Nowadays it’s common to see lifters wearing a belt for everything. In fact, I’ve seen lifters wear their belt just to warm up with the bar itself (*eye roll*).
While not everyone is this extreme, it just goes to show that we are relying on our belts too often when deadlifting and this can cause us to miss out on the benefits of deadlifting without a belt.
So, should you deadlift without a belt? Yes, we should deadlift without a belt whenever we’re lifting submaximal loads and to reinforce our ability to breathe and brace properly. Beltless deadlifts will only better our ability to brace when we do wear a belt for maximal loads.
It’s important to understand why doing beltless deadlifts is key to your success and how it can impact our training, and it’s equally important to understand when to do them.
In this article we’ll discuss:
- The pros and cons of deadlifting without a belt
- When we should deadlift without a belt
- When to put a belt on; and,
- If beltless deadlifts are really worth the effort
Pros & Cons Of Deadlifting Without A Belt
- Strengthen Our Trunk
- Reinforce Better Technique
- Less Restriction
Strengthen Our Trunk Musculature
When we deadlift without a belt we increase our ability to recruit our trunk musculature to contract and generate intra-abdominal pressure, which helps to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body and maintain a neutral spine.
If we’re always using a belt then we may not learn how to brace properly and therefore will not get the maximum effect of the brace when we do wear a belt.
It’s important to practice deadlifting without a belt (especially if you’re a beginner) to learn how to generate 360 degrees of tension using our trunk musculature, to get the most out of our deadlift with and without a belt.
Learning to deadlift without the extra support from a belt is especially important for those who are using the deadlift to build up strength in this movement pattern to improve their strength and stability for daily life (picking up a box on the ground).
If we don’t allow our core and back to do the work when we deadlift, we will not be strengthening these muscles enough to provide the stability we need and therefore are likely not setting ourselves up for success when lifting everyday items.
Wondering how to breathe and brace for the most intra-abdominal pressure in the deadlift? Check out our guide on How To Breathe Properly In The Deadlift.
Reinforce Better Technique
Oftentimes we rely on the belt so much that we start to slack off in our deadlift technique, because we feel as though the belt is going to keep us in the ideal position and therefore safety is not an issue. However, this is not the case.
The belt is only there to help remind us to brace by giving an external cue to push out into the belt while deadlifting to create additional intra-abdominal pressure.
When we deadlift without a belt we can no longer use the belt as a crutch for poor technique, and it will make us practice the basics of maintaining a neutral spine, keeping the lats tight, and pulling the slack out of the bar. We may not be practicing these things regularly if we’re relying too heavily on a belt to “do the work”.
To learn more about how to maintain a neutral spine for better technique while deadlifting, check out our article on How To Keep The Back Straight While Deadlifting.
When we deadlift without a belt, we will generally feel less restricted in the bottom position because there is less bulk. This can help us wedge further into the bar off the floor and potentially lead to better movement patterns in the deadlift.
It is for this reason that lifters will often have to experiment with the positioning of their belt on the torso either higher on the ribs (to avoid pinching) or lower on the hips (typically if they have more fat mass).
When we’re deadlifting beltless, we will not have this issue and we should be able to lift much more comfortably – while still generating intra-abdominal pressure to maintain a strong trunk position by breathing and bracing correctly.
For more information on where to wear a deadlift belt to minimize discomfort, check out our article on Deadlift Belt Position: Where Should It Be? And, How Tight?
- Higher Risk Of Injury At Max Effort Loads
- Less Volume At Heavier Loads
Higher Risk Of Injury At Max Effort Loads
If we train without a belt all the time, we will likely have built up sufficient core and back strength. However, we won’t be able to generate as much intra-abdominal pressure as we would with a belt, which can cause us to lose our positioning more easily and place a higher amount of stress on the spine.
It’s important to decrease our risk of injury so that we can keep ourselves healthy while we lift, because most of us are lifting to get stronger over time, and to do this we need to stay injury free so that we can continue to train.
For this reason, I would suggest that everyone wear a belt at heavier loads (85% and up) as it will help us to generate more intra-abdominal pressure (as long as we’ve learned how to brace correctly without a belt first) to lift heavier loads, and to reduce the forces acting upon the spine.
If you have back pain while deadlifting, then check out our article on How To Fix Back Pain While Deadlifting, where a physio explains why back pain occurs in the deadlift and what to do about it.
Less Volume At Heavier Loads
When we deadlift without a belt, we are relying solely on our body to lift the load and therefore we are likely going to fatigue faster as the weight gets heavier, than if we were to deadlift using a belt for assistance. If we deadlift with a belt we will be able to perform more sets and repetitions at heavier loads before our body is fatigued.
The benefit to getting in more sets and reps at heavier loads is that we develop confidence under these loads, we get more volume in at higher intensities which leads to muscle gain, and we have the opportunity to reinforce good technique as the weight gets heavier.
When we deadlift without a belt, we have less opportunities to accomplish these things because we will fatigue faster than if we were wearing a belt.
