Sunday, April 28, 2013

Going beltless in life

After my beltless training article last week, I got to thinking about some of the responses I received from it.

Lots of guys came to the understanding that getting stronger in a position where they were weak, would in fact help their training from a long term standpoint. Turning a weakness into a strength would benefit them greatly, but it also meant eating a huge slice of humble pie in the process. 


So often I am amazed at the parallels between life and the iron.

With the belt on, lots of lifters feel "secure" and "able". They can pile more weight onto the bar, do more reps, feel more capable.

Taking the belt off, removes all of that security and forces one to acknowledge weakness. It can't be ignored when you start loading the bar.

I read some remarks where clearly guys made excuses for why they would not remove the belt. Or some guys commented that they "only belted up for the heaviest sets", as if that makes any difference. Leave it off for those "heaviest sets" then. See what happens.

When life starts getting to the "heavy sets", it's very common for us to reach for our belts. Some people close themselves off from communication. Others hide their pain behind jest. Some people lie and manipulate.

Some people refuse to trust, or commit to something.

Everyone has their own unique belt.

Feeling vulnerable during the "heavy sets" is not a feeling most of us welcome with open arms. We shy away from it because we've been under that bar before, and gotten buried beneath the weight of it. We condition ourselves to put that belt on when we see more plates being added, because we feel it will protect us.

When the belt is removed however, we get exposed in ways we aren't very fond of. Our shoulders don't seem as broad anymore, our backs are not as sturdy, and our integrity under the weight shakes and eventually we fold like a deck of cards.

Removing the belt is often too difficult for some. The pain or embarrassment of exposing a weakness can be too much to bear. Some just can't take the feeling of being that vulnerable.

Others make the choice to do so, because they acknowledge that fixing a weakness now, means greater strength later. It also means reshaping what the belt means. Instead of being a crutch, we shape it into something new. Now the belt accentuates our strength, and is no longer a crutch we hide behind.

We make a choice to trust.  Angst is removed.

We make a choice to be honest.  Anxiety is lessened.

We make a choice to communicate.  Needs become known or acknowledged.    

We make a choice to forgive.  Anger is removed.

We can make a choice to stop hiding behind jest or self deprecating humor.  Who we are can  be seen more clearly.  

We make a choice to take off our belts, and become something stronger.

Subjecting yourself to your own weakness will always be difficult. Overcoming that, will always be worth it.


  1. Thank you (again) for this kind of topic. I need to think and reevaluate as much as I need to be under the bar. If you are if ever in the SF Bay, let me know...dinner is on my wife and I. All the best.

    1. i want to come out to SF. Great area. Beautiful country.

  2. The pleasure of transforming "hard" situations into easy.
    Great article!

  3. Amazing post Paul, couldn't come at a better time. Am going through a bit of shit in a number of areas of life at the time - this post pretty much reminded me how I need to approach things. Can't control everything - but I have 100% percent control over manning up and facing things head on, instead of running away from the pain.

  4. I honestly feel like I could use a metaphorical belt right now. As life does from time to time, I got broadsided by three stressful events coinciding all at the same time--two are life changing. Nobody's hurt or dying, but I have taken my frustration out on the bar and my heavy bag during this time.

    It's been a bit harder because I can't seem to get more than 4-5 hours sleep most nights either due to my mind racing or pain between the shoulder blades that just won't go away waking me up much earlier than I want. Combine that with eating a bit less to try and loose fat and it's just the perfect sh*t storm.

    Somehow, I'm still standing. One of the life changing events will be over this weekend--my son's getting married, and that's a happy thing. However, due to logistics, and feeling rather crispy at the moment I'm probably going to have to take a couple weeks off of training. While I'm not anywhere near my maxes I feel like it. It's like that video of Max Aita with other people loading the bar, only they are trying to put more on than I feel like I'm capable of... (

    1. I know all about it, Berin. Hang in there man.

  5. Another great post and so true in and out of the gym. For years I rationalized why I needed a belt on all heavy sets, I would tell myself you compete with one, so you need to learn to use it. Finally I took it off and had to acknowledge I was weak without it. It was a painful process... for my ego. I now train with and without it, like two different exercises and every time my beltless squat goes up, my competition squat does the same. All the same, I think applying this logic to life is even more effective. Good stuff.

  6. I understand where you are coming from, yet maybe you're position is a little more philosophical than physical? I mean, at age 67 I started CrossFit a year ago after hip replacement surgery. My deadlift maxed at #95. Iv'e worked it up to #350 now and feel more comfortable with a belt, when I get over 90% of max... Not to "help," but to "prevent" - as in pop a gut. Heck, if we don't need a belt, then why bother with running shoes to help us run? Or those ridiculous benchpress shirts? Or straps? Or a jock strap, for that matter?

    1. A belt won't help you with that. There's literally zero evidence to support it. The comparison to shoes isn't quite the same. Yet there are barefoot runners all over the world because they go barefoot from birth. So, yeah you don't need em.

      And yes, this post was more philosophical than physical.

  7. I was also finding that knee and elbow sleeves were starting to be a mental crutch also. No different than a belt. So, I've dropped all of them and have reduced my weights to levels that I am comfortable, between 70%-80% and using higher reps, 6-10+.

    1. I used to feel that way about the elbow stuff, and I'd only wear then sparingly. Then I pressed more at the meet than I did in training and I realized all they did was help keep the pain down.

    2. I agree, if its an issue of pain, be it sleeves or a belt helping I'd say do what you have to. But me, I was having no pain in either place, so they were a mental crutch for sure.