    –Justin

  33. with tapered I meant it like in this picture

    http://www3.pictures.gi.zimbio.com/Olympics+Day+5+Weightlifting+3qdCsM_J-G5l.jpg

    I don””t know the correct english term, I””m not a native :)

    I””m probably mistaken about Rip using it the other way around. Sorry ””bout that

    You are correct with your English. I still don’t think Rip had a belt like that on. The wider area in the back does not accomplish anything, even if it is claimed that it does.

    –Justin

  34. No your right I”m mistaken about Rip.

    But I still find it strange that every olympic weightlifter that uses a belt uses a tapered one. Haven”t seen one with a belt that was the same width all round. Do they know something we don”t know, or are they just stupid :)

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  39. The inclusion of that magazine picture does worlds to help readers realize what this concept means… though I can’t really picture my own abdominals contracting against a belt like that… like they don’t seem as big as that guy’s and he seems leaner… would abdominals contracting against fat and smushing the fat against the belt have the same effect?

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