Weight-Lifting Belt: Should You Use One?

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Weight-lifting belt: One of the most common training accessories

If you’ve been in a gym in the past few years, you’ve seen lifters wearing belts for everything from bench presses to biceps curls. So should you wear a weight-lifting belt? The answer varies based on the exercise and weight of the load relative to the most weight you can lift for the exercise. Many think that weightlifting belts are a necessity for preventing injury in the gym, but some people use them indiscriminately and too often. The abuse of weightlifting belts may be increasing the risk of injuries instead of preventing them. Unfortunately, many weight training accessories are commonly misused and as a result do nothing to enhance the efficacy or safety of a workout.

The real purpose of a belt

The main purpose of a weight-lifting belt is to increase intra-abdominal  pressure, which provides support for your lower back on exercises such as deadlifts, squats, bent-over rows, and overhead lifts.  For most guys, it’s a good idea to wear one but only for maximum-weight lifts. Only guys with back problems can use them more liberally. A weight belt is not needed for an exercise that does not directly load the trunk even if it places stress on the lower back (e.g., lat pull-down, bench press, biceps curl, leg extension).

Natural weightlifting belt – gift from the mother nature

Nature has actually given us our very own weight belt in the form of abdominal musculature that runs down, around, and across our mid-section enabling us to create stability when we lift up weights. It is our abdominals that work to create what is known as intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which helps stabilise the trunk and provide dynamic stability during lifting tasks.

Advantages of using a weight belt

  • A weight belt protects the back. In one study, after a strength training workout including heavy compound exercises (such as deadlifts, squats, and rows), the size of the participant’s spines decreased by 0.14 inches without a belt, and 0.11 inches when using a belt.
  • A weight belt provides rigidity. The erector spinae muscles ensure the transfer of strength from the thighs to the torso. If these muscles weaken, your set will be compromised. The belt acts indirectly to the spine. By preventing the belly from moving forward, the belt increases intraabdominal pressure by 25 to 40 percent, which makes the spine more rigid. This means that the front part of the belt needs to be large (not too skinny).
  • A training belt improves performance. In other words, wearing a belt will help you lift heavier weights. By stabilizing the back when you are using heavy weights, the belt helps you gain strength by assisting the muscles that support the spine.
  • A weight-lifting belt prevents varicoceles. A varicocele is a varicose vein in the testicles that can lead to infertility. Variciceles occur in 20 percent of sedentary men, 67 percent of bodybuilders who regulary do squats without a belt, and 33 percent of bodybuilders who use a belt. Therefore, a belt helps protect the testicles, but not completely.

Disadvantages of using a weight-lifting belt

Your abdominals and low back muscles must be strong. The constant use of a weight-lift­ing belt during strength training can give you a false sense of security. You could then expose your spine to greater loads, increasing the potential for injury outside the gym setting in sports or other activities. It may be fine to use the weightlifting belt in the gym, but what happens when you need to move a couch in your family room or pull weeds in the yard?

Here are some other disadvantages of using a weight-lifting belts.

  • A training belt impedes movement by increasing the rigidity of a torso.
  • A weight belt prevents you from breathing well.
  • A belt is not helpful for every person.

The chances are that if you are healthy and not trying to break any powerlifting records then you have little to gain from spending money on a new weightlifting belt and you would be better off focusing on developing superior lifting technique instead.

Weight training accessories: Weightlifting Belts

Weight training accessories: Weightlifting Belts

Compromise is always the best solution

Because the use of a weight-lifting belt has both advantages and disadvantages, you need to make a compromise. The job of the muscles around the spine is to hold it stable. Wearing a weight belt can rob these muscles of the stress they need to grow. Yet wearing a belt can help you lift more weight, which you need for greater site and strength. What’s the compromise?

Warm up and perform light sets without a belt. Only put it on when you’re lifting your top weights of the day. As you get stronger, you will find you are able to lift progressively heavier weights without the belt.

Know how to adjust the belt

You need to adjust the tightness of your weight-lifting belt depending on how heavy a weight you are lifting.

  • The heavier the weight, the tighter your belt should be.
  • Tightening the belt during a warm-up is pointless.
  • Between sets, you should not keep the belt tight; you should remove it.
  • In certain exercises that do not put the spine at risk, such as seated calf work, you have no reason to wear a belt.

Price

A leather weight-lifting belt usually costs $20 to $30 (more for XXL). There’s not much point in getting a belt that’s thin in front and thick in back. You need the support in front, to increase intra-abdominal pressure, as much as you need it in back for structural integrity.

Final Thoughts

In an ideal world, your abdominal and back muscles would be so strong that a weight-lifting belt would not be necessary. But of course, we don’t live in such a world. A weight belt is therefore recommended for ground based, structural exercises that load the trunk and place stress on the lower back (e.g., back and front squat, standing shoulder press, deadlift) and involve lifting maximal or near-maximal loads (at or above 80 percent of your one-repetition maximum). Both conditions should exist; it is not necessary, for example, for someone to wear a weight belt when lifting lighter loads even when performing a structural exercise. If you aren’t at this level of lifting, don’t bother. The belt doesn’t do much of anything except make your back sweat. Besides, you should be strengthening your back muscles when you train. That’s all the support you need.

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