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Pioneer Belts are some of the most popular weightlifting belts currently available. Not only have they been noticed by the public (see their 100K+ Instagram followers for reference) but they've also been noticed by other companies as shown by their latest collaboration with Rogue Fitness. The Pioneer Cut Power Belt is a unique take on the ever-popular single-prong power belt that was invented by powerlifter Steve Strohm that allows for twice as many size adjustments as a traditional belt. Pioneer has combined this technology with heirloom quality materials to create what is likely to be the last belt you'd ever have to buy (we'd understand if you buy many others simply because you like them.) We are big fans of the belt and honestly see it as one of the best value belts available thanks to its quality, price, and potential durability. We recommend the Pioneer Cut Belt to anyone seeking a high-quality power belt.
Power belts have become one of the first specialty purchases for many lifters in today’s market. Due to the increasing amount of people being introduced to barbell lifting and just training to be stronger in general, the gear associated with what it takes to safely and efficiently perform these lifts is getting noticed as well (not to mention a power belt is one of the cheapest accessories related to lifting.)
What a good powerlifting belt is designed to do is allow the lifter to increase the quality of the isometric muscular contraction in the trunk region. The belt gives the muscles of the trunk something to contract against, providing much-needed proximal support to the spine. The feeling of having a more rigid torso also provides confidence in moving what needs to move, and keeping still what needs to keep still during the lift.
The Pioneer Cut Power Lifting Belt that we got sent in is 13mm thick (there thickest option and ordered mostly to compare to the SBD Belt,) and 4” wide which is the standard power belt width (we use 3” and thinner for deadlifts, however.) One of the standout features of Pioneer Fitness (and also one that can be overwhelming) is that they allow you to customize just about every part of your belt. This means that if you know exactly what you want, it’s a breeze. However, if you’re unsure or have a difficult time making decisions, you may be stuck in a constant feeling of unsurety and never actually end up purchasing a belt.
One thing that is easy and should be done by everyone who is going to order a belt is to make sure you get the correct size. In order to get the proper size belt, I took out a tape measure and measured my circumference around the navel for the most accurate measurement and then choose my size based upon that. Do not, I repeat, do not just order a belt based upon what you would guess. I’ve done this in the past with power belts and been way off and had to completely reorder a new belt.
From here, Pioneer Fitness allows you the following size options:
The 2nd customizing option is for them to use either treated or untreated leather for your Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt. The differences between treated and untreated leather are pretty simple. Untreated leather is just raw leather. It can be a little harder to break-in and doesn’t protect as well against moisture. This isn’t a problem for some lifters as they wouldn’t have a problem with their own sweat adding to the character of the belt. The treated leather option means that the belt is immersed in a combination of mineral and fish oils. This allows the leather to be a little more pliable and also helps protect the leather from moisture.
The third option you are able to choose from is whether you would like the belt width to be 3” or 4”. More and more companies are beginning to offer belts other than the traditional 4” power belt, and for good reason. Several years ago Mark Rippetoe (author of the barbell textbook Starting Strength) came out with an article called “The Belt and the Deadlift,” where he spotlights the importance of having powerbelt options less than the standard 4” width. Belts less than 4” (such as the Pioneer Cut 3” Power Belt) work much better for most people when performing the barbell deadlift.
From here, you have additional customization options that cost a little more money. For instance, you can choose the stitching color within a vast palette of options (add-on $9.95 for any color you choose besides white which comes free). You can also upgrade the buckle color from the standard silver/nickel-plated to black for an add-on of $9.95.
Furthermore, you may wish to add custom laser burned messages to your Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt to either the outside of the belt (add $50.00), the loop of the belt (add $15.00), or on the tongue of the belt (add $15.00). These messages are standard text, but in our opinion, the lettering comes out very sharp and professional looking. For an additional add-on of $75.00, you may also wish to add a laser burned picture to go onto your belt.
The Pioneer Cut Power Belt by Pioneer Fitness (a division of General Leathercraft Manufacturing) is the latest advancement in the prong style of power belts.
The first thing we noticed about the Pioneer Power Belt is the reason why it is trademarked. The Pioneer Cut is trademarked as it utilizes a specific design so that you can make precise ½” increments to tighten the belt. Most prong belts adjust only in 1” increments, which often feels either too much or too little.
The Pioneer Cut is stated to be a patent pending design by powerlifter Steve Strohm who we’ve talked to via Instagram. It’s nice having a belt designed by someone who has actually spent some time underneath a barbell, as they will perhaps have a better concept of realizing the nuances of what makes a good power belt indeed good. There’s no doubt that the person who came up with the idea actually used it.
Tracing our fingers over the lettering we had done to our Pioneer Cut Belt, we noticed how durable and thick the 13mm treated leather feels. The cut and stitching are very uniform and well done. The belt utilizes a seamless roller buckle with a single prong, with nickel-plated rivets to hold the buck system together. One cool feature we noticed is that leather at the buckle end is nicely tapered down so it's not overly thick at the loop. We examined other power belts and noticed that other companies do not taper down the leather nearly as well as Pioneer has.
The leather Pioneer uses one solid piece of what is called sole bend leather, sandwiched by two pieces of suede with all three layers being glued and sewn together. Sole bend leather is some of the best quality of leather you can find. Sole leather is cut from the best portion of steer hides (below the shoulder and along the back ends and side of the steer’s spine) and is firm, thick, and strong. Outside of some high-end weightlifting belts, sole bend leather can commonly be found in high-quality shoes and boots.
