Beltless Deadlifts: 3 Incredible Benefits For Deadlifting Without a Belt
If you’re a frequent visitor of our site, you’ll know how much I love deadlifts.
The pure raw strength required to lift a weight is invigorating.
But deadlifts are hard.
Not many exercises can tackle so many muscles in one movement.
Deadlifts work your core, lower back, traps, grip strength and mental toughness. All of these will improve and get stronger with more deadlifts.
Deadlifting with or without a belt is unforgiving.
As a beginner, you need to learn the basics of deadlifting. Most coaches and trainers recommend learning deadlifting without a belt.
The reasoning here is your muscles need to adapt to the training stimulus. Without the proper adaptations, the deadlift will take advantage of your weaknesses.
But what if you’re an expert at deadlifts? You already use a lifting belt routinely for your max weights. But now you're curious about beltless deadlifts.
So, what are the benefits to deadlifting without a belt? From beginner lifters to elite powerlifters, deadlifting without a belt will help you develop mental toughness, core strength, and gain muscle. Using a few weeks of beltless deadlifts will help you re-program your muscle stabilizers and improve your technique.
Let’s cover this question in more detail by starting with the topic of using a lifting belt for deadlifts.
Best Deadlift Belt
Deadlifting With or Without a Belt
Once you’re prime and ready, you can wear a lifting belt for deadlifts. But this is a skill on its own.
Learning to do beltless deadlifts takes time and patience. Especially, if you have a leather powerlifting belt which can be stiff at first.
The lifting belt functions to reinforce your torso. Not for safety reasons, but instead for bracing power.
As part of your novice training, you learned to breath and lift properly. With a lifting belt, you can generate more intra-abdominal pressure. The increase in pressure helps keep your whole-body rigid and lift more weight.
During a deadlift, you can create a stronger force to lift the weight when you brace effectively. As your hip hinges down, your hamstrings fire and cue you to lift with your straight back. This brings us to another important factor of a deadlift belt: signaling.
Once you are in position to start a deadlift, your lift belt will be pushing into your hips. Depending on how tight your weightlifting belt is, it will apply pressure to your abdomen. Here is where signaling comes into play.
Your body slowly understands to brace and fill up the tank when it feels the belt pushing against you. Almost like a Pavlovian trigger, your core stabilizes when you feel the lifting belt.
In my article Using a Lifting Belt For Deadlifts, you’ll find how to use your belt for deadlifts including position.
3 Benefits of Deadlifting Without a Belt
If you’re reading this article, you may already have an idea of the benefits of deadlifts. But how do they differ when wearing a lifting belt and when you don’t.
Although research is minimal, many coaches believe in training without a belt. So, after talking to a few coaches and researching I came up with a few points you should consider when training.
Whether you’re just starting to use a lifting belt or you’re a veteran, you can enjoy beltless deadlifts.
1. Mental Grit
I remember when I first began lifting 5 years ago.
I started with a basic 5x5 program and my first workout was with only the barbell. As time went on, I incrementally increased my weight.
I got to 200lbs in 3 months.
What seems memorable is how exhausting deadlifts were. I would be short of breath after 5 sets. Panting hard. Dripping sweat. And mentally pushed to the limit.
The takeaway here is how much of a mental drain deadlifts can be. It can be taxing on your central nervous system. It's recommended you take at least a day off between heavy deadlifts. Not because of the physical toll. But the mental exhaustion.
Even with the help of a lifting belt, deadlifts are hard. However, coaches recommend training beltless every other workout to help with mental grit.
Beltless deadlifts will test your willpower. To lift a heavy weight from the floor without any equipment takes tremendous bravery. Stepping up to the bar and showing up is half the battle. You will master your mind with these deadlifts. They will be unforgiving.
Don’t do beltless deadlifts without the right mindset. Leave everything at the door. Your and insecurities. All your stresses. Anything that will get in the way of your lifting. You should do a mental drain whenever you enter the gym.
