One of the most highly used lifting accessories you will see in a gym is the weight belt. Some people swear by them, wearing it regardless of what they are training. Some use a belt only for specific exercises or for their heaviest lifts, and some won’t use one at all, preferring to lift within the limits of their core strength.
Let’s take a look at the actual function of a belt, and then take a look at the pros and cons of their use.
So how does it work?!
The stabilisation of our lower spine during lifting is created by muscle groups applying pressure to hold it in place. Your core muscles such as your obliques, abdominals, erector spinae, and thoracolumbar fascia (lower back) push on the spine from the outside. On the other side of the fence, so to speak, the pressure in the abdominal cavity applies force on the spine from the inside creating a rigid core and protecting your spine during lifting.
The purpose of a belt is to generate greater pressure within the abdominal cavity, therefore providing more support and stability through the lower spine. This is referred to as intra-abdominal pressure. The belt does this by not only applying pressure when tightened, but by giving the muscles something to push against. The increase in intra-abdominal pressure therefore generates greater strength and stability through the lower spine during lifting.
A belt will help provide support through your core, so if you’re going for a PB or 1RM, you will most likely have increased performance, greater stability, and mentally have more confidence going into the lift. It may help prevent injury that could occur from heavy lifts or questionable form.
Our bodies adapt and strengthen when placed under load. Those in the learning process of training have to develop neuromuscular patterns for how to brace, support, move, lift, push, pull, etc. Part of this is the body learning how to brace the core and protect the lower back, the use of a belt can inhibit this learning process and put bad habits into place that may lead to a weak core and possible injury.
Many people will use a belt to lift more than they should be. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to exercises that put load through your core placing stress on the lower spine, such as squats or deadlifts, you need to check your ego at the door. Relying on a belt to get you through the lift instead of developing your core strength and form to lift the weight correctly will only lead to having a weak point in your lifting chain and possibly injury further down the track.
While a belt shouldn’t be a substitute for proper execution of movement mechanics, a belt can be thought of as a tool with a purpose. If you’re going for a monster lift, a PB, a 1RM, a belt can provide you with the mental confidence and extra support to allow you to ‘safely’ achieve this goal.
For myself, the ultimate goal will always be continuing to develop myself into a strong, well rounded athlete capable of performing solid ‘raw’ lifts with confidence in the strength of my core.
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