Belts Redux

I just finished my third day of driving, so don’t expect the great American novel. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Paleo Solution Podcast with Robb Wolf and Greg Everett. It’s a solid podcast, mostly because it’s probably kept me awake and not dead. While listening earlier, some random guy was writing in about belts. The guy asking the question cited something Rippetoe said about wearing flared belts backwards (Greg snickered) and then referenced ME. But he didn’t even reference me correctly, he took something I said out of context.

A long time ago when I still lived in Texas I noted on 70’s Big how I wore a velcro belt for the Olympic lifts (because the bar would hit my suede belt if I wore it), the suede belt on squat and press, and a thinner leather belt for deadlifts (because the suede belt pinched me when I was just a boy). Nowadays I just wear the suede belt on everything (including clean and jerk). I wasn’t recommending that everyone do the above, merely pointing out what I did at the time. Greg interrupted himself from reading the question and said pointedly, “Everyone on the internet is wrong.” I just stopped the podcast right there and said aloud to my dogs, “Can’t do it.”

It’s natural for me to get lumped in with Rippetoe considering I managed his gym for a year and half, but I haven’t been there in over two years so equating us would be inaccurate. But I’m more talking about my shame, man, my shame! I actually don’t know if I should be ashamed cause I didn’t finish listening.

Look, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ve been driving for three days straight and I’m about to go to sleep; things aren’t coherent. I just wanted to add some information to the plethora of belt knowledge in the archives and it sounded like a good intro. We get new readers all the time, so covering old topics will never hurt.

Cool pic of Dr. Di Pasquale and his belt

1. Belts improve performance
Chris’ master’s thesis looked at comparing a belted and un-belted 1RM in trained lifters (guys who could squat at least 1.5 times body weight). Everyone, including the guy who had never worn a belt before, squatted more in their belted attempts in this blind study (i.e. they didn’t know what weight was on the bar). Even Brent squatted more, and he most likely aimed to do the opposite just to fuck with the study. The sample size was small (7 guys or so), yet it’s the only study that looks at the performance of the belt as opposed to the obvious pressure increased caused by wearing the belt. Which leads us to…

2. Belts increase pressure
I put this in here because the guy asking Robb/Greg the question wasn’t technically correct. The belt increases pressure in two ways. The first is that it decreases the volume of the trunk. If we assume the same big breath of air (same quantity) with the decreased volume, Boyle’s Law shows us that the pressure increases. The second is that the abdominals contract harder into the surface area of the belt. The result is an increase of pressure in a) the intraabdominal cavity and b) the intrathoracic cavity. These are two distinct areas and they both have a resultant pressure increase.

3. There’s a training effect from chronic belt use.
People always ask, “How much more weight should I be able to squat with a belt?” It doesn’t work like that; there isn’t a standardized amount that you can accomplish with and without a belt. And even if there was, it would be an individualized thing. If you accept that the abdominals contract harder (and this can be felt after the first few belted sessions — the abs are distinctly sore), then that means they are trained differently (i.e. more) when belted. After a given amount of time, say 8 weeks, the trainee will be stronger with a belt than they would have been without the belt. Since pretty much everyone squats more with a belt, that means the un-belted strength will also have increased more compared to if the trainee had never worn the belt in that 8 weeks.

4. Belts improve efficiency, safety.
The pressure increases in the torso act as a pneumatic brace against the anterior portion of the spine. This “air brace” helps stabilize and solidify the trunk, allowing for all of the force of the working muscles to be transferred into the bar. This extra stabilization also means that the trunk is safer than it would be if the belt were not being used. Remember: in lifting, safety = efficiency.

5. Inzer makes great belts.
I highly recommend Inzer belts for their great quality and durability. They were kind enough to send Chris several belts to use for his study.