You can tell they spend extra time sanding down the leather at the edges so that it results in a smooth and consistent appearance. The edges are then dressed and finished black which give the belt a good professional look. We initially asked for a red edge dressing to mimic a luxury handbag, but they currently only offer black (I assume very few people ask for any color other than black.)
The buckle portion of the belt uses a seamless roller buckle, which is something found on more expensive belts and should increase the longevity of the belt. The prong portion of the buckle is run through the folded portion of the belt, but unlike most power belts, there is a large cutout which allows the prong to slide up or down. This, combined with the offset holes is what allows the belt to adjust in smaller increments, and more importantly, do so without the belt feeling any different from a typical prong belt.
To top it off, the Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt also comes with a lifetime warranty and is made entirely here in the U.S.A at their shop in Texas. They also offer a discount for military and first responders if you ask them for one.
Breaking a belt like this in does take some time. One way to speed this process up is by rolling it up into a circle one way, massaging it back and forth, and then rolling it up into a circle the other way and repeating. This is not a one-time process and will need to be repeated multiple times in the beginning, but eventually, the belt will fit your torso like your favorite baseball glove would your hand.
When we take stock of the other powerlifting belts we have used, we notice the little differences that the Pioneer Cut Power Belt have above their competition. The ability to adjust a single prong power belt with ½” increments is a big deal to us. Sometimes a lifter will notice how much their midsection may fluctuate throughout the day. Some days you may be storing extra water or may be a little too bloated from carbs. Other days you may be slightly depleted. This is where a ½” becomes very useful. The ability to accommodate these seemingly small yet significant changes in trunk circumference is novel and needed.
In terms of manufacturing and leather work, Pioneer is among the best out there. Every step from the design to the manufacture of the Pioneer Cut Power Belt has been optimized for function as well as durability. They cut no corners in the material used as well as finishing touches which is why their belts are priced as they are.
For example, one of the most well-known powerlifting belts in the industry is the Inzer Forever Belt. This belt is notorious for being one of the hardest belts, if possible, to be broken in. One of the reasons may be that in the leather layering process, they add a layer of what is called Robus Leather to be used as one of the layers. You have probably handled Robus Leather before as it is used as a cheap leather in low-end shoes as well as purses and other low-market brand leather products. It feels and rips like cheap “leather-board” cardboard. The reason Inzer and some other companies use this is to simply make the belt thicker instead of using one solid piece of sole leather as the Pioneer Cut Power Belt utilizes.
Bob’s belts as well as the Crain Power Belt also uses Robus Leather as a layer (along with a good solid piece of vegetable tanned sole leather). Durability wise, they do stitch and glue the layers together which helps with the belt holding together over time, but, just because a piece of material is hidden, that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Another belt from the past few years is the STrong Belt by powerlifting industry leader Mark Bell. While popular, when compared to the Pioneer Cut Power Belt we find several flaws such as the type of leather used and how it is layered together. The STrong Belt is 3 layers of 3 to 4mm curried leather that is only stitched together, not glued. This results in the leather rubbing together and over time will weaken the stitching. Similar to the STrong Belt would be the Rogue Ohio Lifting Belt which uses 2 pieces of curried shoulder leather that are stitched together (but aren’t glued). Again, Pioneer uses one piece of sole leather stitched, glued, and sandwiched by 2 pieces of suede.
The SBD Power Belt is an adjustable lever belt that is possibly the best lever belt out there. We’ve reviewed it in the past and ranked it extremely high, however, the reason we like it so much is their unique lever system. The Pioneer Cut, while not a lever belt, we believe is a better value (quality::price). The belt portion of the SBD Power Belt is manufactured quite nice, but is priced much higher, around $230 as of this writing, mainly because of the unique lever system. Most people are used to lever belts that need to be adjusted with a screwdriver, whereas no screwdriver is needed with the SBD Power Belt. With the ½” adjustability feature of the Pioneer Cut, we have found that a lever belt does not actually much more in terms of stability when compared to a prong style belt. This said, we’d love to a Pioneer belt with an SBD lever, although we doubt we ever will (or SBD sell their lever system separately from their belts.)
A newcomer in terms of belt making is Dominion Strength Training. They produce the Starting Strength brand of belts and have largely focused on 3” deadlift belts although they’ve begun venturing into 4” power belts as well. The Dominion Weightlifting Belt utilizes the conventional single prong design and appears to apply no dressing to belt edges, whereas the Pioneer Belt does (and we find gives it an overall more professional look as well prevents the edges from fraying over time). This said, Dominion Strength is making great belts and are comparable in many ways to Pioneer without the wide array of customization options. We've done a review on the Deadlift Belt from Dominion Strength that you can find here.
Best Belts is another option very comparable to the Pioneer and Dominion. The Best Belt is more comparable to the Dominion Weightlifting Belt in the simplicity of its design and features. Best belts allows for fewer customization options compared to Pioneer (we’re pretty sure Pioneer blows everyone out of the water in this area.) You are able to choose the color of your belt, and the lead time is generally 5-7 weeks. Pioneer Belts have a lead time of 4-6 weeks for non-embroidered belts and 6-8 weeks for embroidered/laser burned. Not every company listed above offers customization options (besides sizing), so the ability to professionally laser cut your name or whatever text or picture you choose truly makes the Pioneer Cut Power Belt a cut above the rest.
Our general feel for the Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt, after using it extensively for the past few weeks and breaking it in, is that is one of the best single prong belts on the market. A single prong power belt is a simple design, and this is where we believe attention to detail has served the folks at General Leathercraft well. The feel, overall construction, and the added touch of ½” adjustability of the Pioneer Cut Powerlifting Belt are sure to make you feel as if you have the best power belt that money can buy.
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