Weightlifting belts are somewhat controversial in the weightlifting world. Some people swear by them, whereas others say that they are ineffectual and potentially even harmful.
In this post, we are going to tell you the truth about weightlifting belts and show that they can be a useful tool, but – like many things – only when used appropriately.
What does a weightlifting belt do?
Inexperienced lifters use them because they see the big guys and gals using them and think that they are a magic way of preventing injury
A weightlifting belt is a thick belt, typically made out of leather or a similarly robust material. It fastens tight around the waist and is used to support the back when lifting heavy loads. One of its main purposes is to prevent back injury, which it does by acting as a second set of abs to cushion your spine.
It can help to manage the stress on the lower back when performing barbell lifts and also to protect against hyperextension when performing overhead lifts.
Weightlifting belts are ideal for seasoned bodybuilders who are lifting very heavy weights with near-perfect form.
Different parts of the body develop at different speeds, the legs often outpace the core and lower back meaning that you can technically lift heavier weights but doing so puts your weaker spots at risk. A weightlifting belt acts as a support system in this situation.
The problem, however, is that people who do not fall into this category use the belts anyway.
Inexperienced lifters use them because they see the big guys and gals using them and think that they are a magic way of preventing injury when in reality these people need to build their core strength and work on their form.
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Can you use a belt to lift heavier weights?
Following on from the point about a belt helping to redress an imbalance in strength between the legs and the core and lower back, this allows you to safely lift a heavier weight so that you can train closer to the maximum point of the strongest part of your body.
It has been reported that the belts can help bodybuilders to add 5-15% extra weight after a few weeks.
This is incredibly useful because once you have reached the point in your weightlifting ability that you are lifting twice your body weight, progress tends to be incremental (as compared to when you first start out and you quickly develop). Belts can therefore provide a sizeable boost to your training.
This is also why weightlifting belts can be a great tool for breaking through a plateau. Again, the problems start when inexperienced lifters use the belt to increase their lifting ability.
Will it work? Yes. Is it good for their body? No!
In fact, using a belt too soon can hinder their progress because it stunts the development of the core while allowing the legs to charge on ahead.
Is it better to lift without a belt?
If you’re new to weight training or have just set up your own awesome home gym, you might be wondering if your next investment should be one in a decent weight lifting belt. Save your money, for now. At the beginning (and for a good while yet) it’s better to start lifting without a weights belt. Instead, concentrate on the big three:
- Form – Perfecting your form in any exercise is essential.
- Breathing – When to breath in and out during a rep
- Core development – No matter which exercises you’re doing, your core should come first.
Can it help with back pain?
In a nutshell, yes, a weightlifting belt can help with back pain…but only in the right circumstances. Belts work by acting as a second set of abs and cushioning the spine, thereby reducing one of the main causes of back pain.
Another way in which it can reduce back pain is related to how it coerces your body into lifting. A belt encourages legs-focused lifting, thus reducing the pressure on your back. It also reduces spinal extension and spinal flexion, again to the same effect.
So, if your back pain is a direct result of lifting beyond your core and lower back strength, a belt can help you.
What a belt cannot do, however, is make up for a past injury. In the same way that you would not take a few paracetamols prior to training to mask back pain; if you enter the gym with a back problem, then a weightlifting belt is not something to be strapped on to get around it.
If you have a back injury, see a chiropractor, not a weightlifting belt retailer.
Should you wear a weight belt when bench pressing
It’s easy to see why you should use a weight safety belt when doing exercises like squat and deadlift, but what about the bench press. You are lying down after all. The jury is out on this one. Many people who get into heavy lifting do like to wear one for the bench, either as a reminder to keep the core tight or to brace against it.
There’s no evidence to suggest wearing a belt while you bench press will add any extra weight to what you can do. It’s down to personal preference and it certainly won’t hurt you.
Is it bad to wear a lifting belt?
It is not bad to wear a weight lifting belt. It’s just not necessary to wear one all of the time, in all circumstances. Wearing one won’t do anything bad to you as such, such as hamper your core strength.
Improper use of weightlifting belts is part of what gives them a bad name. The following are things that a weightlifting belt should not be used for:
- Correcting bad form
- Training through pain from an old injury
- Standing in for a weak core
- Machine weight training, dumbbell training, or bodyweight training
Do weight lifting belts give you bigger abs?
Every time a discussion pops up on Reddit about weight lifting belts, it’s not long before someone asks if a weight belt will make for increased ab development. The logic being that you’re bracing your ab muscles against the belt. Sadly, as much as we love gaining more progress with the same work, there’s no evidence to say that using weight lifting belts make for bigger abs.
Where should a weightlifting belt be worn?
A weight lifting belt should be worn once you reach the stage where you a lifting very heavy weights and need extra support. At what point should you start using a weightlifting belt to protect yourself, increase your lifting ability or to support your near-perfect form? We find that ‘2 x bodyweight’ is a good rule of thumb.
If you are lifting this much and you want to use a belt for one of the proper purposes outlined in this post, then it can be a helpful tool. If not, then step away from the belt!
Reference and Further Reading:
- NCBI – Effect of a weightlifting belt on spinal shrinkage
- Christopher C. Frankel and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. – The Weight Belt Controversy
- Diva Portal – The weight lifting belt’s impact on power output, velocity and range of motion in a squat
- NCBI – The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise
- Men’s Health – Does That Lifting Belt Really Do Anything?