6. You are not Russian.
There are a lot of assholes like Brent who think they don’t need a belt. Hey, if you’ve been lifting since you were nine years old and were given exemplary supplements, you’d be so jacked you wouldn’t need a belt. But you aren’t. You’re just some dude who picked up the sport recently. You are not a beautiful snowflake; you’re just some crusty piece of ice falling from Klokov’s frozen ball hair. Put the belt on. Or don’t, I don’t care.

To read more about belts and other gear, see this post.

79 thoughts on “Belts Redux

  1. It’s amazing how few people really know how belts work. I’ve met very few people that think a belt does anything other than “support the back” through a massive, cushioned backside. I’ve had quite a few curlbros come and tell me that I’d be better off not using one when squatting and deadlifting because I won’t get as strong with one.

    Couple questions though. I know that it seems to get recommended a lot to not tighten the belt to the tightest you can, but I feel like I can’t get nearly as such tightness when I leave it one notch from tightest. I also don’t have a power rack to use to tighten it more, but I doubt I could get it another notch with that. I don’t get any pain from it being tighter, it’s just a bitch to put it on. Thoughts?

    Also, after reading your “every man can squat 405” post, I’m itching to try 405. However, I have no plans to do a meet till at least the fall or winter. Would it set back my linear progression at all to try a max at the end of the week? I just did 340 3×5 today, and have done 350 for the same before. Or should I just keep doing the progression until I fail and then try it?

    As always, keep up the good posts. I’m glad you still have the motivation to post all of this almost 3 years later.

    • Did you mean try a maximal lift at the end of every week? Cause that’s sorta like the Texas Method.

      But I don’t think it’ll hurt to single or double on up every few weeks. Just don’t be stupid so that you don’t hurt yourself.

  2. Great post except for the “You are not Russian” part.

    While I agree that you should wear belts during max attempts and obviously also when competing, you should have to rely on your belt for normal training (i.e. work sets).

    For me belts are a piece of equipment, just like knee wraps or squat suits. I lift in single-ply, but I still train ungeared for 5 sessions out of 6.

    I don’t agree that using belts makes you stronger. When I lift more with a belt or a suit, this doesn’t improve my squat when I’m wearing no equipment at all.

    • I’d have to assume you are a bit more advanced in lifting as well as wearing a belt. I don’t make blanket statements, and I have an obligation to say “just because it isn’t the case for you doesn’t mean it isn’t for the vast majority of the other readers”.

      In any case, this effect is very noticeable with people closer to the “beginner” realm.

      I’d be absolutely shocked if you put 50 pounds on your belted squat and your un-belted squat didn’t improve at all.

  3. Never wore a belt until I started reading 70sBig. I was also considerably weaker before I started reading 70sBig. Correlation? I think so!

    • Here’s your evidence… Push your hand against the air and then push your hand against a wall or other solid surface and see if your muscles contract harder. I’m guessing they will.

      • Yes, resistance causes the muscles to contract harder. The solid surface is harder to push than air, therefore I have to exert more force.

        The abs do increase pressure by pushing against the abdomen. In order for this to be analogous with your example, I would have to be pushing against the air/solid surface with my arm (or whatever), while simultaneously pushing against the air behind me. And it is not enough that the object exerts force back against me when I push on it.
        In order for your example to work, we would have to assume that, while lifting, the facet joints are attempting to flex. This would mean that the belt gives some more resistance to flex against, but such an assumption does not hold true.

    • Your abs wouldn’t significantly increase in size if it didn’t happen. When people first start wearing a belt, myself included, the abs get much more sore after wearing them. It’s due to their increase in action and there’s no other logical explanation.

      • Thanks for replying, Justin.

        You have an explanation to explain a phenomenon.
        1) I do not agree that the phenomenon of belts causing an increase in ab size or making them more sore happens. While it is okay for you to believe this, I personally have heard people talk about how sore their abs were when they stopped training with a belt. I do not necessarily believe either side.
        2) I do not agree that the explanation of the phenomenon has to be the only logical explanation.
        3) I showed why your logical explanation is not valid.

