I was back in the gym this month for the first time in four months.
Something was funky about my squats. I kept wondering why it felt so tricky to keep my back firmly aligned. Things felt a little wobbly once I had loaded weight on the bar.
I was using torque from my feet, spreading the floor. I was pulling out on my knees. I was keeping my butt engaged. And my shoulders were back and down, tight. But I felt like the torque from my legs was bleeding out somewhere, not making it all the way up to the bar.
What was going on?
Then I got a gut feeling. Literally. My gut. I had forgotten all about belly pressure.
Your belly is a powerful element for exertion. It provides structure for the most strenuous power outputs in life. Lifting a heavy load on your shoulders, hauling something off the ground, and pushing a dead car down the road all require you to keep your belly tight for maximal effort.
It’s because your belly is critical in transferring power from the feet to the point of push or pull. How, when it’s the softest part of the body?
The softness is actually the key. Because your abdomen is flexible, it can act like a balloon. Suck in a deep breath, down to the diaphragm, and you find that you can tighten your belly down around that air. Now feel it. Rock hard.
Ever had your head bonked against your dad’s belly and wondered why it felt like a bowling ball? Well, he was utilizing abdominal pressure.
This balloon of pressure is the pillar through which power can transfer most efficiently from your hips up to your shoulders. When you have it firm, your belly is the connecting structure that keeps your torso sturdy.
With a deflated belly, you put most of the power transfer back on your spine. Not as rigid, not as effective.
The Weight Belt
Now you might see the value in using a belt during your heaviest powerlifting reps. Wrap a normal belt around your midsection, just above the navel. Breathe in, down against your diaphragm, and push with your belly against the belt. Feel some power there?
I don’t think it’s advantageous to use the belt for lighter lifts. There is value in squatting and deadlifting without a belt. It helps you engage your core by itself, and you learn proper technique. Having a belt through all training, from the lightest weights, can make you depend on it and have a false sense of security.
On your heaviest lifts, though, it can be a powerful tool to scale your well-developed technique. It also helps you build your belly muscles by enabling a greater output from them.
Training Belly Pressure Without a Belt
Start without a belt, using the principle of abdominal pressure in training. Try it first without any weight on your shoulders. Do body weight squats, taking in a deep breath and pressing your belly against it, and hold it in until you squat and stand back up. Then release the breath.
Hold and release your breath for each rep. You may need to take a little breather in between. Don’t pass out. You need oxygen to stay conscious and to stay healthy.
By the way this is great training for low back issues as well. The stability from your belly pressure will help you maintain spinal alignment. Use the principle for daily activities, like lifting things off the floor, picking up grocery backs, and taking out the trash.
Ask me something. I’ll answer.