Weight… don’t touch that belt! At least before you do, make sure you know the reasoning behind why weight belts are used and if you should or should not use them.
Types of Belts
There are various types of belts that any person could buy. The three that are most common are bodybuilding belts, powerlifting belts, and velcro belts. Bodybuilding belts are the belts you see with the thinner belt in the front with a broader back. Powerlifting belts are different from bodybuilding belts due to their uniformity across their length. These belts typically are manufactured with a stiffer material, such as leather, with the goal of assisting the athlete with heavier weight. Finally, the nylon belts are made of a synthetic material with the fastening mechanism being velcro.
Why are they used?
Each of these belts generally have the same purpose no matter what belt is being used. Their main purpose is to help assist the athlete or individual in creating intra-abdominal pressure. In short, intra-abdominal pressure is essential for a safe and efficient lift, especially when referencing a deadlift or a squat. The pressure that is created with the assistance of the belt helps ensure that there is proper loading of the spine through proper muscle activation. Without the belt, the body can only create a limited amount of pressure based on the technique, training, and experience of the individual. The belt around the torso provides an extra layer of “muscle” around the abdominals to increase the pressure that can be made. This added pressure is not substantial but can assist with specific training goals. If you want to learn more about bracing then check out one of our previous blogs!
Should You Use Weight Belts
Now the biggest question regarding belts: should you use them? That is inherently a loaded question. That, like many questions in fitness, does not have a clearly defined answer. It depends on many factors based on the experience of the lifter, their goals, previous injury history, exercise selection, and many other things that will decide whether or not a lifting belt will be right for them. However, based on the majority of the population, and generalized goals most people DO NOT need a weightlifting belt. This answer ultimately boils down to three reasons: technique, reliance, and atrophy.
Without proper training beforehand, using the belt has no purpose. The purpose of the belt is to assist the lifter in creating high amounts of pressure to increase the weight moved. If the individual does not know how to sufficiently create that pressure, then there is no point and the belt will be just there for show; which it usually is in the first place – don’t be this person.
Reliance is a common reason why generally belts shouldn’t be used. Many times, beginner and intermediate lifters rely too heavily on the belt for exercises and even use the belt on exercises that might not need it. In either case, reliance on the belt may negatively impact your performance in the long run.
Why you shouldn’t use Weight Belts
Finally, the most significant reason why a belt shouldn’t be used is this idea of atrophy. Atrophy is the term used to describe losing muscle, this is when an insufficient amount of stimulus is given to a muscle to grow. An easier way to say this is “you use it or you lose it.” Although this may not be a realistic example, the concept is still a good rule of thumb to any gym accessory. Whether this is belts, wraps, straps, they all can have the same effect. In addition to poor technique and reliance on the belt, the core and the surrounding musculature may become weaker if the belt is used too much.
When the belt is used too much, focus starts to deviate from proper form to just using the belt. This means that the core is not being used nearly enough and the overall form decreases. Using a belt may lead to an overall increased injury risk if not used properly. With all these factors, using a belt for a novice, beginner, or intermediate, gym-goer should not be recommended at first. Just like anything, everything has its place and time.
(IMO) When Should a Weight Belt Be Used
A weight belt should be used after satisfying 3 different criteria:
- Proper breathing and bracing
- Integration of technique
- Specific use case
These three criteria should cover all three main problems with using a weight belt. After learning how to properly execute core bracing the belt will have a genuine effect on the lift by assisting in creating the IAP. The integration of technique (i.e. during a squat or deadlift) allows the individual how to breathe and brace during specific movement patterns which will decrease reliance on the belt since they do not need it all the time.
Finally, there should be a specific use case for belts. The goal of a tool is to make the work easier and more efficient. The weight belt is no different, there needs to be a goal in mind. For example, when performing heavy 1RM, Triples, or heavyweight in general.
Another example could be an As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) set. In both these cases, a belt can be used. For the former, the assist with creating extra IAP will typically help the individual lift more weight. This does not mean using the belt for all the warm-up sets, rather, use it on your specific working sets to balance the time not using and using a belt. The latter will assist while fatigue sets in. Despite being lower in weight, the increase in reps will create fatigue and form breakdown. The belt will help the individual be more efficient and maintain IAP during the prolonged workset.
After fulfilling these above criteria, it will be generally safer and more efficient in using a weight belt.