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October 23 2010 Belted or unbelted squatting

By Iron Addict
Copyright 2009,

Here was my response (after reading many other’s answers) to the age-old question about whether to squat with or without a belt:

Damn, I hate all these black and white responses to NON black and white questions. But, I am guilty of them too at times so I shouldn’t be disappointed when others that I respect do it as well. Here are some thoughts on the “belt vs. no-belt” squatting. I will let you sort out the conclusions.

”I squat XXX hundred lbs and never use a belt.”

AWESOME!  Now can a borrow YOUR bodies’ bio-mechanics, femur to shin ratio, femur to torso ratio, overall torso length, fast twitch to slow twitch fiber distribution, and neural recruitment patterns?

Before I had trained a lot of people I would always bark a response about “what I did/do” when people asked me whether or not to wear a belt when squatting.  You know what? When you train 70+ people at a time you quickly discover that whatever the heck “I do” is totally irrelevant for a large percentage of the lifters. Whoever said God created all men equally sure as hell didn’t train a varying segment of the lifting populace. I know lifters that have a femur to torso ratio that makes upright squatting with big weights without a belt seem easy. I know other lifters that have a WAY stronger core, but due to structural and likely neural differences absolutely need the belt to perform maximally with big weight with any degree of safety.

”You will always have a weak core if you use the belt when lifting heavy.”

Hey, I know a bunch of guys that bought into the same logic about using straps when deadlifting. WOW, what an earth shattering concept! Lets see, we can NOT use the straps and help build a stronger grip…at the expense of work that could have been done (if using straps) for the:

Spinal erectors

WOW, what a deal, we worked our grip at the expense of working almost the whole freaking body. Damn that is some powerful reasoning at work.

I can do grip work as accessory lifts. Who’da thunkit??

If your squat is 50-75 lbs less when unbelted and you are at more risk for injury than if you had the belt on (and BTW, those numbers are how much less many lifters use without the belt) I would suggest that you start training the hell out of the core while squatting with the belt.

Kimbo made a very good point that inter and intra muscular coordination can be thrown off when wearing the belt, which brings up the next common sense point that some have already made. Use the belt only when you have to. I only put on the belt when the weight gets reasonably heavy. But remember, “heavy” is relative to YOUR capacity and body type. If I don’t have at LEAST 405 on the bar, I don’t wear the belt. But I will wear it doing a warm-up single with 405 or a set of 15 with 405.

If your body’s mechanics suggest belt use on heavy squats, I suggest it is used on all sets at 80% of your max or above.

I also suggest that if you don’t need to wear the belt, you keep it off. This is where confusion and finger pointing arises. Lifter X squats 600 no belt or wraps, Lifter Y risks injury, and has a squat resembling a piss poor good morning with anything over 450 without the belt. So lifter X simply states that lifter Y has a weak core and is belt dependent without ever taking in the other lifters proportions/bio-mechanics and fiber/neural , genetics and state of development/conditioning.

”You need to work the core muscles with accessory lifts.”

DUH! You need bulletproof abs/spinal erectors/hip flexors, and hams if you are to squat heavy, let alone heavy without a belt.  Many competitive lifters don’t use a belt and they don’t need too because their core is strong. Well maybe in wonderland, but in the real world almost all powerlifters use a belt, 95% probably, and the VAST majority of Olympic lifters too.

OK… after lots of rambling, here is my opinion.

Whether you wear a belt or not, heavy core work other than squats or deads are a requirement.

Some people simply do not need a belt to perform at extremely high levels. They are NOT the average lifter in my experience. Your experience may vary. If it truly doesn’t help your lifts much and doesn’t add to overall “tightness” and sense increased stability and performance don’t use it, but to argue that it doesn’t add to performance, stability, and safety for most users is lunacy and ignores the facts.

We are all very different in our physical a well as mental makeup and to believe that “this is how I do it, so it must be best/correct for everyone” is very limited thinking.

Iron Addict

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