Do I Really Need a Weight Belt?
Alright, you may have seen people wearing a belt in the gym and wondered if a weight belt is for you. In general, and for most of you reading this, a weight belt is probably something that should be used sparingly in your workouts, and maybe not at all.
Whether a weight belt holds back your core muscles from experiencing growth on heavy exercises is debatable, but the belt can provide safety when you’re doing very heavy lifts or when there is a possibility of injury.
There are 3 reasons you might want to wear a weight belt when you workout:
1. Reduce Stress: belts help to reduce stress in exercises where the spinal erectors are involved in holding your lower back straight. Think of exercises like the deadlift or squats.
2. Prevent Hyperextension: By helping you to keep your lower back straight, a weight belt can keep you from bending too far back and going into hyperextension on exercises such as the overhead press.
3. You look dead sexy in a weight belt: Not very likely though.
How it works:
At first glance, a weight belt looks like a piece of safety equipment that protects the lower back by placing direct pressure against it. But in reality, the true magic of the weight belt comes from the other direction: it’s the pressure on the abs that grants you added stability.
To work properly, your weight belt must be tight enough so that it compresses the abdominal cavity. This tightness in your mid-section creates a pressure that pushes against the inner side of the bones in your lower back, and this pressure is referred to as intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).
Because the pressure is pushing more on the inside of your lower back, your lower back muscles don’t have to strain as hard to pull on the other side. So the focus of a weight belt for squats is to apply pressure from the ab-side of the equation.
This all means that a belt should be worn tightly in order to be effective. But like so many things in life, it can come with a price. A tight belt can restrict blood flow and increase your blood pressure if worn for too long, so you’ll have to be sure to loosen it when you’re between sets.
Since the purpose of a weight belt is to place pressure on your abdominal cavity, the weight belts with a larger back area serve no special purpose. The best type of weight belt will be the same width all the way around, and should be just wide enough to fit between your hips and rib cage.
When to use a weight lifting belt: Generally, a weight belt should be saved for the moments of high-intensity. If you’re going to do your one-rep max, a heavy set, or if you have any feeling that you might get injured, go ahead and use it.
But use it sparingly if possible. Most people new to weight lifting don’t need to use a weight belt, and if you have good form and no injuries, you might not ever need one. Weight belts can be useful for the following exercises:
Better than a weight belt:
I’m a believer of letting your muscles to the work that they were built to do. You can keep your body ready to handle the stress by strengthening your core. Remember that you are already wearing a natural weight belt of muscle that wraps around you. Making your core muscles stronger will strengthen that natural belt.
You can do this by making sure that you’re not neglecting your ab workouts and that you’re actually treating your abs like a muscle group that deserves your time and attention. Also, toughen up your lower back by starting with a lower weight and increasing that weight progressively on your squats and deadlifts.
Do you remember that intra-abdominal pressure (AIP) that we talked about earlier? You’re still going to need that when you’re working out without a weight belt. To get it, tighten your abs to apply pressure to your abdominal cavity with each rep.
Taking a deep breath and holding it will also help to keep the pressure throughout the movement. Hold that breathe in throughout the entire movement and then breathe between reps so that you can keep the pressure on and assist the lower back muscles.
Again, this is going to be a judgment call on your part. If there’s any question about the possibility of an injury, you’re better safe than sorry. But use weight belts with good judgment and only when you really need them.