I’m glad to hear that you guys are listening about belts. I had a talk with Brent, who is an Olympic weightlifter, last year about wearing one while squatting, and he listened. ‘Twasn’t long before he was squatting more than the rest of the Asian population in Wichita Falls combined. This video is from earlier this year (he would later unintentionally break the Texas State Raw Record on his third attempt at the USAPL Texas State Meet in April with a 458 pound squat):
Brent is 5’5″, so a conventional four inch belt doesn’t fit him. He bought a belt from Elite FTS that is 2.5 inches in the front. Yes, it is one of those belts that tapers from a wider back to smaller front (look at the links below to (re)learn why this is silly), but it is one that he can wear comfortably and take advantage of the strength building benefits of wearing a belt.
To review some information that I have written in the past on belts, click the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
In case some of you noobs haven’t seen it, I’ve talked extensively as to why you should wear a belt (part 1 and part 2).
To review, when you lift, you take a big breath. This large breath increases your intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure which acts as a pneumatic brace on the anterior portion of your spine. In other words, it helps support the spine, and because it has more support, it has more strength. This process is called the Vasalva Maneuver. The Vasalva Maneuver was something that Antonia Maria Vasalva created to test patency in the eustachian tubes of the ear. It was later used on U-boats, and has since been used by fighter pilots so that they can pull G’s as they shoot down bandits and destroy things. It’s also one of those things embedded in mammalian DNA; take a breath and hold it to exert lots of force.
Grunting while lifting achieves the same thing. The grunting provides a guttural expulsion of air through the throat against a closed glottis. Usually it is done through the sticking point, or the point where the most force is being applied because it temporarily increases the torso pressure because of the forced air against the closed glottis. But grunting should only be done on lifts over 400 pounds so that you don’t look like a jackass.
A properly tightened belt will augment all of this pressure build up. The tightness of the belt essentially decreases the volume of the lower torso just a little bit. We all know, or should know, that when the volume is decreased with the same amount of air in the container, the pressure will increase. But, more importantly than the change in volume is that the tightness forces and allows the abdominal muscles to contract harder into the belt. More contracting by the abdominal muscles with a smaller container means more pressure, thus more support, thus more strength. This is good for getting stronger, and as I’ve said before, if someone aims to get strong and doesn’t wear a belt, they are a fucking idiot.
Now, this whole “belt wearing” process has both acute and chronic affects. It irritates the shit out of me how fanboys around the internet will ask, “How many pounds/kilos will be added to my lifts if I wear a belt?” It doesn’t work quite like that. Yes, the acute affect of the belt is more pressure which leads to a stronger torso in that bout of lifting, but wearing a belt must be learned, and the belt is more useful for it’s chronic affect. Since the belt aids in strengthening the trunk, the squat/press/deadlift will be increased by wearing it over time. It will be increased so much that your new strength attained by wearing the belt will be higher than the strength you would have gained without the belt. Yes, you will get more strong more efficiently when wearing a belt.
It also has a chronic affect on the abdominals. Since they are contracting harder while tightened in a belt, they will increase in strength faster by doing so. The stronger abdominals make a stronger back as well as a stronger lift. This is also why it would be optimal to train with belts whenever possible. If you can’t wear a thick 13mm belt while deadlifting, find one that you can use. The picture below shows Chris deadlifting 625 last year wearing just a velcro belt. He has since switched to a thicker belt.
Chris deadlifts some time last year wearing a velcro belt
I wear a velcro belt when I clean and jerk heavy, but when I front squat I wear the same belt I back squat in because I want more tightness on my abdominals for the training adaptation. So, don’t think in terms of acute use out of wearing belts, because the chronic adaptation of wearing one over time while getting your abdominals stronger is the most useful reason to wear it.
“Who is but the form of what, and what I am is a man in a mask.”
In case any of you have been trying to order 70’s Big shirts, I did a poor job of re-supplying them when inventory was short. The delay in getting them delivered is my fault and has nothing to do with The Aasgaard Company. I’m pretty new to this kind of thing, so I’m learning from my mistakes.
Some of you have been asking how to break in a new, stiff belt. Rip and Mike teach you how to do so in the following video. AC does the editing on these. That means the Kenny Loggins thing was his idea.
“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.
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
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.