Beltless Training – It’s more than just your abs

Let me begin by saying I think the belt vs. no belt debate is one of the silliest debates in powerlifting. However, I do think I’ve made a mistake by neglecting beltless training.

Now, if some of you remember, I’ve always been very much pro-belt.  It’s not that I think it’s wrong to ever train beltless.  I just thought (and still think) it’s silly to insist on ALL training being done beltless.

However, I think there’s some merit to including some beltless work in your training, but I DON’T think it’s the old notion of “without a belt your abs have to work harder.” To the best of my knowledge, that has never been demonstrated, and it really doesn’t make much sense either. Muscles can contract harder when they have a tactile cue – something to push against.

I’m not interested in the abs, though. I’m interested in the rest of the musculature supporting the pelvis.

You see, with a belt you can create much more intraabdominal pressure. That pressure pushes down against the pelvic floor, out against the spine, and up against the diaphragm – essentially making the abdominopelvic region one stable mass. By increasing the rigidity of this body segment, force from the legs can be more efficiently transferred to the bar, and more weight can be lifted.

When intraabdominal pressure decreases, more work has to be done to keep the spine rigid, but more work also has to be done to keep the pelvis stable. I wish I had EGM data to back this up (translation: this is, admittedly, broscience), but the achiness I feel in my hips and lower back after a hard beltless squat workout probably (even though I don’t lose my arch) comes from use of the pelvic stabilizers that have to pick up some slack when intraabdominal pressure is decreased.

I wish I had more evidence to back up this little theory, but if nothing else, it’s something to chew on if you’ve also eschewed beltless training as I had until recently.

3 comments

  1. I’ve always gone beltless untill i was convinced by a friend and hearing Travis on Weightlifting Talk. While squatting some heavy triples wearing my new belt i felt a pinch and burning sensation in my lower abs. For the next few days of training i would feel that area “quiver” while lifting without the belt. During some deads with the belt i got the burning sensation again. I’m not sure if its the beginning of a hernia or a strain, but i do believe i am done using a belt.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that man. That’s a really good point, though. The first time I belted up again after a 3 year layoff (long story) I partially tore an adductor. With a belt, you can stay a lot more rigid, which can affect how much force is transmitted through the muscles and their particular length/tension relationships.

      I don’t blame you for avoiding belts after your experience, but if you decide to try again, I’d recommend starting with your belt loose, and staying with conservative weights at first to give you tissues a change to acclimate.

  2. This year, going beltless was a two-fold decision: 1) I outgrew the belt, 2) my federation has a beltless division. I’m working on shrinking back down into the belt (another 16lbs to go), and I’ll have my competition results in a couple weeks.

    I will say, making a transition to or from using any equipment can be a humbling experience. It changes the lift. I had a 445lb squat before going beltless last year, and when I took off the belt the first time it was like 400lbs was a hard limit. I’ve worked back to beyond my previous limits without a belt, but it took a lot longer than I thought it would.

    I do think it’s important to train both with and without a belt. Thanks to the other response, I’ll make sure I deload a little when I put it back on.

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