The Hip belt
About ten years ago I bought a hip belt for squatting. If you don’t know what a hip belt is, it’s an apparatus like a lifting belt that let’s you squat by attaching a bar (or dumbbell) between your legs, as opposed to on or in front of your shoulders like you would do for back or front squats. A hip belt is a unique way to eliminate spinal compression while still allowing the lifter to perform the squat movement. It’s most often used by lifters who have previously sustained some sort of lower back injury.
At the time I purchased my hip belt I was lifting in a very large, busy commercial gym where I had gotten a bit of a reputation for doing and introducing some things that many members had never seen before. (And probably haven’t seen since!) My regular free weight repertoire included things like farmer’s walk, trap bar deadlifts, timed wrist and grip work and dips and chins with weight added. I was also known for supplying my own chalk, camber bar, trap bar and assorted grip training toys, which gave new meaning to the question, “What’s in your gym bag?” I had to condition myself to ignore the stares as I exposed my fellow gym members to each new oddity. Somewhat self-conscious, I never liked being watched or stared at.
Like anything new, there’s a learning curve when you first start using a hip belt. So before taking my hip belt to the gym, I made sure I’d read the instructions and practiced using it at home. I did everything I could to avoid making a total fool of myself in front of an audience. As most lifters have found, it takes a good deal of fussing to perfect the setup for hip belt squats. It’s not rocket science, but first you have to decide what sort of bar you want to use. The type of bar you select will then determine where you squat; either in a rack or not. Second, you have to master how the bar is attached to the belt, which comes with an assortment of straps and climbing carabiners. Lastly, you must squat with the belt to get used to the slightly different feel of the movement.
I felt like I was getting the hang of things after the fourth or fifth time I used the belt at the gym. At least the setup wasn’t attracting quite as much attention as it had in the beginning. Still, every time I pulled the hip belt out and started strapping myself in, I knew plenty of inquisitive eyes were trained on me. Without fail someone would always walk by at some stage of the process and ask a bunch of questions about what the heck I was doing.
After a few weeks I was able to get through the set up and perform my hip belt squats with complete confidence. I still got the occasional question here and there, but I was pretty certain I wasn’t attracting nearly as much attention as I was when I first started, which is to say I felt like I was putting on a show for the entertainment and amusement of the other members. As I grew more comfortable with the routine I could actually talk to my lifting partner while setting up and getting ready to squat.
One day my lifting partner and I were chatting as I assembled my things for hip belt squats. Distracted, I forgot to secure the back plates with a collar. I adjusted the belt around my waist, hooked the belt to an EZ curl bar and proceeded to knock off a couple of reps. But as I began my ascent from the bottom of the forth rep, all the plates slid off the back end of the bar! The bar swung up and clocked me square in the back of the head. For about three seconds I could have heard a pin drop. Then I heard a chorus of giggles behind me. Laughing, I realized that in spite of what I thought, I still had an audience. Ug! What a jerk I was!
The moral of the story: always check your collars!