Should I use a weightlifting belt?

What is a weightlifting belt?

weightlifting belt is kind of a wrap that is worn around the waist when lifting heavyweights. Different belts are made from different materials depending on their type, purpose, and use.

Weightlifting belts typically are made out of thick leather, or there are also nylon belts available. Leather belts are more commonly used because they are long-lasting, durable, and strong. The weightlifting belts are typically kept thick approximately between four inches to six inches. They end at a metal buckle which secures them after wearing on the waist.

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How To Wear A Weightlifting Belt

There are 2 main considerations when it comes to wearing a weight belt: how tight to wear the belt and where on your waist to position it.

Let’s quickly go through both of these factors to ensure that you’re using your weightlifting belt properly.

How Tight Should Your Weightlifting Belt Be?

It should be pretty tight, but not so tight that you can’t breath, that it restricts your setup or range of motion, or that it makes you feel like you might pass out during a set!

Some people tend to suck in excessively, or use the rack to try to tighten the belt, but this often results in the belt being too tight.

Alternatively, if the belt isn’t tight enough, then it can slip during the exercise, not effectively provide a feedback mechanism for your abs, or allow you to generate sufficient intra-abdominal pressure.

I personally like to have my weightlifting belt tight enough that I can just barely stick my fingers between the belt and my abdomen.

Where Should You Position Your Weightlifting Belt?

This can vary somewhat based on the specific exercise, the width of the belt, and the length of your torso.

In general, though, you want to have the belt positioned where you can generate the most force against it using your abs.

For squats, I like to have the belt centered across my belly button, whereas for deadlifts I like it to sit slightly higher – between my belly button and my rib cage – since that is more comfortable while setting up.

Also, people with longer torsos may find it more comfortable to wear the belt higher up than those with shorter torsos.

Again, this part is largely personal, so just experiment with the position that you feel balances comfort and your ability to generate maximal force with your abs.

Precautions:

For heavy lifting always opt for a leather belt instead of the nylon belt because leather belts last longer than the nylon ones. Also, leather belts are more durable, and they provide better support.

Also, make sure that the belt you choose has a prong buckle closure. Do not go for a belt that has a Velcro strap at its terminal. This is because a Velcro belt can easily get unstrapped while carrying out weightlifting. This happens because of the tension created by the core while doing a heavy lift. And of course, no one wants his weightlifting belt to come off in the middle of lifting the weight.

Another precautionary measure which is a must consider, is that if you are suffering from high blood pressure should not go with using a lifting belt. This is because tightening the belt leads to a rise in blood pressure.

Pros of Using a Weightlifting Belt

There are several solid reasons to use a lifting belt.

A belt boosts your performance by increasing intra-abdominal pressure

This is the most obvious benefit of wearing a lifting belt, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a trainee who can lift more weight without a belt than with one. The increased intra-abdominal pressure makes your core more rigid and raises the total power output.

By most estimates, a lifting belt can add between 5 and 10% to your one-repetition-max.

A belt may help prevent injuries

As we discussed earlier, lifting belts do a great job of increasing intra-abdominal pressure. Some researchers suggest that the increased IAP can help keep the spine in a more stable position and thus decrease the risk of hernias and other types of injuries (8).

A belt can help us maintain proper technique

Having a coarse belt tightly around your waist limits not only the range of motion (and thus the potential of putting your spine in a compromised position) but also offers immediate feedback on different exercises.

Many lifters report more consistent technique on various exercises thanks to a weightlifting belt.

A belt offers peace of mind

This is nothing more than a psychological benefit, but it matters a lot. Wearing a lifting belt offers peace of mind for many lifters, which enables them to safely train with heavier weights and make better progress in the gym.

Of course, the peace of mind can backfire, and we’ll look at the potential drawback in the following section.

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Supplemental Breathing and Bracing Exercises

Below are five supplemental breathing and bracing exercises lifters and coaches can use to establish proper pelvic alignment and bracing strategies to help support healthier, stronger positioning both with and without a weightlifting belt.

Isometric Dead Bug

The isometric dead bug is a personal favorite of mine because you can really ramp up the intensity and make this a suitable bracing exercise for a beginner and world-class strength athlete. Start by lying on your back with the knees bent at 90 degrees and place a foam roller across the legs horizontally. With your forearms, pressing into the foam roller and meet that resistance with your thighs pushing into the foam roller. This should create immense amounts of tension in the lower abs, obliques, and lats (focus on scapular depression as well. Try doing this for 20-30 seconds as you learn to increase intensity while still breathing into the core.

Suitcase Carry

Suitcase carries are a great way to increase lateral compression of the core and reinforce proper oblique firing strategies. This helps establish proprioception of the spine to non-compressive and rotation forces, further enhancing a lifter’s awareness of proper positioning.

Weighted Side Plank

The weighted side plank (which can also be done without weight) is another way to increase lateral compression (stability), yet done so in a more static environment (as opposed to the suitcase carry). Place a dumbbell on the lateral aspect of the hip, lift upwards, and think about contracting the oblique facing the floor so that the iliac crest moves toward the armpit.

Lying Pelvic Tilt

This is a foundational exercise that many individuals mess up. When done properly, it can be a basis for more advanced progressions and even max effort isometrics. By lying on the floor, you offer immediate feedback to the lifter, who needs to focus on pushing their lower backs down into the floor, assuming a neutral pelvic positioning. You can do this with the knees bent, legs straight, or legs lifted.

