Weightlifting belt – good or bad?
Well, it depends really. Like a lot of things in the exercise and fitness industry, there are good and bad ways of using equipment, and the weightlifting belt is no exception. There are times when using a belt can be advantageous and times when the use of a belt is totally pointless.
Why would you use a weightlifting belt?
A common misconception is that using a belt will ‘weaken your core’. In fact, proper use of a belt has quite the opposite effect. A belt used in the correct way helps to create spinal stability by increasing intra-abdominal pressure. When you fill your belly with air during inhalation the belt essentially acts as a barrier to push against, thus making it easier to maintain a neutral spine during lifting. This will create stability (making you less prone to injury) and can be a useful tool to help you achieve your strength goals.
How do you use a weightlifting belt correctly?
The belt should be positioned around your torso so it is covering your belly button and it should sit just above your iliac crests (the bony parts of your pelvis on either side of your waist). There is no exception to this, if you are wearing it on your hips then the belt will have zero benefits. The most important thing to think about when using a belt is filling your belly with air – NOT your chest. If you struggle to belly breath, then stop right here – you need to learn to do this first before considering lifting anything heavy. Once you have filled your belly with air you should feel an increase in pressure 360 degrees around the belt and not just at one point of the belt. You’re now ready to lift. If we take a squat as an example lift, fill your belly with air and then start the descent into the bottom of the squat to a range that is suitable for you without losing form. At this point, you should try to exhale hard BUT maintain a closed throat and pursed lips until the lift is complete. Once the lift is complete exhale and repeat this cycle for as many repetitions as required. This breathing pattern is extremely important with the use of a belt. If you are not breathing correctly, then the use of a belt is pointless. Breathing correctly will create maximal intra-abdominal pressure and helps to maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.
Who should use a weightlifting belt?
Nobody ‘needs’ to wear a belt, it is personal preference. Some experienced athletes prefer the feel of the added support and the feedback it offers, for others, it can feel awkward and they prefer the ‘natural’ feel. I personally believe that belts are advantageous but should only be worn by those with at least an intermediate baseline of lifting experience. An experienced lifter has likely developed greater strength and will have proper mechanics and motor control that will allow for functional movement, making the use of a belt beneficial in maintaining form throughout a lift.
Who should NOT use a weightlifting belt?
There are two categories of people that should definitely NOT wear a belt.
- Low back pain sufferers. Wearing a belt purely because you have low back pain is a really silly idea. A lifting belt is not a crutch to get you through a lift. Pain is a message from your brain letting you know that something is not right so it’s probably a good idea to do something about it. I’ll let you into a little secret – STRENGTH TRAINING ON AN INJURY WILL NOT MAKE YOU STRONGER! In fact, it can make you weaker and is therefore totally pointless! If you continue to ignore or aggravate your pain it is likely to persist and turn into a chronic condition. That doesn’t mean to say you have to give up training, there will always be something that you can work on that will benefit your fitness. Get assessed properly by a professional and get it fixed!
- Inexperienced lifters or those with poor technique/mechanics. A belt is not a replacement or cure for bad form. If you have poor mechanics and struggle with mobility and motor control when moving a weight or even with bodyweight movements, then working on your technique should be much higher in your list of priorities than strapping on a lifting belt and hoping for a miracle.
When to use a weightlifting belt?
I would only recommend using a belt on your working sets only. Warm up without the belt and once the bar gets heavy start to incorporate the use your belt. I would also recommend loosening your belt between sets if possible.
As always, if you have any questions get in contact with us here at Twickenham Chiropractic Health Centre.