You may wear a weightlifting belt yourself, know other lifters who do, or see other gym goers wearing them.
You may wonder, does a weightlifting belt weaken your core? A weightlifting belt does not weaken your core. Wearing a belt can increase spinal stability and stiffness by supporting your natural core musculature. During training, though, you should incorporate phases where you train without a belt to ensure that you develop your core muscle strength naturally.
In this article, we’ll discuss how a weightlifting belt works, how to get the most out of wearing a belt by bracing properly, and why you should (sometimes) not wear a belt. The last thing you want as a lifter is to develop an over-reliance on wearing a belt to the point where you lack stability without it.
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The Role of Your Core While Lifting
Your core muscles are those that support your spine, torso, and pelvis.
They include major muscles of the abdomen (e.g., rectus and transverse abdominus, obliques), spine (e.g., multifidus, erector spinae), pelvic floor, and diaphragm, as well as other back, shoulder, and buttock muscles (e.g., latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and gluteus maximus).
All these muscles work together to keep your spine, ribs, and pelvis stable when you are bending and lifting weights. They tighten or stretch as needed to reinforce your bone structure and posture so that your body can resist the forces of the additional weight placed upon it.
Having a strong core is important so that your trunk is in good shape to protect you against crushing or damaging your spine when you are lifting heavy weights. A strong core helps with your balance and stability, makes it easier to lift weights, and helps you advance in your training. Without a strong core, you are less likely to achieve yourstrength goals and may risk injury in the long term.
Related Article: 17 Resistance Band Ab Exercise For A Strong Core
How a Weightlifting Belt Works To Strengthen Your Core
Mechanically, wearing a weightlifting belt stabilizes your trunk by reducing the amount of bending and flexing of the spine in all directions, requiring your legs, rather than your back, to do more work during a lift.
When your spine is protected and you have correct form, you are in the safest and most steady position for lifting a heavy weight, whether that’s from the ground, over your head, or on your back.
Belts give your abdomen something to push against while you lift. This is called ‘bracing’, which is typically done after the lifter takes a big breath in. This bracing technique allows lifters to create intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which is what keeps your core rigid while you press against the surrounding musculature.
Some studies have shown that using a belt with a correctly braced core can increase the IAP as much as 20% or more, which in turn increases back and core stability, potentially enabling you to lift heavier weights. In fact, when using a belt, powerlifters can often lift 5-10% more weight because of the additional support of the belt.
Another important factor is the quality, using the prime quality weight lifting belt is essential to achieve the desired goals. As the belt has to support abdominal muscles, back & share the weight so it mustn’t loosen up or break up during the exercise.
How to Breathe and Brace Properly While Lifting
You create the core strength needed for a lift by stiffening your torso in support of your spine, filling your lungs with air and holding your breath while you exert force and tighten your core muscles; you exhale only after you have surpassed your sticking point or have completed the rep. This creates a strong column of back support for your lift, a technique known as the Valsalva Maneuver.
It can be compared to blowing up a balloon inside an enclosed space. The increased intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) pushes against your spine, like an inflated balloon in your abdomen. At the same time, your tightened abdominal and lower back muscles push back from outside the “balloon,” stabilizing your spine so that you can resist bending or moving out of alignment during heavy lifts.
Whether you wear a belt or not while lifting, if you don’t have the proper “breathe and brace” approach, then your core will be weak, and you may not be able to achieve the lifts you want.
One word of caution: Be aware that increased IAP also means increased blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, a hernia or other injury, you should consult with your physician before using a weightlifting belt.
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Why You Should Sometimes Train Without a Belt
Early in your weight training career you probably won’t be lifting the higher weights that more experienced lifters handle. This means that you can train without a belt, take the time to accustom your body to the increased abdominal pressure, and develop and strengthen your core muscles as you progress to lifting more and more weight.
If you wear a belt all the time, from warm-ups to work sets, you may develop a reliance on wearing it and feel uncomfortable working out without it. If your movements do not engage your lower back muscles to any extent, you probably don’t want to wear a belt for those workouts. A belt should not be considered a crutch to help with poor posture or mask core weakness and if you feel like you ‘can’t squat without a belt,’ it’s time to incorporate phases of training without a belt.
Some general reccomendations are:
Do all your warm-up sets without a belt
Only put on a belt for your top sets or very heavy lifts
Depending on the rep range used, consider anything over 75% of your 1 rep-max to be a ‘heavy lift’ wear a belt might be warranted.
When You Should Never Wear a Belt
You should never wear a belt for exercises you do sitting or lying down. That is not the purpose of a belt and can provide you no benefit at all in those cases.
The same holds true for wearing a belt to reduce pain. A weightlifting belt is not meant to be used as a medical device. When you have pain you should consult a professional for guidance.
Types of Lifting Belts: Advantages & Disadvantages
Weightlifting belts come in different types, varying by material, stiffness, and design. The stiffer the belt, the more support it gives you when your abdomen presses against it. Leather belts are stiffer and thicker than nylon velcro belts and have a front buckle. They can be the same thickness throughout, or thicker in the back and thinner in front; those with the same thickness all around offer better support to your entire abdomen. The stiffness of the leather and certainty of a buckle closure make this style belt best for powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters.
Nylon velcro belts offer less support, being thinner and less stiff. Since they have only a velcro closure, they are not as suitable for lifting where you exert a lot of force against the belt. You definitely don’t want your belt to come apart unexpectedly during a heavy lift, which sometimes happens to velcro belts that wear out.
Getting The Most Out Of Lifting Belt
If you do wear a belt, be sure that it fits you and that you put it on properly. You want it to support you in the right places and help you maintain the correct form.
Here are some tips to wearing a belt:
Position the belt above the crest of your hip bones, not on them, with the front of the belt covering your belly button.
Stand normally with a slight arch to your lower back, exhale a bit so that your ribs are not extended.
Keep your back in neutral position, and tighten the belt.
When you take a deep breath in you should feel the belt supporting your torso all around, with equal pressure on your abdomen and back.
You want it to be tight but not too tight that you cannot get a full, deep breath.
While a belt might feel awkward to wear at first, once the belt is ‘broken in’ and you’re used to bracing against it, you’ll feel stronger.
Using a weightlifting belt does not weaken your core. Wearing one can help stabilize your back and support your abdomen when you are lifting. Remember, though, that a belt is not a crutch to disguise weak core muscles. You should work on developing and maintaining a good strong core musculature, so that along with correct technique and properly using a belt you can successfully and safely progress in your weightlifting regimen.
About The Author
Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Kenyon College. She has written for many different formats on topics as diverse as fitness, wearable devices, sports nutrition, personal computers, 3D cameras, pet rescue, and real estate. Mary’s work has appeared in both print and online resources.