The lifting without a belt has been a real light bulb moment for me. After having a n 11 year career as a professional and semi professional rugby player I believed my back was strong but my spine is definitely beat up (as confirmed by MRI). the belt offered me great core stability and minimised a lot of soreness in the lower spine during the lifts but the result of this was that in hindsight my lower back musculature was not where it should be. The moment I removed the belt my ego definitely took a hit as the weight I could lift for reps was drastically reduced. Also I did feel more "pain" during the lift but then had no lasting effects after the workout. I persevered and over a 2 month period with the belt-less deadlifting and squatting combined with a focus on bringing up my strength in the front squat I have made some very reasonable gains. During this time my hand healed and I was able to start to drive up the numbers in the deadlift with a focus on maxing out for a double or triple once a week.
The result. I am now 3 weeks out from a meet that I have signed on to compete in February and I have never felt this good at this time point. My squat and deadlift are on track for PR's based on my double and triple PR's I am having each week and as of last week began to reintroduce the belt back in just on the last 2 or 3 top sets and it has definitely provided a significant boost. As I write this I reflect on a podcast I heard with the great "Captain" Kirk Karwoski and how he would begin prep for a meet 12 weeks out and would only introduce the belt 6-4 weeks out form the meet. I guess as they say "nothing new in the zoo"!
The proof will be in the pudding as they say so I will need to wait for the meet to really know if this "change up" has resulted in an increased total but suffice to say that some subtle changes, Bring up my front squat strength, removal of the belt for a 2 month period and sticking to seeking rep records in the 2-3 rep range mark have meant I have not felt these types of strength gains since I first began training specifically for Powerlifting.