Hip Raise with Neutral Pelvic Tilt

Once the lifter has established knowledge on how to brace the core and stabilize the pelvis properly, they can begin to allow movement at the hip joint via hip extension using the glutes. Most individuals who have lower back pain fail to maintain rigidity in the core and lose their bracing strength as they try to lift the hips. By placing a foam roller between the thighs and locking down the pelvic region (lying pelvic drills), lifters can then work on lifting the hips while not allowing the pelvis to anteriorly or posteriorly tilt through the hip.

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Okay, I want a powerlifting belt. Where can I get one?

If you are looking for a belt, check out this article for a comprehensive review of all different kinds of belts and where to get them.

Keep in mind a brand new belt may feel a little stiffer than usual but it should break in overtime. So once you get a new belt, commit to wearing it over several weeks of training.

One thing you may want to try doing is to go to a powerlifting gym and ask people to try on different kinds of belts and see what you like. You may even be able to buy a used belt off someone especially if you are on a budget.

How To Properly Use A Weight Lifting Belt

A common misconception among those who use belts properly is that you are supposed to ‘push’ your stomach out against the belt during a lift. This is counter-intuitive as doing this will typically result in spinal flexion – the thing most people are trying to prevent in the first place.

Since the belt is used to create IAP, make sure you wear it around your abdomen and not your hips. Make sure not too tight as it can cut off circulation and prevent proper contraction, but fits snugly.

To use it during a lift, just put it on tight and forget it’s there: use your core the way you normally would. Your abs will work harder just by having the belt there, which is exactly what you want.

What Makes For a Good Lifting Belt?

I’m sure you’ve come across those flimsy ‘bodybuilding’-type belts that are so common in most gyms. Those are usually quite thin, very unsupportive to the touch, and largely don’t do anything for us.

A good lifting belt is thick, solid, and somewhat broad. It can feel a bit uncomfortable at first before you break it in. But once you put it on, you feel the support and intra-abdominal pressure.

These belts usually range from 9 to 13 mm in thickness. The 9 mm belts tend to break in more quickly, but the thicker ones are more durable. Keep in mind that the belt you choose will likely last you for decades.

Belts also come in different widths with 10 cm ones being the most versatile for movements like squats and deadlifts.

Finally, there’s the consideration of latching – with levers or prongs. Prongs are a bit tougher to put on and take off (especially if your belt is a snug fit), but they offer multiple levels of tightness on the spot. Lever belts are easy to put on and take off but are locked in a single size, and most require a screwdriver for adjustment.

In any case, if your gym offers some belts, it’s worth experimenting a bit to find what works best for you before making a purchase.

Suggestion: The belt I use is the Stoic 10mm powerlifting belt. Click on this link or the images in this article to check it out on amazon.  At this time, it has a 4.5 star rating with 373 reviews. 

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What Are Weightlifting Belts?

Contrary to popular belief, weightlifting belts aren’t some kind of back brace to protect your lower back.

So when you see someone using a weightlifting belt on every exercise of their workout – including many isolation exercises – they’re probably using it wrong.

Basically, weightlifting belts are thick belts, often made out of leather, that can be used to assist with certain core-intensive exercises like squats and deadlifts.

There are many reasons for wearing a weightlifting belt, but obviously the biggest drive for its advocates is that it allows them to lift more weight.

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Weightlifting belts are an accepted part of natural powerlifting, and if you wear one you are still considered to be lifting ‘raw’.

In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a competitive powerlifter who didn’t use a weightlifting belt, but the question here is whether or not they are suitable for regular, non-competitive lifters as well.

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When Dont You Need a Weight Belt

Weightlifting belts are not necessary for other types of weight training exercises in which the spinal erectors do not work against heavy resistance. For example, the use of a belt will not affect performance on exercises such as the lateral pull-down and leg extension.

Belts also have little or no effect on performance weight loads that are fairly light. However, elevated blood pressure that results from using a belt can increase over time, even when fairly light work or aerobic activity is performed. Lifters with heart disease and blood pressure problems should exercise caution when wearing a tight belt for long periods of time.

Constantly wearing a belt can also cause decreased strength development in abdominal muscles. Electromyographic research has found that there are lower levels of muscle activity in the abdominal muscles when a belt is worn while lifting. The muscles that would normally keep the abdomen stabilized are inhibited when a belt is used, which could result in weaker abdominal muscles in the long run.

Strong abdominal muscles are important in maintaining trunk stability in the absence of a support belt. It is also important not to be too dependent on belts while training, as they may not be admissible during competition.

Lastly, it's also key to use proper bracing and breathing techniques so that a belt can be an effective training supplement. One such example is the Valsalva maneuver, which helps to create abdominal pressure that works to cushion and support the spine.

References

  1. Miyamoto, K., Iinuma, N., Maeda, M., Wada, E., & Shimizu, K. (1999). Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intramuscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Clinical Biomechanics, 14(2), 79-87. doi:10.1016/s0268-0033(98)00070-9
  2. Finnie, S. B., Wheeldon, T. J., Hensrud, D. D., Dahm, D. L., & Smith, J. (2003). Weight Lifting Belt Use Patterns Among a Population of Health Club Members. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(3), 498-502. doi:10.1519/00124278-200308000-00012
  3. Lander, J., Simonton, R., & Giacobbe, J. (1990). The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 22(1), 117-126. Retrieved October 18, 2018.

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