What do they do? Why do we use them?
Weightlifting belts are designed to 1) prevent some lumbar flexion (bending of the lower back), 2) increase intra-abdominal pressure by preventing the abdomen from contracting/bulging forwards and forcing it to contract laterally, thus stabilising the spine (bracing before we lift), and 3) provide feedback and act as a ‘reminder’ to keep the abdominals contracted. When competing or doing workouts where high volumes/loads are being moved (such as 1RM testing), belts are worn as an extrinsic (outside) feedback mechanism to keep our core engaged throughout the movements.
What don’t they do?
- There is little evidence to suggest that weight belts prevent or decrease the risk of injury; in fact, wearing a belt for training regularly can actually increase the risk of injury in athletes when performing lifts without a belt.
“A lifter accustomed to using a belt who tries lifting without one may generate less intra-abdominal pressure than if he had trained regularly with no belt. Training with a belt may thus not reduce vulnerability to injury during lifts without a belt.” (Harman et al., 1988)
- Keep good form or give you better lifting technique
- Make you lift heavier
Do you need one? Should you be wearing a belt?
Before you feel like you need a weightlifting belt, or go out and buy one, answer the following questions:
- Are you attempting to hit a one rep max lift? Are you performing this lift with good mechanics?
- Are you performing a high volume of repetitions under load?
- Are your mechanics appropriate for the movement being performed at the weight being used?
- Are your mechanics appropriate for the movement being performed before using a weight belt?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of the above questions, chances are, you do not require a weight belt. If the problem is an activation or mechanics issue, you will benefit greatly from dropping your weight and working on your technique. For example, if you are performing a high number of deadlifts and cannot maintain your technique while wearing a belt, the weight is too heavy for you – a belt will not make you stronger or maintain your form if you do not have the strength to maintain the mechanics of a movement at that intensity/volume- drop your weight and focus on your form. In the same bucket, if you are performing a 1RM movement, a weightlifting belt is not a foolproof method of injury prevention – proper technique and the appropriate level of strength is.
*As coaches, it is our responsibility to keep you safe, ensure you are performing movements correctly and make sure you are progressing at the appropriate level, if we ask you to slow down or scale back a movement, please do not be offended. We are trying to prevent injuries and help you get the most benefit out of your training sessions.
**As with all things, there are exceptions, if you have been instructed by the relevant health professional to wear a weightlifting belt, please do so.
Harman, E. A., Rosenstein, R. M., Frykman, P. N., & Nigro, G. A. (1988). Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. ARMY RESEARCH INST OF ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE NATICK MA.
Matthews, M. (2018). 5 studies answer: should you use a weightlifting belt? https://www.muscleforlife.com/do-weightlifting-belts-work/?fbclid=IwAR1b6d1gUcMD36XRXQbPUTy1vQMsPU0NrfWnP1w_iGOUCYz7HOLF2wkV19M