The Weightlifting Belt: To Wear or Not To Wear? That is the question.
The Answer: It’s a personal decision – yet, I would agree that there are people who shouldn’t be wearing one.
It is very important that we all learn how to breathe and how to brace with our lats, abs, and supporting core musculature before slapping on a belt. Building core strength and coordination is advantageous for building lasting strength. Consider the lower percentage lifts to be the core builders while belts are showtime ergogenic aids. The belt isn’t a crutch for poor positioning. Lock in your form and then use the belt as assistance for holding good positioning; remember, long spine and low breath.
How to Use the Belt
Align the belt so that the bottom of the belt is just above the crests of your hip bones. Make sure the front of the belt covers your belly button. As you take in a breath, you should feel your trunk fill with air and put pressure on the belt in all 360 degrees. Your belly should press into the belt, as should your back. Your obliques should press into the belt just above your iliac crests. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to get your hand between your belly and the belt.
Pros of Wearing a Belt
All of the upsides to wearing a belt come down to the idea of intra-abdominal force or
pressure. A study done by Miyamoto, et al. found that “Intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles increased significantly by wearing the abdominal belt during Valsalva maneuver and during maximum isometric lifting exertions.” This involves taking a large breath of air into your belly, not your chest, and trying to exhale forcefully with a closed throat. This will push your belly out into the belt, which will help increase the pressure build up around your midsection. In short, if you increase the pressure in the abdomen, then you better stabilize the whole area which makes for a safer environment for the spine and can increase your ability to lift heavier weights.
Another study by Kingma, et al., showed that, “Wearing a tight and stiff back belt while inhaling before lifting reduces spine loading. This is caused by a moment generated by the belt rather than by the IAP (Intra Abdominal Pressure)”, which suggests that there maybe even more reasons why belts are beneficial.
In terms of movements, belts can be used for the big compound lifts; squats, deadlifts, presses and Olympic lifts along with strongman exercises. A belt should never be used for sitting or laying down exercises.