The use of a weightlifting belt in weight training is controversial. Is the belt essential to preserve the back? On the contrary, does it prevent the development of a “natural”, “functional” belt, through the abdominal sheathing mechanism? Should we distinguish between recreational weight training and athletic strength training or weightlifting?
In this article, we’ll discuss how to use a belt when lifting weights. We will answer some popular questions about belts, such as: Do weightlifting belts make you lift more weight? Are they safe to use? When should you belt up? Do belts make your lower back weaker? We’ll also provide you with a few important tips on how to pick the best belt for yourself.
First, what’s a weightlifting belt?
A weightlifting belt is a wrap that you wear around your waist when lifting heavy weights. Different belts are made from different materials, depending on their type, purpose, and use.
There are two types of weightlifting belts- leather and nylon. Leather belts are more common because they last longer and are more durable. They are also stronger than nylon belts. Weightlifting belts are usually about 4-6 inches thick and have a metal buckle to keep them in place.
It’s an accessory worn during weight training to support the back and allow more effective execution of movements. Weight belts are used by both Olympic lifters, powerlifters, bodybuilders, Crossfitters and other athletes who lift weights.
What is the main purpose?
The belt’s main purpose is to “hitch” the abdominal muscles (or their opposing muscles) to provide stability to the trunk. It is also used for cutting back on the intra-abdominal pressure during heavy lifts. This supports and protects their core/back from injury.
They also helps to prevent hyperextension when you are doing overhead lifts. Hyperextension is when the joint moves further than it should from its normal position, which can either increase or decrease the angle of the joint.
The main function of the belt is to give extra support to the abdominal wall, supporting the lumbar vertebrae. It will allow you to put more weight on your bar by putting it on at a weight where the strength of your girdle is no longer sufficient to perform the movement.
This will depend on the development of your abdominal muscles, and we are not talking about your visible abdominal muscles, but rather your internal muscles that allow you to stand up straight. If you have a good development, it will not be necessary to use your belt for 85% lifts, but for example only for lifts above 90%.
Should I use a weightlifting belt?
The answer is not so obvious, because we only have one spine and it must last us a lifetime. It is therefore not a choice to be made lightly.
If you are doing serious strength training, at an intermediate level or for general physical preparation, it is probably preferable to lift lighter weights without a weight belt.
If you do strength training, with a goal of maximum performance, a compromise may be to use the weightlifting belt only for heavy sets, with loads higher than 85% of a 1RM.
If you’ve been working out conscientiously for several years at an advanced level, the use of a weight belt may be considered at your discretion. But don’t fall into the trap of using loads that are too heavy because you’re using a belt.
For which exercises should a weightlifting belt be used?
The weightlifting belt is most useful for exercises that require a high degree of trunk rigidity:
- Squat and variations
- Deadlift and variations
- Presses and variations
- Bent over rows
But they’re also heavily used by Olympic lifters, or anyone who regularly performs heavy olympic lifts, mainly:
Benefits of the weightlifting belt
Reduces shear forces on the spine
All things being equal, the use of the weightlifting belt supports the lumbar vertebrae by increasing intra-abdominal pressure.
This is supported by a study that showed that the use of the belt decreased vertebral compression after a weight training session (3.59 mm vs. 2.87 mm with belt on average).
“Results suggest that the use of a lifting belt increases IAP, which may reduce disc compressive force and improve lifting safety.”
Reduces lumbar muscle fatigue
If you are training primarily to build muscle, you will use the squat to develop your thighs and the bench press to develop your shoulders.
In this case, the sacro-lumbar muscles should not be a limiting factor, and the weight belt will allow you to reduce their fatigue, for a better solicitation of the targeted muscle groups.
Improve execution technique
Some people pay more attention to proper execution of the exercise when wearing a weightlifting belt, as it improves the perception of stability.
Most importantly, the use of a weightlifting belt helps to avoid certain precarious positions.
Thus, in the squat, the use of the weightlifting belt limits the range of motion (and this is the reason why the weightlifting belt is little used among the weightlifters who have to go down in full squat) and decreases the risk of a tilt in anteversion of the spinal column
This incorrect and dangerous placement for the lower back would have been impossible to achieve with a weightlifting belt.
Sometimes allows you to train even with a bad back
If you have back pain, the weightlifting belt can sometimes allow you to do certain exercises without pain, when it would be impossible without it.
