Should Athletes Wear A Belt When They Squat?

It seems a common theme in this field lately is asking why we believe what we believe. More and more, coaches and therapists are challenging the status quo by questioning not only what we believe, but why we believe what we believe. I’m all for it. One of the big things I’m working on is asking myself what stubborn decisions I have been wrong about, and which opinions I hold that I have no evidence for.

In the last few months, I’ve changed my stance on simple dynamic warm-up activities, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats, plyo progressions, and more. One of the main things I’ve “changed” my mind on is wearing belts, specifically for athletes.

The common reason stated for not allowing athletes to wear a belt is because they will not be allowed to wear one when they play their sport, so wearing a belt when they squat will not transfer. I think I liked this thinking in the past because there was the acceptance that squatting was just a means to and end and not the end itself. However, I now think that allowing athletes to wear a belt when they squat can actually help improve adaptations that we seek when we squat.

Let me explain. But first, let’s consider why we squat our athletes. At risk of being the biggest cliché ever, we must first “Start With Why” and ask ourselves what is the purpose of having our athletes squat?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several reasons to train the squat, including but not limited to:

  • ·      Increased force production
  • ·      Maintenance of Hip, Ankle, and Knee mobility
  • ·      Increased work capacity
  • ·      Hypertrophy
  • ·      Prehab (whatever that means)
  • ·      Screening/Assessment

I will make the argument that if the goal is to increase force production, athletes can and should squat with a belt on. With the theme of keeping the goal the goal, if increasing force production in the squat is our goal, then we should do everything we can to increase force production in a safe manner without decreasing the chance of transfer. Coaches assume that squatting with a belt on will not transfer as well as with no belt on, because athletes don’t play with a belt on. News flash, they don’t play their sport with weightlifting shoes or a barbell on their back either!

That’s right, saying athletes should not squat with belts is the equivalent to saying they shouldn’t use barbells either.

If anything that is not part of the sport will not transfer at all, then by that logic we should do zero general training and athletes should only play their sport. We know that is simply not true. The entire reason we are in the weight room is to OVERLOAD specific adaptations that we cannot get on the field.

You need some kind of implement, whether it is a barbell, trap bar, Keiser, flywheel, etc.;. to overload the organism in a way that their sport is not able to. I believe that wearing a belt can help to further the overload that is placed on the athlete in a safe and effective fashion.

We don’t squat because squats are “sport specific.” We squat because it allows us to overload the force adaptations that impose on the organism. Have you ever thought about why a barbell allows you to create so much force, and why you can’t create as much force on one leg, with kettlebells, or on an unstable surface?

It all comes down to degrees of freedom.

When we need to create large amounts of force, we limit the degrees of freedom we have available. We do this by extending our spine, reducing transverse and frontal plane motion, and increasing stiffness.

This is why powerlifters are the way they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the contrary, think about how much force you can create when you increase degrees of freedom.

Hint, not as much.

When we require rotation, we have to increase degrees of freedom. We can create large amounts of velocity this way using angular momentum, but not force.

 

So where does a belt fit in?

A belt can help us to reduce degrees of freedom when used correctly. When we use a belt correctly, we push air into it, which helps us increase spine stiffness (reduced DOF), and thus produce more force with the legs.

So no, I am not worried about the belt not transferring over to the field where athletes don’t have a belt. There isn’t really any evidence that squats transfer very much outsider of novice athletes anyways. Lets’ remember that we are squatting to overload the force production that an individual can create, and then we must find ways for it to transfer.

However, I do have a few guidelines when using a belt:

  • Only wear the belt when force production is the goal (I.E. not during higher rep work, mobility work, velocity work, etc.)
  • Do not rely on the belt (should go without saying)
  • Actually learn how to use it properly

Let’s increase force production when we want to increase force production, and if a belt can help us, let’s throw our egos out the window and teach our athletes how to use them properly.