GYM BELTS – WEAR THEM OR NOT ?

man squating in gym belt

If you are one of those guys doing biceps curls with the red face from the belt being pulled in a last notch, pls don’t, this is not what it’s for. I know, it can be confusing when you watch Olympic weightlifters lifting this 200kg bar with one of them wearing the belt and the other one not. So, should you wear it while training ? or shouldn’t you ? The short answer is yes and no, in both circumstances it will depend on factors like- exercise, weight, reason and a level of your strength and technique. Belts can help your safety and performance but also can increase risk of injury.


Function Of The Belt

Many people think that belt pulls against the lower back providing the support. As much as the wide part of the back of the belt can support some of the superficial back muscles, it actually does not affect directly deep spinal muscles, it does nothing to the curve of your lower back during squats or deadlifts at all. It actually can weaken your lower back if not used properly and in the long term it can contribute to a serious injury. Nowadays most of fitness enthusiasts should realize that lower back pain in most cases isn’t caused due to weakness of the lower back muscles. In many cases it is rather weakness of those deep abdominal core muscles to be blamed on. They’re attached to your vertebral column, help stabilize your spine with the whole mid-section, and are a real factor in making your lower back stronger, and this is when the belt function comes in. A good

intra-abdominal-pressure

belt is designed to increase your intra-abdominal pressure, which helps stabilize your entire midsection. That’s also why power-lifters and weight-lifters use much wider belts than traditional bodybuilding belts, with the portion of the belt around the abdomen often being as wide as around the back. Studies found that the pressure of the erector spinae muscles increased significantly when wearing the abdominal belt during forceful attempted exhalation (Valsalva maneuvers) and during maximum isometric lifting exertions. In other words, when you increase the pressure in your abdomen, then the whole area is better stabilized causing an increase in your ability to lift heavier weights. It also creates a safer environment for the lower section of your vertebral column.


When To Wear The Belt ?

biceps curl with the gym lifting beltDo not use a belt in place of proper stabilization, core work or a technique learning. You definitely should not wear the belt for the entire workout. You need to learn how to engage your abdominals, back and glute muscles in first place, and put the belt only on for your heaviest compound lifts like- squats or deadlifts. You have no business wearing a belt when you’re wobbling all over the place while doing 100kg squat. Lower the weight, master technique and get your core stronger first. Relying on the belt right from the start will weaken your back. Why ? Because it will take stress off your core muscles and stress is what makes them stronger. Some power-lifters or Olympic weight-lifters do not put them on at all relying purely on their core strength, so why do you think you need to wear it when you do your biceps curl ? But if you insist, make sure you’re also wearing color matched fingerless gym gloves and lifting straps, weightlifting shoes are optional :)

Bench Press & Wearing The Belt

Power-lifters use the belts during bench presses predominantly to support their shirts. The special material that the shirts are made from, supports upper torso structure and allows to lift heavier weights. The lifting belt mainly helps to keep the shirt from riding up while giving some back support during extreme arching that the power-lifters incorporate into their lifting. So if you are one of those dudes lying on the bench with the flat back wearing the belt on top of your nike sleeveless t-shirt, you are probably making a fool out of yourself.


Types Of Belts

Weight lifting belts like many other things in our life, come in different shapes, colors and material which can make a difference when lifting. Amongst the most popular belts we can mention bodybuilding or traditional belts if you prefer, power-lifting belts and weight-lifting belts, the last two are the ones you should be after, if you want safety and performance. The difference between power lifting belts and weightlifting belts, is that power lifting belts are the same width all around, with weight lifting belts being slightly narrower at the front. Both of these belts are doing excellent job in increasing your intra-abdominal pressure in comparison to a bodybuilding belt, which usually is as thin as your trousers belt and too narrow to get any benefit out of it. Power-lifting belts usually come in two thicknesses, 10mm and 13mm. The 10mm is not as strong as 13mm,
ratchet-lever-prong lifting belts
but needs less break-in to make it feel comfortable. Locking mechanisms also can be different. You might scratch your head when choosing between prong vs lever vs ratchet. Ratchet can be cool but usually is more expensive, and lever belts often need a screwdriver in order to adjust the size. Personally, I think prong is all you need. Get a single prong rather than a double one, it’s much easier to tighten it around your waste. Even though you can easily use one belt for every lift, the belts are also designed for specific purposes. For dead-lifting, you can get a thinner belt without a buckle, so it is easier to get down to the bar, or you can wear a standard power-belt backwards so the buckle is not in the way. For bench- many power-lifters will use a narrow belt that will hold the bench shirt in place without interfering with the ability to arch.


Technique

Just wearing the belt does not do anything to your core, to take advantage of your belt, you will need to practice this valsalva maneuver I quickly mentioned before. This means taking a big breath of air into your stomach, than trying to forcefully breath out with a closed glottis (throat). The pressure will push your abdomen out against the belt creating an enormous amount of internal pressure to support your back and abdominal muscles during heavy lifts. Because you expand your abs into the belt, you need to make sure you don’t tighten the belt as much as possible, wear it one notch looser than all the way tight.


Conclusion

If you carefully read this article, by now you should easily tell weather you need to wear the belt or not. My take on it is, unless you are a competitive lifter or you already lift very serious weights, you don’t have any need to use it. If you feel your back feels dodgy when you are not wearing it, you probably need to strengthen core muscles instead of weakening them farther by wearing the belt.


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