“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
Like every Friday, it is PR Friday. Post this week’s PR’s to the comments. Remember that you can PR in lifting, eating, and gaining bodyweight. I clean and jerked 155 kg for the first time on Monday and squatted 465x5x3 on Tuesday. My program needs to be carefully tweaked because I am wandering into the realm of a slight overtraining. I snatched 120 (previous meet PR) Thursday on a very tired back and set of shoulders. Those body parts didn’t have any steam, and I missed 125 twice.
Yesterday I talked about what goes on physiologically when a belt is worn during lifting. This process is very different than wearing other gear, like a squat suit or knee wraps. The suit and/or wraps aid the movement of a particular joint while the belt improves the stability and strength of the trunk. This is a very important distinction, and is the reason why powerlifting is separated into raw and equipped divisions and/or federations.
Before addressing other belt related topics, I want to make a bold, clarifying statement. If your goal is to get stronger (and you have been lifting longer than two months) and you refuse to wear a belt, you are a fucking idiot. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. Look, not only are the abdominals working harder, but the pressure is increased within the trunk which stabilizes and strengthens the spine. This makes you stronger, and it is usable strength. The first time someone wears their belt in a serious training session (especially when pressing and deadlifting), their abs get sore. Not to mention the work sets are handled easier than without the belt. The belt is not something that you use to “bust out of a training rut”, it is a tool that you use to get stronger, and if you aren’t wearing one, then you aren’t serious about your training.
What kind of belt should I use?
When you are experienced wearing belts, you will probably use a different belt depending on the exercise. However, in general, your belt will have the same width all the way around since the most important articulation with your body happens in the front on the abdominals. Most of us will use belts that are four inches wide, yet some of you with short torsos will need to have three inch belts (you will know this if the four inch belt is jabbing into your lower rib(s)). If a belt is more narrow in the front than in the back, then (as Rippetoe famously said in his book) the manufacturers don’t know how the belt works.
If you are in the market for a belt, then check out EliteFTS. I don’t have any kind of monetary relationship with EliteFTS (shit, I don’t get paid to type anything), nor have I ever met Dave Tate or Jim Wendler (although I hear they are good guys from close friends), but they have really fucking good products, especially the belts.
I use one of the Retro Series Power Belts that Rip gave to me. I love it. Every PR I have had in the squat and press occurred with that belt around my waist (notables are pressing 205x5x5, squatting 500 for 5 singles, squatting 485×5, and squatting 465x5x3 in the linear progression). The Retro Series is 10 to 11 mm thick, which is thinner than the Power Belt that is between 12 and 13 mm. Both style of belts are completely customizable; length, thickness (depending on the series), one or two prongs, and color. All of the belts are high quality suede with smooth roller buckles — I couldn’t comprehend any other brand of belt being better than the EFS line.
The only drawback with these belts (including the Retro series), is that they may be a bit thick for some people to get in a good pulling position with. In such a case, you could always use a thinner leather belt (pictured below). A suede or leather belt is probably too big to use for the Olympic lifts and we (at the WFAC) like to use regular velcro belts (pictured below). The brand is Harbinger and they are sold here in town at Academy Sports.
L to R: suede, velcro, and leather belts
Pictured above are the belts that I will use depending on what lift I am doing. The suede belt is and EFS Retro Series suede belt that I squat and press in. The one in the middle is the velcro belt that I use when I clean and jerk (it’s actually Rip’s belt), and the one on the right is one of the many leather belts hanging on the wall in the gym that I will use when I am pulling (rack pull, haltings, deadlift etc.).
How do I learn how to wear a belt and where is it worn?
A belt should be worn on the last few warm-up sets before the work set(s), and it is best to learn how to wear one while squatting first. If it is thrown on at the work set, the body won’t be used to it being there and it will probably feel a bit weird (especially if it is your first time). When you are on your last couple warm-up sets, put the belt on so that it sits above your anterior superior iliac spine, or your hip bone. The top of the belt should not press against the last rib; I have seen someone bust up their costal cartilage wearing it here.
Tighten the belt so that it is moderately tight. Note that this does not read “as tight as you can fucking make it”. Just tight enough so that your abs press into it a bit. Do the warm-up set as normal. If the belt is sliding around during the set, then it is probably too loose. When you get to your work set, you may opt to keep it at the same hole, or you may want to tighten it by one more hole. The main consideration is that you don’t want to wear the belt too tight. If you have to “squeeze up” into the belt, then it is too tight and this will be counter-productive for the set. However, you may have to use an external object to help you tighten the belt appropriately; we use the edge of our power racks to hold the end of the belt against with our hands as we turn our bodies to the side — most people do this.
The more you wear the belt, the more you understand how tight you need it to be. If you slip your fingers into the crease between the upper portion of the belt and your abdominals, then it should be snug. If you can’t even get your fingers in the crease, then it is probably too tight. I keep trying to clarify belt tightness because I know some of you are going to freak out and not know if you have the belt on correctly. Trust me, you’ll figure it out over time. As a general rule, a more experienced belt wearer can wear their belt tighter, and they will intuitively know what is “too tight”.
The belt is worn in the same place for the squat and press, yet the deadlift may dictate a different placement. Rip likes to wear a thinner belt (like the leather one pictured above) lower in the front and higher in the back. I will have AC and Chris comment on how they like to wear their belts since Chris can deadlift over 600 and AC pulled 569 at his meet a few weeks ago. When I clean and jerk, I wear the velcro belt in the same way that I wear the suede belt for squatting/pressing. I can’t wear a belt when I snatch, because the bar routinely hits the belt after I hit my belly in the jump (I have a pretty vertical bar path). I have worn the velcro belt when bench pressing before (because of mild to moderate lumbar issues because of a car accident, it helped my back when I arched it while benching). Typically the belt is tightened when lying down instead of standing up before bench pressing.
I have seen some people (via the interweb) wear their belt higher when pulling. For example, Konstantinovs, who is stronger than three week old piss, wears his belt at the halfway point between his sternum and hip bones. Get experienced with the belt before experimenting like this, because he is obviously a professional.
I have x existing injury, should I be wearing a belt?
Uh, yes. If you have any kind of low back injuries, then you should have started wearing a belt yesterday. The worst case scenario would be a spondylolisthesis. People with this ordeal have the potential to be crippled by back extensions or reverse hypers, but can and should squat and deadlift in order to keep the structures of their spine intact. They absolutely should be wearing a belt since we learned yesterday how it supports and strengthens the spine. I have worked with many people that have had bulging discs (I think I have one in my neck) in their lumbar spine, and it would behoove these people to get their low back strong by squatting and deadlifting — with a belt of course.
Most of this information is available in Starting Strength. I learned how to wear a belt from Rip, and have taught many people to do so based on that lesson as well as my experiences. I am sure that there may be some differences in powerlifting or strongman competitions, and I admit that I am inexperienced in these matters. However, for general strength training purposes, the belt will be worn as described here.
Here is a video of Konstantinovs pulling 939 completely raw. Ask him if he could have gotten that strong without wearing a belt.