The Complete Lowdown On Weightlifting Belts
Do you really need a weightlifting belt?
Weightlifting belts, are they worth it?
A question that is often asked is “do I need a weightlifting belt?”. The answer is not a simple one as there are advantages and disadvantages of using belts. Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of belts and then you can decide.
A lot of bodybuilders believe that belts are critical for performance and safety issues while others believe that they can increase your risk of injury if you use them for long periods. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Advantages Of Wearing Weightlifting Belts
Scientific experiments have been conducted where it was proven that if the pressure in the abdomen is increased then the whole area becomes more stabilized, and this puts less pressure on your spine and will enhance your ability to lift weights that are heavier.
Another study suggested that spine loading is reduced when wearing a tight and stiff back belt while inhaling before lifting. It is all about avoiding injuries to your lower back.
Disadvantages Of Wearing Weightlifting Belts
Many believe that wearing belts will disrupt motor learning. The abdominals need to be used correctly when performing many exercises and this includes the obliques and transverse abdominals. Your ability to learn how to squeeze your abs tightly and correctly can be limited with belts.
The second disadvantage is that many people believe that if you wear a weightlifting belt you are going to cause your lower back to be weaker than if you hadn’t worn one. The thinking here is that you will lose out on the necessary back stress that would drive your adaptation.
The third disadvantage is that belts can mask or aggravate potential injuries. You are going for those big lifts and you feel a pain in your lower back. Instead of checking your form or dropping the weight a bit you wear a belt. The pain subsides but later comes back much worse.
The first two disadvantages are fairly thin. The motor learning problem can be overcome by having a good coach and watching what you are doing with good core and stabilization work. The weaker lower back theory doesn’t really hold water. Most of the strongest deadlifters in the world wear belts.
As for the injuries, this is just common sense. Never wear a weightlifting belt to mask an injury. You are just asking for trouble.
When Should You Wear A Weightlifting Belt?
There is no need to wear a belt when undertaking every exercise. It is better to allow your abdominal muscles and your back to function normally. When it comes to the heavier stuff it is recommended that you work up to this without it. Just wear it when you really need it.
You should use your belt earlier for technical lifts such as squatting and speed squatting as filling the belt up is important, and you need to practice this to get it right. A belt really isn’t necessary when it comes to assistance work.
How To Use The Belt
If you are wearing a belt then use the valsalva maneuver to get the best use out of it. You need to take a big gulp of air into your stomach and then close your throat and exhale forcibly. This will push your stomach into the belt increasing midsection pressure.
Your lower back should then be arched. It is preferable not to over tighten the belt but to concentrate on pushing your abs out for the maximum pressure.
How To Wear Your Belt
Place the belt around the small of your back with the buckle (if it has one) covering your lower abdominals. It should not be worn so low that it interferes when deadlifting or squatting. You need room for your abs to expand so don’t make the belt too tight.
Different Weightlifting Belts
There are different weightlifting belts available. The designs can be a lever, prong or ratchet. The prong design is the least expensive and a good choice. Ratchet designs can be cumbersome and lever belts are difficult to adjust (you will need a screwdriver!).
There are two standard thicknesses which are 10mm and 13mm. It is easier to break in a 10mm belt to make it comfortable but the 13mm belt is tougher. Single prong is recommended over double prong as it is easier to adjust.
The 10mm single prong is fast becoming the standard power belt and can be used for every lift although there are alternatives. You can get a thinner belt without a buckle for deadlifting. This makes getting down to the bar easier.
Alternatively, you could use your power belt backward which will ensure that the buckle will not get in your way. Most lifters won’t bother with this and just wear it as normal.
When bench pressing, you can use a narrower belt which holds your bench shirt in place and doesn’t interfere with your arching.
There are now Velcro belts available that are made of synthetic materials. They will not withstand as much pressure though, as they only remain attached to your body with Velcro. The amount of abdominal pressure generated will be less and they are unlikely to provide a performance boost.
So Are Belts A Good Idea Then?
“Should I wear a weightlifting belt?” Well as long as you are not using a belt to mask an injury or make up for poor form then there is no reason why you shouldn’t. If it helps to wear a belt, if it doesn’t then don’t wear one. It really is up to you.