        This is getting very technical. I spoke my dissent and that is what matters to me at this point. If any one sees any flaws in my reasoning, please DO point them out. Thanks.

        • If you regularly trained on a regular program on a regular basis doing the same lifts in that program, and then you wore the belt in the midst of this training (i.e. you didn’t have a break and where the belt when returning from a hiatus), and then your abs were sore after wearing the belt, then something different has occurred to do that.

          Assuming you performed the same training session that you had previously been doing in the program before (i.e. you did not do sit-ups or anything else that was foreign), this soreness is explained by the belt.

          I don’t care if you agree with it or not. There’s no research to prove or disprove it, yet knowing the physiology (you should at this point) and knowing what goes on during the movement (in this case a squat or deadlift, and you should know what is going on), it is explained by the abs contracting differently into the belt. I don’t care if you disagree with the constant and unmistakable practical experience of people not only feeling more solid with a belt on, but performing better (lifting more weight and by lifting the same weight easier). Given the role the abs play in trunk stabilization (which you should understand this, even with my limited explanation), their role is different with a belt on compared to without it.

          To me it sounds like you’ve never worn a belt and want to find a reason not to do so.

          • Thanks for replying. I think you have misinterpreted all or most of my intentions. My belief is that belts do not make the abs stronger due to a proprioceptive phenomenon. That is all.

  4. I have a timely belt question….
    I use something pretty similar to this belt:
    It’s pretty ‘econo’ I know, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of cash on something I wasn’t sure about, but now I’m drinking the belt kool-aid and I’m on the winning team.
    My question is this… Whenever I deadlift, it’s constantly wiggling around and I can’t get it to stay in place for a good fit. After that first rep, it feels useless like it’s out of place. I adjust it pretty tight before each lift, so the velcro itself loosening is not the issue.
    Is that just the nature of a non-suede/leather belt? Could it be positioning, as in I’m not wearing it right? Should I get one of the CurlBros or a BicepBrahs to assist me?

    Any advice appreciated.

        • Yes, it will. A proper suede or leather belt will have more friction that will keep it from wiggling around, and the increased stiffness prevents it from bending, folding, or rolling in response to your gut moving around.

          Also, tip: before a lift, adjust your belt to be fairly tight – hand tighten it , but don’t use the edge of a rack – but not as tight as you intend to do the set with. Then go through the motion of the lift – an air squat, air deadlift, etc. This will get the belt into the position you want so it’s helpful and not obstructive. Then go tighten the belt on the edge of the rack, and now you’re ready to lift.

    • To add more: make sure you push the front down a bit (back will go up a little). The deadlift position makes the back of the belt move up, so you should already adjust it as such.

      My un-tested opinion is that this will improve as your abs get more muscular. I had all of these belt problems (pinching, moving around, etc.) a few years ago, and now I don’t. My abdominals are more developed now, and I think that’s the reason.

  5. Do you think Klokov freezes his balls to increase test production or because snatching 400lbs isn’t enough of a thrill anymore? I think you may have stumbled on how he really trains that Viking roar of his.

    • I didn’t know that frozen balls does that. If it does, then he for fucking sure does it. He probably does test doping, similar to blood doping. Pull his own test out, ferments it in vodka, and then reinjects it. Or something.

  6. Come to think of it, I think I discovered 70s Big from The Paleo Solution podcast. Someone was asking about putting on weight, and said he wanted to be 70s big. I didn’t know what that was so I googled it.

  7. The idiot in me wants to disregard this post and assume that I know more about lifting than Justin. But that would be stupid, so I’ll try out a belt.

  8. If you listened to the rest of the podcast, Everett actually agreed with Rippetoe about tapered belts. Everett wasn’t the one saying that everyone on the internet was wrong. He was actually continuing the question the reader wrote. It was confusing.

    What he did say about newbs doing linear progression is that they should putt of the belt as long as possible. Should, in the middle of their linear progression, decide to wear the belt they are no longer performing “linear progression.” He equates it to a change of the exercise to keep your numbers going. Almost like squatting shallower, or doing half squats. What do you think?