To get the best of both worlds (improved trunk stability & more volume at higher intensities), I believe it is important to include both belted deadlifts and beltless deadlifts in our program.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
When Should You Deadlift Without A Belt? (Beltless Deadlift Training)
We should deadlift without a belt when we are lifting submaximal weights and there is a lower risk of our spine deviating from its neutral position.
In doing so we develop strength and proficiency in our trunk musculature, while working at weights that we can easily maintain our spinal stability and therefore is less likely to result in an injury to the spine while deadlifting.
There are multiple ways that we can add beltless deadlifts into our training, but there are 3 methods that I suggest.
- When we’re doing technique or hypertrophy work because we will be working at lower percentages of our one rep max, and the higher repetitions will help build our consistency when bracing without a belt.
- As we’re warming up to perform reps at heavier weights, because it helps activate our trunk musculature and prepare it to activate correctly when we do put a belt on at heavier loads. I suggest putting the belt on during the last warm-up before we get to our working weight, just to reinforce our ability to brace into the belt before our working sets.
- Anytime we’re lifting less than 80-85% of our 1 rep max, and we’re confident it will not result in excessive breakdowns in technique.
Will Your Back Be Stronger If You Deadlift Without A Belt?
If we deadlift without a belt our back will be stronger because we are relying solely on our own musculature (the erector spinae and the multifidus) to maintain the proper positioning throughout the deadlift to avoid excessive rounding, which places stress on the spine.
Including beltless deadlifts is important to reinforce good technique and building strength in the erectors to maintain a more rigid position as the weight increases; however, once the weight gets heavy enough we may need a belt to help us maintain a safer position.
It is common for the back to want to round once the weight increases, despite our best efforts to maintain a neutral spine, because although our legs and hips may be strong enough to lift the bar off the floor, our erectors and multifidus (which are smaller muscles groups) may not be strong enough to do their part without assistance.
Although our back will be stronger over time if we deadlift without a belt because of having to rely on the back musculature to assist in maintaining a neutral spine without additional support from a belt, we will be stronger overall in the deadlift when we do wear a belt as the weight increases.
Does Deadlifting Without A Weightlifting Belt Strengthen Your Core?
Deadlifting without a belt will strengthen our core, specifically the rectus abdominis (the 6 pack muscles) and the deeper muscles such as the internal and external obliques, the transverse abdominis, and the diaphragm (as well as the erectors and multifidus that we’ve already discussed).
The core muscles are active when we deadlift because they are responsible for creating tension and maintaining our bracing by contracting and generating tension outwards.
When we lift with a belt these muscles should still contract in a similar fashion; however, they are more active when we’re performing beltless repetitions because we rely solely on these muscles to brace and achieve intra-abdominal pressure and core stability – instead of a belt that can help us maintain rigidity throughout the torso.
When we deadlift without a belt repeatedly, we challenge these muscles in a way that causes them to adapt and become stronger over time.
It’s important to include beltless deadlifts to achieve these results as it will reinforce core stability, and it will also increase our ability to brace correctly when we do wear a belt for heavier loads.
For core exercises to include to increase your ability to brace properly, check out the 9 Best Ab Exercises That Powerlifters Shouldn’t Skip.
How Much Less Do You Deadlift Beltless vs With A Belt?
Generally people who have mastered the art of breathing and bracing without a belt will lift 5-15% less than they would if they wore a belt.
If we happen to have a much larger gap than this between what we’re able to lift without a belt compared to with a belt, then that is a good indication that we probably need to do more beltless deadlifts.
Should All Your Deadlift Warm-Ups Be Done Beltless?
I recommend that all deadlift warm ups up to 85% should be done beltless to reinforce proper breathing and bracing – which should only improve our ability to generate intra-abdominal tension once our belt is on.
I also typically recommend that lifters put their belt on for their last warm-up before they get to working weight. Therefore if our working weight is around 85%, it may be worth putting it on for the set prior.
At What Weight Should You Wear A Deadlift Belt?
As I mentioned previously, generally it is recommended to wear a belt for loads that are 80-85% of our one rep max. Some seasoned lifters have a load in mind that they will use a belt for because it is a load that is starting to get heavier and that perhaps we are less confident at.
For example, I generally belt anything over 320lbs (~80%) because I know this is the weight where I have to start actively working on maintaining my brace to increase the bar speed off the floor, and to avoid getting pulled out of position by the weight.
It’s important to wear a belt at loads that require additional intra-abdominal pressure to complete the lift without losing spinal positioning and to maintain other technical aspects of the lift.
Final Recommendation: Should You Do Beltless Deadlifts?
I recommend that everyone practice beltless deadlifting in some capacity, whether it’s keeping technique and hypertrophy phases beltless, or warming up without a belt – to develop a proficient level of strength and stability in the trunk.
However, I do not believe that everyone should deadlift beltless at max effort attempts – this not only limits our performance in the deadlift, but also increases our risk of injury which can put us out of the gym for a couple weeks or a couple months.
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About The Author
Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.