You need incredible focus when performing beltless deadlifts. Thinking of anything else other than the barbell in front of you will cause you to fail at the set or worse. With better focus, you become aware of any muscle imbalances that need correcting.
If you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter, the deadlift movement will be automatic. With beltless deadlifts, you develop better instincts for your basics. The approach. The setup. Finally, the lift.
2. Core Strength
The whole purpose of a lifting belt is to help with intra abdominal pressure.
Without a belt to help, you are solely responsible for lifting the heavy weight off the floor. You need to generate maximal bracing power through effective breathing.
You will already know how to perform the Valsalva maneuver to generate a rigid body. So, you’re not relearning anything here. You’re working on adding to your current fundamentals.
Bracing and breathing without a lifting belt will primarily develop your core strength.
Your core provides stability to the torso during a lift. Without proper core strength, your body would fall over because of the heavy weight. During the deadlift movement, you take a deep breath into your tummy, not your chest.
This action helps fill your tank. Now you maximally contract your abs as hard as possible. We are creating intra-abdominal pressure in the torso here. Tight and rigid. Your whole body is under tension here. Your whole body is working towards one goal: keeping your abs contracted and upright.
A stronger core means more forceful contractions. This leads to your body generating more force upwards during the deadlift. So, now you can lift more weight off the ground. A stronger core leads to bigger deadlifts.
Lifting without a belt will dramatically increase your core strength in a few weeks. When you lift more than 85% of your one rep max without a belt, your core must be iron built. I find beltless deadlifts as a great way to point out core deficiencies.
If I can’t lift heavy without a belt, the first thing I target is my core. If my core is lacking I won’t be able to lift anything properly.
3. Muscle Gains
Performing deadlifts at a near maximal intensity will help with strength gains. Powerlifters work day in and day out to squeeze as much strength out of their muscles as possible.
But think of a tire in this scenario. You can only fill up a tire so much until it reaches a maximum. The same goes for a muscle. At a certain size, a muscle has a strength limit. When you hit this limit, it's time to increase the size of the muscle.
Beltless deadlifts help you train at a lower intensity for longer periods of time. These two parameters lead to hypertrophy gains.
You can deadlift for more reps at a lower weight for more sets. Hence, cycling your belted and beltless deadlifts is ideal. You will get the most long term muscular and strength development. Moving between strength and hypertrophy phases will increase your one rep maxes slowly.
On top of the hypertrophic gains, beltless deadlifts help with activating sleeping muscles. The more you train with a belt, the more your body learns to depend on it.
There are many ways the body learns to do less work. For instance, your lower back may not be taking the full force of the weight. Instead, your technique may slightly be different to let the belt do more of the lifting.
Performing beltless deadlifts reactivate your lower back muscles. They will also wake up any other sleeping muscle groups. You develop better technique and gain strength in smaller muscles. I know many lifters who train without belts having sore obliques after deadlifts. But the same isn’t always true for belted deadlifts.
With added muscle activation, your core strength and development really benefit. Intra-abdominal pressure and core strength correlate with each other. With more core strength comes more muscle activation, which in turn leads to gains.
It's best to view beltless and belted training as a cycle. At the beginning of your lifting journey, you learn the basics and master technique. During this important phase, muscles in your back and core develop for stability. You learn how to breathe and brace for maximum power.
Next, once you hit some respectable numbers you begin using a lifting belt. Don’t wear a lifting belt all the time and only during near maximal lifts to benefit. Now you keep progressing your numbers as you develop strength and power.
Give yourself a checkpoint by training a few weeks without a belt. Deadlifting without a belt will check your mental focus, strength, and muscle activation. Once you see results from beltless deadlifts you can go back to using the lifting belt.
This constant cycle between two modes of training, feeds off of each other. Your deadlift numbers will keep progressing albeit slowly. With these modes of deadlift training, your body can’t adapt fully. You can reach a sweet spot of muscle building without plateauing.
Keep challenging yourself by beltless deadlifts to really smash your PRs.