The Role of Weightlifting Belts in Strength Training

Posted on May 30th, 2017 at 8:43 pm by

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Should you wear a weightlifting belt?  The answer depends on who is asking the question, as well as whether it would be an uninterested ‘I don’t care’, a condescending ‘no’, or an emphatic ‘yes’.  CrossFitters never wear a belt and they’re proud of it, powerlifters use them obsessively while Olympic lifters don’t care either way.  Bodybuilders, on the other hand, have mixed feelings about weightlifting belts and some believe that wearing one can actually increase the risk of injury over time.  Others think it’s essential for both performance and safety reasons.

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The truth is that only lifters competing in a strength sports, (strongmen, powerlifters, Olympic lifters) should be wearing a belt when lifting.  Most often, a weightlifting belt will work against athletes whose goal is to build a balanced body.

What is it used for?

The main purpose of weightlifting belts are to increase intra-abdominal pressure.  This type of pressure is beneficial for strength athletes because it increases core and spine stability, meaning it can help their performance on heavy lifts involving the lower back.  Strength athletes are judged on their ability to move weight, so a belt can be of help if a lifter is pulling big or squatting heavy.

According to a 2006 research conducted by Kingma, et al., at the Institute of Fundamental and Clinical Human Movement Sciences (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, the Netherlands), it was found that wearing a belt reduces spine loading and compression forces by 10% when inhaling before lifting.

A 1999 study by Miyamoto, et al., at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Gifu University (School of Medicine, Japan) has shown that “Wearing abdominal belts raise intra-muscular pressure of the erector spine muscles and appear to stiffen the trunk.  Assuming that increased intra-muscular pressure of the erector spine muscles stabilize the lumbar spine, wearing abdominal belts may contribute to stabilization during lifting exertions”.

Types of Weightlifting Belts

If we take a look at the evolution of lifting belts, you’ll see that it has come a long way from being just a single piece of belly leather with a harness buckle, to a piece of equipment of varying forms and shapes.  Today, there are three main types of lifting belts.

Powerlifting belts.  Designed specifically for powerlifters, these belts help create a large amount of internal pressure, allowing them to squat and deadlift more weight.  They are the same width all the way round, stiff and heavy duty, with a buckle that can’t come undone and can be pulled as tight as one wants.

Traditional or Bodybuilding belts.  These belts are thicker in the back than in the front, and are thick like the belts that we wear to hold our pants. Made of leather, these belts buckle and fasten just like powerlifting belts but are not that strong, providing less internal pressure.

Velcro belts. There’s a limitation in terms of the amount of force that can be exerted against a Velcro belt before the material pops and the belt loosens. These belts are usually made of some synthetic material and generate far less abdominal pressure, providing only a kind of injury protection but not much of a performance boost.

How to Use it in Strength Training

Weightlifting belts can be used to promote strength, however, they should be saved for efforts greater than your one-rep max, Olympic and big lifts.  Yes, you are going to improve force output when using it for lifts at lower percentages, but if you want to build lasting strength then building coordination and core strength is far more important.

Young lifters, before they start using a belt, should learn how to brace with their abs, lats, supporting core musculature as well as how to breathe.  Nature has already given us our own belt made of muscles and we need to master it before making use of external help.  Your bicep curls are simply not worthy of a belt.

Some people wear a weightlifting belt just to improve their weak core.  However, lifts at lower percentages are core-building, so they’re not actually doing themselves a favor.  Do you know how to breathe from your diaphragm? Have you learned how to get strong with as little equipment as possible?  Have you learned proper form and how to brace your core?  If you don’t have an affirmative answer to these questions, put your belt aside for a while until you’re a more experienced lifter.

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