The truth about weightlifting belts
Written by guest author N.P.Burggraaff
Have you ever noticed the protective belts weightlifting athletes always wear? Actually, not only do pro athletes wear those belts, but you can most probably spot them in your own gym! When you look around in your local gym you'll find that your average recreational gym-goer doesn’t wear a belt, but more serious bodybuilders do. The two main reasons for wearing these belts is to prevent lower back pain and to provide better power performance (to lift more weight and perform more reps). How does this work and should you wear one?
How to wear a weightlifting belt
The belt should be strapped around your abs and lower back while avoiding your waist. You should feel pressure but still be able to breathe freely. It advised to only wear these belts when lifting heavy as it can prevent your body from getting stronger if you wear it while lifting lighter weights.
Does it protect your back?
Wearing a belt during weightlifting, especially while doing squats and deadlifts, increases intra-abdominal pressure which is similar to inflating a balloon inside your abdominals. This pressure then pushes on the spine and gives it a sort of built in support. At the same time, the core muscles in the abdominal wall and lower back push on the spine from the outside. This pressure protects the spine when you are lifting heavy weights. In other words, when you are all strapped, yourcore is very stable. It is said that that it is not the belt that protects the back from injuries during lifting, but rather the way the body responds to the belt.
Criticism on weightlifting belts
As with almost all fitness and health related issues, there are many contradicting studies debating whether or not the belt does in fact protect your back. One of the most common criticisms against using the belt is that it would mask and even aggravate potential injuries. By being strapped in so tight, you may lift more weight because it reduces the pain. However, you can also easily ‘overlift’ resulting in injuries and maybe even a hernia. Critics also claim that when using a belt even with lighter weights and more reps, it weakens the back. They say that the stress the back endures by lifting without the belt is actually a factor of adaption and development of the body.
Should you wear a weightlifting belt?
If you are a recreational weightlifter, in other words, lifting is part of your workout routine and you don’t lift overly heavy, then the answer is no. It seems that weightlifting belts are best used by bodybuilders or professional athletes who lift very heavy weights. There is a lot of contradicting research about the belt but one thing that most researchers agree on is that a belt weakens the core when used for recreational weightlifting. Researchers also agree that wearing a belt can mask or even aggravate potential injury. So if you consider yourself to be an extreme lifter, then maybe a belt is worth the try, if you’re not, then stick to your regular outfits!