The New Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt
Y’know, for one of the most popular powerlifting tools, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding belts. I get questions about them all the time: if, when, and how to wear one; what brand or style is best; even whether belts are cheating! The truth is, most of these choices come down to personal preference, but I understand the desire to train optimally or even try to get an edge by using the best equipment. No, that’s not cheating — it’s being smart!
Besides, powerlifting belts have been around forever, even since powerlifting’s earliest days, although in the 1960s, most athletes used the thin, tapered belts preferred by modern Olympic lifters. The four-inch belt became standard pretty quickly (by 1972) and has remained virtually unchanged since, although we have seen a few innovations. Most notable: lever belts, which allow some people to cinch a belt tighter than they could with a buckle. Most lever belts aren’t easily adjustable like buckle belts are, so there’s a tradeoff there — or there was, until SBD developed their version of a lever.
The Pioneer Cut buckle is the latest development in belts, and, in my opinion, it’s a big one. The guys over at Pioneer have used offset holes and a sliding prong to allow for very precise adjustments in tightness. Check it out in action:
Why is the Pioneer Cut a Big Deal?
Obviously, the Pioneer Cut solves that problem that the bulk-and-cut guys face all the time: when your waist size changes and your ideal tightness falls right in between the two belt holes, you’re kind of stuck. You’re just going to have to wear your belt a little too loose. But if your current belt tightness is pretty comfy, is the Pioneer Cut useful? To answer that question, we need to take a look at the two purposes of a belt.
The first, and most obvious, is lower back support. Back injuries are incredibly common in powerlifters, athletes in other sports, even the sedentary population. The thickness of a typical powerlifting belt helps to limit excessive arching of the lumbar spine — a position that’s potentially dangerous for many people. When it comes to back support, a tighter belt is almost always going to work better than a looser one.
The second purpose of a powerlifting belt is much less obvious, but arguably much more important. The belt helps you to use your core properly — to brace — by give you something to push your abs out against. Here’s how it works:
- First, you have to create a neutral spine position by engaging your abs. “Bear down” with your upper abs, pulling your shoulders above your navel; and “curl up” with your lower abs, bringing your hips under your shoulders.
- Then, generate intra-abdominal pressure by taking a deep, deep breath and pushing your abs out without exhaling — as if you were trying to blow up a huge balloon.
- This is the position you must maintain throughout all movements that rely on your abs. That’s both direct training, like planks or crunches, and compound movements like squats and deadlifts.
The belt helps quite a bit with step two. When you push out against the rigid belt, you get kinesthetic feedback — in other words, you can “feel” your body moving in the right way. And that intra-abdominal pressure not only protects your back, but helps you lift more weight, too.
But for the belt to help generate intra-abdominal pressure, it can’t be super-duper tight. If it is, you’ll find yourself sucking your gut in, just to get the belt to fit, not pushing out like you should be to brace properly.
So for ideal performance, we need to find a balance between tightness/support on the one hand, and looseness/comfort on the other. The tiny adjustments possible with the Pioneer Cut allow you to find that perfect balance — every time.
Is the Pioneer Cut Right for Everyone?
Like I explained at the beginning of this article: when it comes to belts, “ideal” is nothing more than personal preference. For example, if your balance between tightness and looseness falls closer to the tighter end of the spectrum than you can get with a buckle, the Pioneer Cut won’t solve that problem, and you need a lever belt (this is typically an issue for larger lifters).
That said, unless you have an issue like that, I strongly suggest that you check out the Pioneer Cut. That’s because the ideal balance of belt tightness often changes throughout the course of a single training session. That ideal balance depends on your goals for each individual set, which are not always the same:
- During your early warmup sets, you don’t need all that much support from the belt, because the weight isn’t all that heavy. But you do need to practice building intra-abdominal pressure, and I find that wearing your belt very loose, so it just barely stays in place, is best for this. It forces you to really think hard about pushing out against the belt, or else it will fall down!
- Towards the end of your warmups, you’ll want to tighten the belt a bit, but not cinch it down all the way. During this stage, you’re still trying to feel out the perfect balance of tightness.
- By the time you get to your work sets, you should know exactly how tight you need to wear the belt. But here’s the thing: that tightness won’t always be the same each training session! Fluctuations in bodyweight due to dieting, or even just daily food intake or water retention, can cause your waist size to change on a regular basis, meaning that that perfect setting is a little bit different every day.
The Pioneer Cut is the only belt style that will allow you to quickly and easily progress through those stages without any tradeoffs.
So I Should Go Out and Buy One Right Now?
Yes! Well, maybe. Look, here’s the thing: these are the details we’re talking about here. The difference between a Pioneer Cut and a regular buckle or lever will absolutely not make or break your training. Shoot, I’m one of the most anal-retentive guys there is when it comes to getting all the little ins and outs of my lifting just right, and even I’m planning to use a lever belt for competitions, because for true max lifts I like my belt really tight, where the lever provides an advantage over any buckle. I’ll continue to use the Pioneer Cut for the majority of my training, where I don’t need quite as much tightness and would benefit more from practicing my bracing.
I should also be up-front about the fact that I haven’t tried every belt that’s on the market. Titan’s quick-release buckle, Pioneer levers with the Kabuki taper, and even various tapered belts all come with their own benefits and drawbacks. The truth is that there is no perfect belt, as much as I wish there were. If you’re happy with the belt you use now, by all means, stick with it. But if you’re in the market for a new one, and you’re leaning towards a buckle, I think it’s a mistake to go with anything but the Pioneer Cut.