Weightlifting or training with barbells is a demanding task. You need to be extra cautious while working out with weights, as this can put pressure on your spine and lower back, increasing the possibility of injuries. As a result, most experts advise you to wear a belt when you lift.
So, now the big question is, why do weightlifters wear belts?
To find answers to this question, you need to understand that a weightlifting belt is used for two purposes. First, it reduces stress on the lower back, and second, it prevents back hyperextension during overhead lifts.
So, let us move ahead in the article to discover the ins and outs of wearing belts while weightlifting. In this write-up, we will also discuss whether or not it is necessary to wear belts and when to wear them for maximum benefits.
- Weightlifting belts are used to reduce stress on the lower back and prevent back hyperextension during overhead lifts.
- Belts increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which supports the spine and prevents injuries.
- These belts increase your power, strength, and muscle growth.
- You should use weightlifting belts only when you work with heavy weights, as otherwise this support can weaken your core.
Why Do Weightlifters Wear Belts?
Initially, wearing belts during weightlifting was limited to Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. However, with time people have realized the benefits of putting on the weightlifting belt, making it a popular accessory for every barbell training.
Let us look at the benefits to understand the purpose of weight lifting belt:-
Weight belts stabilize and relieve stress on the spine
There are studies that confirmed when you wear a belt during weightlifting, it increases intra-abdominal pressure by 40 percent. Increasing intra-abdominal pressure is like inflating a balloon inside your abdominal cavity.
This pressure in the abdominal cavity pushes on the spine to support it from the inside. In addition, the core muscles in the lower back and abdominal wall push on the spine from the outside. This pressure from both in and out stabilizes the spine and reduces stress while lifting weights.
Weight belts promote better body biomechanics
According to research, when you wear a belt while weightlifting, it reduces the amount of spinal flexion (forward bend at the spine), spinal extension (backward bend of the spine), and lateral flexion (side bending of the spine). In addition, this same belt increases the amount of flexion at the hips and knees.
So, a belt promotes lifting weights more from your legs as compared to your back, which is the best biomechanical position you should be in, while lifting something from the ground.
Belts improve performance
According to research, wearing a belt during weightlifting increases your power, muscle growth, and strength (especially for the lower body), delivering better results.
The same study revealed that people who performed squats while wearing a belt noticed a 10 percent faster speed than those who didn’t. This happened especially during the last reps of a set. Wearing a belt may help boost your muscle and maintain that power throughout the exercise.
Some studies also revealed that wearing a belt during squats promotes muscle activity in the quadriceps and hamstrings. Better muscle activity during the workout means better muscle growth in the long run. So, this is yet another purpose of weight belt.
Is It Necessary To Wear A Weightlifting Belt?
Yes, it is necessary to wear a weightlifting belt, especially if you aim to train with heavy weights like professional athletes or bodybuilders.
A weight belt compresses the contents of the abdominal cavity, increasing the intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which supports the lower back (as already explained above).
Generally, the spinal erector muscles (that provide support to the lower back) produce less force during the lift, making your spine prone to injuries. However, wearing a belt reduces the pressure on the lower back, protecting it from potential damage.
On the other hand, belts also make the powerlifters more aware of their position. If you ask a weight trainer, they’ll explain how the feel of wearing a belt keeps them conscious of keeping their back erect for maintaining good posture.
Some powerlifters claim that wearing a belt makes them feel more assured, even if it has nothing to do with the IAP and muscle activity. Besides, the weightlifting belt also forms a rigid wall around the lower torso, preventing back hyperextension. This limits back movement and prevents sideward bending and twisting.
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When to Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
Wearing a weightlifting belt is only essential if you are putting a heavy load on your spine. The purpose of a weight belt is to protect your spine from injuries, and therefore, it is essential to use this accessory judiciously.
Now, the most critical question is when to consider a certain weight as heavy enough to wear a weightlifting belt. Every trainee needs to understand that a lifting belt is required when you level up your weight training game. Suppose you have just started barbell training. At this time, you don’t really need a belt as you can create enough tension in your core to perform beginner-level weight lifting safely.
Let’s dig deep to discuss the three important periods when you should bring your belt.
You need a belt for support when you perform Olympic lifts like snatch, clean, and jerk, which require a lot of hip flexion at above 60% of your 1RM.
Secondly, you need a belt when you lift heavy weights in general, like a deadlift with 1.5 times more weight than your bodyweight or performing a shoulder press with .75 times more weight than your body weight. Basically, lifts that involve a lot of core stabilization require support at the back, which becomes easier with the help of a belt.
There are no hard and fast rules attached to when you should or shouldn’t wear a belt. Instead, you need to figure it out for yourself depending on the level of your training and the amount of pressure your spine feels during a workout.
You can go beltless for warm-up exercises and start wearing your belt from the last heavy warm-up set. Also, loosen your belts in between the sets to allow blood pressure to return to normal and maintain optimum comfort.
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When Should You Not Wear A Weight Belt?
Using a belt while lifting weights is not always necessary unless the lifted weight is putting intense pressure on your spine. So, let us now understand the circumstances when you shouldn’t wear a lifting belt.
You don’t need a weight belt if you don’t squat or deadlift
The benefits of using a weight belt have always been associated with heavy weights. If you are not performing a heavy, compound movement like squatting or deadlifting, you don’t need a weight belt. A belt won’t be of much use in fixed-movement exercises like those done using machine.
You don’t need a belt if you are not lifting heavy weights
Experts advise using lifting belts only when you switch to heavier weights with time. As a beginner, you start with minimal weight, and that’s when you never need a belt because lifting weights without a belt makes your core stronger.
If you have never lifted weight without a belt, your core is weaker than the surrounding muscles. So, avoid the belt when you begin weight training or learning to lift.
You don’t need a belt when the spinal erector muscles don’t work against heavy resistance
When you perform exercises where the spine and core muscles do not work against heavy resistance, wearing a belt will be of no use. For instance, your body doesn’t need outer support in exercises like lat pulldown or seated leg extension. So, if you wear a belt in these kinds of exercises, it will be of no good.
You don’t need a belt if you have an underlying health condition
Belts tend to disturb our breathing quite a bit and increase the blood pressure in the body. So, if you are suffering from health conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, you should avoid using weight belts for long.
Wearing belts for longer periods increase the pressure of blood in our body. This can lead to heart stroke in trainees who are already suffering from a heart ailment or high blood pressure issue.
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Using a weight belt is helpful in a lot of ways, as it increases intra-abdominal pressure and prevents back hyperextension. These exercise accessories work best when you use them for lifts where the spinal erector muscles work against heavy resistance.
However, you should ensure not using these belts in each and every exercise, as this may weaken your core. Moreover, people suffering from high blood pressure or heart ailments should also avoid using weightlifting belts for longer as it may lead to unwanted scenarios like increased blood pressure or a heart stroke at worst.