This is one example of the important role a weightlifting belt can play in preventing back injuries.
Allows you to lift heavier weights
In the deadlift or deadlift, most people will be stronger or be able to do more reps with a weightlifting belt than without.
The heavier loads used will allow for a better solicitation of the thighs and trapezius.
Disadvantages of aa weightlifting belt
Will it cause weakness in the abdominal or lumbar muscles?
Intra-abdominal pressure is normally obtained by a contraction of the superficial and deep abdominal muscles, and by holding one’s breath (Valsalva maneuver, which is recommended to be reduced to its minimum portion, because it increases blood pressure).
The systematic use of the belt would lead to a weakness of the abdominal muscles, particularly of the deep muscles which are little solicited during the abdominal exercises classically practiced (crunches, raising the knees).
This argument, frequently cited, is not corroborated by this study on the deadlift, which shows that, on the contrary, the rectus abdominis muscle is more active with a weightlifting belt than without! On the other hand, it is true that the large oblique muscle is less active:
“Compared with the no-belt condition, the belt condition produced significantly greater rectus abdominis activity and significantly less external oblique activity.”
As for the lumbar muscles, studies do not converge on the subject: some studies have shown an increase in the solicitation of the erector spinae muscles, others a reduction.
Does it allow you to take on TOO much weight?
If all things being equal, the weightlifting belt will act as a support. In general, the weightlifting belt will be used to exceed its limits and lift weights that we would not have been able to lift without it.
In the end, rather than a decrease in the risk of injury, we could therefore have an increase in injury due to the higher loads lifted.
Does not treat the underlying problem
If you have lumbar or abdominal problems, the use of the belt can also become an excuse not to address the underlying problem: a lack of abdominal gain, sciatica …
Makes it more difficult to breathe in long sets
For long sets (more than a dozen repetitions), wearing a very tight belt causes breathing difficulties.
This is why you’ll frequently see Crossfitter loosen their belt during a workout to perform cardio movements. They will tighten it again once they get back to the heavy lifting part.
Modifies muscle recruitment
In the squat, the use of the belt seems to modify the muscular recruitment, by increasing the recruitment of the hamstrings, glutei compared to the quadriceps.
How to wear a weightlifting belt?
Ideally, the belt should be worn tightly to the limit of discomfort when performing a lift. You can then loosen it between sets.
If you can wear it all the time during your session, it is not tight enough and therefore not very useful…
- Place the belt around your waist.
- Inhale a bit, then tighten the belt, that way you’ll get a little breathing room, but not too much.
- When you’re ready to lift, brace your core, tighten your abs muscles into the belt, then start your lift. That extra pressure you’ll feel from the belt is what it’s there for.
What type of belt should I use?
Velcro or leather?
A velcro belt is not a serious belt for powerlifting. Velcro belts are elastic, so they don’t support the abdomen and the lumbar region well, and their closing system is crap. At best they will warm your belly…
So you should favor a leather belt, it will last you for years, and at least will be fixed and solid. it is a good investment.
Besides, many brands offer lifetime guarantees on some leather belts. This shows that leather belts are resistant, otherwise no company would offer this kind of guarantee!
Then you will have the choice between belts with a lever or with a classic closure, it’s up to you. A belt with a lever is better because it’s easier to put on. However, since the belt is not tightened in the same way for the squat and the deadlift, it would mean that you would have to have two flap belts, unless you want to dismantle the whole closing mechanism each time to adjust it lol.
Tips on using a belt
If you are going to use a belt, the best thing would be to not use it for your first few sets to continue to strengthen your core. Once you get to the heavier loads, and only you will know, you will be able to use your belt to perform the exercise properly.
In addition, each week, try to reduce its use by using it only for the final sets, and you will see that you will only need the belt for a few lifts.
For example, if you start using it on lifts at 70% of your 1RM, try the following week to use it only for lifts at 75%, and so on…this will allow you to work on your gainer more and more, at high loads.
I hope this article has helped you decide whether or not to wear a belt, and that you don’t abuse the belt more than necessary. There’s nothing worse than seeing a badger walk into the gym with his belt on and only take it off when he gets to the shower 😉
And don’t hesitate to put on a belt if you need to, because not wearing a belt won’t make you more manly and strong!