    Personally, I think it comes down to preference. I’ve squatted both ways. I don’t agree that should a newb start using a belt that he is no longer “progressing.” At some point, I think all people should use a belt. Squatting fifty-five pounds? You don’t need a belt yet.

    Can’t keep your form in two hundred? Belt’s not gonna remedy that, your form sucks. Deload and try again.

    However, experimenting with a belt and realizing you feel more in control and stable in the squat (or any lift)? Then you would be stupid not to continue that.

    Don’t get me wrong, doing anything raw (with good form) is impressive. And I’m not gonna look at someone and say they are an idiot for not using a belt. They are just missing out, in my opinion.

    Plus, how can someone comment on whether a belt is “cheating” if they never tried it?

    • I didn’t read all of this, but I didn’t disregard Greg. I think he answers all of the question (lifting/programming specifically) very well. There’s a lot of times when I think, “Yep, that’s what I would have said.”

  9. don’t wear the belt for the warm ups or light work sets, once you’re to the “heavy” sets (whatever heavy is for you) then wear the belt and learn how to use it. That’s how it was prescribed to me and it’s worked well for me.

    • At the most I will use it on my last warm up, but never sooner and only then occasionally. I treat my last warm up as a simulation of the work sets to come, and I want to keep the variables as close to the same as possible. Plus, the final warm up helps get the belt settled in on my body, so I don’t have to worry about it not sitting quite right when I do my work sets.

  10. I would like to take this chance to recommend Best Belts. The Best Belts Come From Best Belts!

    I don’t have much experience with belts. The only one I’ve personally used was from Best Belts, and it has ruined all other belts for me.

  11. Question – has anyone considered etching their name into their belt (or actually done this)? I’ve considered using a soldering iron/heat etcher to put my last name on the back of my belt. I thought it might be cool for meets.

    • After i had my belt stolen I bought stencils, taped it to the belt, and spray painted my name on. Doesn’t look too good, but unless you are a serious artist I think soldering your name on would just make the belt look like shit and your name wouldn’t show up.

      Using a silver sharpie did not work worth a damn.

  12. I agree that waiting until the end of the linear progression before using a belt makes sense, but once you are exiting the novice stage (shit is getting real and you are are resetting or failing) I think it’s the way to go. I myself didn’t start wearing one until I started TM. Like others, I only wear a belt on my last warmup and work sets…
    This is a great post explaining why its helpful…
    I like Toro belts and strongly recommend lever style belts. They save a lot of time and headache. Also, has excellent customer service. Unfortunately I do not have an endorsement deal with either company.

  13. I tried listening to an episode of that rubbish podcast once, but the amount of pseudo-science that came out of both of the presenters was unbelievable. The funniest part about it is that they seem to actually believe that they know what they’re talking about.

    • I personally heavily prefer a single prong. The two prong belts are annoying to get on/off and a single prong has always had enough “holding power” for me.

        • I actually don’t like lever belts. I also prefer a single prong, but I have instances where I will use different holes at different times. My weight stays pretty consistent, but my abdominal circumference can slightly change depending on the weight, food intake, or what’s in my stomach.

          I also use different holes for different lifts (it’s slightly more loose on pulling stuff compared to squat/press, and it’s tighter on the bench since I’m lying down).

  14. After discovering Crossfit in 2009, drinking the kool-aid, getting on board with paleo, I felt squatting with equipment was counter to this and therefore counter to good health. Since then thankfully I have grown up.
    Bought my first pair of squat shoes last thursday and they feel amazing.

    Looking for a belt as I write this.

    Keep up the good work Justin. You convert someone as stubborn as me you can convert just about anyone. You once told me that training a linear strength program with a short metcon 1-2 times a week was a pretty good prescription towards longevity. I think thats still some of the best advice on the interwebs.

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