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.