Weight Lifting Belt – Do you even need one?
“Why don’t you wear a lifting belt?” accompanied by a look of absolute horror.
At every gym that I’ve been to.
Surprisingly enough, it’s never the members who’ll pose that query. It will be one of the trainers.
By the time I’m half-way through explaining why I don’t need one right now, the guy’s expression is pretty much on the lines of an average five year old listening to a podcast on economic theory.
Why do people wear a weight lifting belt?
Most people? Cuz it’s conventional wisdom. Almost everyone lifting a respectable amount of weight is seen wearing one. The moment they step into the vicinity of the squat rack, the lifting belt goes on. I’ve seen a few wearing one through bicep curls too!
The common idea is that a weight lifting belt “provides support”, and while that isn’t entirely incorrect, the way it’s understood commonly is. People think it’s like a tough additional layer that will protect their spine from going wonky in case the muscles can no longer support it. A kind of a brace.
That is why you see most lifting belts are broader at the back and thinner at the front. So not only do most people (trainers included) not understand why a weight lifting belt is useful, the ones that make them have very little idea as well.
So what is the whole point of a weight lifting belt?
Ever had the pleasure of pushing a car (or anything really heavy)?
Now imagine doing it. Notice how you tighten your mid-section as you get into “1-2-3 PUSH”?
What basically is happening is that you’re tightening the muscles around your spine and in your core, to form an inflexible midsection so that power from your legs can be transferred to the car straight up.
All the muscles in your mid section push up against the spine, which provides the core structure, and form a sort of super strong pillar, which can bear the weight that the spine by itself could not have been able to.
Here’s a very crappy & rough diagram of how it is:
(I very obviously write better than I make diagrams).
Now when you’re lifting weight, the same thing is happening. The muscles in your core and those around the spine push against it to form an inflexible mid section, so the power from your legs is transferred straight to the weight.
When you wear a lifting belt, your core muscles get something to push against, and the natural core-brace that comes in effect, becomes even stronger.
Let me explain this a bit more with a practical example:
Flex your bicep and notice how it feels.
Un-flex and wrap a crepe-bandage around your bicep so that it’s snug, but not tight.
Now flex. You’ll notice that the flex is much harder. That’s because your muscles don’t have the space to expand outward, so they have to do so inward, which makes the flex that much denser.
The same thing happens to your core when you wear a weight lifting belt while pushing heavy weights. You tighten your core and simultaneously the core pushes against the belt. As it can’t expand outward due to the lifting belt in place, it pushes inward, and there is no loss of force that comes from the legs and is traveling to the weight you’re lifting.
Then when SHOULD you be wearing a weight lifting belt?
See, any time you are lifting a lot of weight that involves transfer of force from your legs or midsection to your upper body, a lifting belt will help you pick more (as long as you know how to brace your core correctly). So squats, dead-lifts and even standing shoulder presses.
However, the idea of weight training is to strengthen as many of your muscles as possible.
If you wear a belt all the time, your core muscles will not develop as much as you’d want them to, and a weak support system can cause eventual injury. So don’t wear a belt unless you’re lifting heavy.
Heavy is relative for everyone, and while doing my research for this article, I came across recommendations of wearing a weight lifting belt once you’re lifting:
- Equivalent or more than your body weight while squatting
- 1.5 times your body weight for deadlifts
- 3/4th of your body weight during shoulder presses
What kind of weight lifting belt, and how to use it?
One that is of uniform thickness all around, and in the vicinity of 3 inches in width. It should have a locking mechanism that definitely should not open under stress, as that happening can cause MASSIVE injury.
You should wear it over your abdomen and try out a couple of positions in placement that work the best for you. The belt should be worn tight enough to provide for that pushing-against effect, but not so tight that you cannot breathe.
So there you go. The next time someone asks you to wear a belt, have fun explaining all this!
P.S. If you want to read how to tighten your core properly for lifting and to be able to make the best use of a weight lifting belt, read up on the Valsalva maneuver.
ALWAYS check with your doctor before beginning any physical activity. DEFINITELY check with a doctor before starting to lift heavy weights.
OBVIOUSLY only pick weights that you can manage on your own and gradually increase the load. Lifting injuries can get pretty nasty, so always ALWAYS stay in complete control of what you’re doing.
You might be in the mood to check out my piece on Gym Douchebags too!