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For a competitive powerlifter, is there a level of intensity for which you should strive to not use a powerlifting belt (i.e. beltless)?

For example, in my warm-up sets, I don't use a belt. However, say my working set is a deload 5x5 @ 60% intensity, is it worthwhile to go beltless for that set? What about at 70%, 80%, 90%, etc.? Has anyone defined a good point at which it might be more beneficial to train beltless?


My reason for asking is that I've heard there are benefits to training beltless (such as improved core strength) but there are also benefits to training belted (such as the ability to lift more thus more strength development). I'm wondering if there is a trade-off point.


Addendum: after discussion, I would also pose the question as:

For a competitive powerlifter, choosing to compete using a powerlifting belt, is there a level of intensity for which you should strive to not use a powerlifting belt (i.e. beltless)?

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+100

All training can, and generally should be performed beltless, including maximal (one-repetition-maximum) lifts.

As I have discussed here at great length, there is no scientific evidence to support belted lifting, except for competition (performance) lifts, and only for those athletes who have always trained using a belt. The literature suggests that belts only assist us if we have developed our strength using them because they force us to adopt different lifting mechanics, and hence to adjust our posture and develop our structures to rely on them.

To summarise the key points from the post above:

  • belts are unnecessary for elite-level strength development and performance;
  • maximal lifts can be performed safely without a belt;
  • activation of the transversus abdominis and internal oblique (or the ‘core’) is positively and significantly associated only with unbelted lifting;
  • belts result in higher rates of spinal injury amongst elite powerlifters;
  • belts have little or no effect on power, velocity, or range of motion; and
  • belts offer little or no advantage to untrained individuals.

There is scant literature examining belted versus unbelted lifting in terms of elite performance, possibly due to the ubiquity of belts in lifting culture. But it should be understood that is just that—a culture. In my own experience as a strength and conditioning professional, I have not trained a single athlete using belts; nor have I worn a belt in my own training. And it is my experience that belts actually impair maximal lifting performance, probably due to altered lifting mechanics, consistent with the aforementioned theory. I have not witnessed a single injury in unbelted lifting, whether maximal (one-repetition maximum) or sub-maximal.

This does suggest, however, that if you are serious about developing core strength with unbelted training, it would be prudent to reduce your training loads temporarily whilst you focus on and adapt to the new lifting mechanics.

I hope that is helpful.

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  • I'm interested in your analysis of this article. They pick up many of the same points you have in your post but argue for the other side of the coin; most training should be done with a belt. – C. Lange Sep 23 '20 at 12:38
  • I also altered, slightly, the scope of the individuals in question. I'm interested as a trained individual, specific to powerlifting, rather than untrained or for general fitness. – C. Lange Sep 23 '20 at 12:45
  • @C.Lange: I am familiar with the article. The author appears to base his conclusions on the notion that greater muscle activation equates with greater performance. This is plainly incorrect, and scientifically unsupported. Performance comes from the combination of optimal lifting mechanics and muscular recruitment. Yes, sub-optimal mechanics invariably force us to work harder, but that does not produce a stronger lift. To the contrary, effort is wasted ‘fighting’ the belt. To be clear, my answer applies to all lifting, but is specifically in reference to elite-level competitive lifting. – POD Sep 23 '20 at 21:26

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