Why Every Athlete Should Do More Beltless Squat Training

In an earlier article we discussed the benefits of using a weightlifting belt during training and competition, which naturally paved the way for belt vs. beltless debate among many strength and power athletes.

While belts are highly beneficial (and recommended) during powerlifting, strongman, and weightlifting competitions, many athletes neglect the body’s natural ability to create intra-abdominal tension, stabilize the pelvis, and develop a stronger core to increase maximal strength.

In this article, we will discuss five key benefits of beltless training, making the case for all athletes to perform their warm-up sets, volume training, and even entire squat cycles without the usage of a weightlifting belt to maximize performance.

A Brief Disclaimer

Personally, I agree with many high level athletes and coaches who suggest belts to be worn for near-maximal and maximal lift attempts as they have been shown to increase intra-abdominal pressure, stabilize the spine, and generally increase performance when used correctly.

That said, many athletes place too much dependency upon belts ( I too am guilty of this) during moderate to heavy squats, deadlifts, clean and jerks, etc (most lifts under 90% of 1RM of so), which can impair their ability to maximally recruit, train, and develop deep control and stabilizing structures necessary to squat heavier and healthier..

Why Train Beltless?

Below are five key reasons why all athletes should perform more beltless squats during warm-up sets, high volume training days, moderate to heavy loading sessions, and even entire squat cycles.

1. Increase Demands on Pelvic Stability

Belt training is very effective at increasing intra-abdominal pressure and stabilizing the spine during heavier lifts. While beneficial, some lifters may be neglecting their own ability to promote intra-abdominal pressure via strong muscular contractions and bracing strategies, ultimately underachieving their fullest potential. When using a belt, lifters may compensate for less than optimal core bracing and tension due to the belts natural ability to increase pressure, which if left unaddressed can result in sub-optimal performance and potentially injury. With that said, lifters can simply train beltless and focus on bracing hard and increasing pressure during moderate to heavy training sessions. The payoff: As one fully develops that capacity, they will be able to tap into additional tension and pressure when they go back to heavy training with a belt.

2. Enhanced Focus During a Lift

A video posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

In the above video, the entire session was done beltless for increased focus and bracing.

When we slap on a belt, we often find ourselves in a fight or flight mode, as we seek out moving near-maximal weights. The aggression and focus during these times is often directed towards the gross movement pattern rather than finite control of bracing and stabilizing structures. Beltless training forces lifters to become more conscious of their pelvic tilt, abdominal and lower back tightness, and tracking of the ankles, knees, and hips throughout the squat. The decreased dependency on the belt for rigidity and stabilization forces a lifters to be methodical in his/her approach, setup, and lift; all of which when done correctly can become automatic, and in turn unleashed onto a maximally loaded belted barbell lift in the future.

3. Maximal Bracing and Breathing

Without a belt, many lifters will be forced to be extremely conscious and focused on breathing and bracing during the approach, setup, and throughout the lift. While belts can improve performance, training beltless will increase a lifter’s natural ability to create and harness intra-abdominal pressure, which will only make belted training that much better.

4. Lower Intensities Drive Increased Training Volume

If you are an athlete who relies upon a belt no matter how light or heavy the loads are, you are be doing yourself a gross disservice. Many lifters (beginners and all the way up to advanced levels) need to establish a better foundation of squat patterning (myself included), bracing, and pelvic stability without the use of weightlifting belts to develop the intra-abdominal structures, hip flexors, and other pelvic stabilizers to prevent potential injury  (if left unaddressed) and enhance squatting performance.

Charity Witt trains beltless on a moderate intensity day.

Additionally, belted training is often reserved for higher intensity (near-maximal loads) lifts, for the purpose of offering maximal tension (weightlifting belts can increase one’s natural ability to create intra-abdominal pressure). By training beltless, however,, you will allow your squat training to be done at more manageable intensities (60-85%) and in higher volumes, both of which are vital to long-term strength and muscular development.

5. Less Dependency on External Factors

This is an anecdotal reason, however one that I have found very true (as well as when talking with other athletes). The reliance upon external equipment and tools (such as; weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, music, etc) can mentally start to alter one’s confidence and approach during times they do not have those same conditions. As athletes, an increased dependency on external factors can result in decreased personal performance. The solution to this issue is to establish focus, confidence, and internal control without the usage of external tools (such as weightlifting belts) or dependency on specific environments so that when we are in a heightened state (competition and/or max outs) we can fully harness the additional support provided by those supplemental training tools.

Final Words

While many this may not solve to ongoing debate of belt vs beltless training, I find it very helpful to address both sides, as each can and should be used (belts vs. beltless) at specific times and serve specific purposes. In general, I feel many athletes (myself included) place too much emphasis and depencency upon belted training so that they can train with heavier loads instead of educating and developing their own natural ability to brace, create active pelvic stability, and have sound movement patterning in the squat. With that said, I do recommend that athletes who are training above 90-95% of 1RM (which if programmed correctly should be seldom, mainly reserved for peaking or testing environments) belts can be a very beneficial training tool, and should be used. Coaches and athletes should spend time acclimating to belted training prior to competitions to further increase readiness and performance.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @gympointluleburgaz on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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