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.