I know I’m always talking about controversial topics nutritionally, but today I want to talk about a frequently debated topic in the world of fitness – the use of a weightlifting belt.
Ever since I have started powerlifting, I have worn a weightlifting belt during my primary lift (bench press, squat, deadlift) when I am working over 75% of my maximum. I don’t wear it during warm-up sets, in the 40-50% range, and as soon as I finish my heavy lift for the day, I set it aside.
I think a belt can be a very effective tool but, like many things in the fitness community, it can be easily misused.
The point of a weightlifting belt is to ensure maximum intra-abdominal pressure during maximal lifts.
Injuries in the weight room occur most frequently when an individual is not as “tight” and focused as they should be during a lift…or when they attempt something they can’t properly do.
A thick belt, tightened around the core, can provide a lifter with something to focus on pushing their stomach against, ensuring a full and engaged diaphragm, as well as sufficient tension throughout the rest of the body.
Before I started wearing a belt, I tried incorporating deadlifts into my routine multiple times. Each time, I quickly took them out because I would mess my back up and not be able to stand up properly for multiple days at a time. I have never once had a problem with my back since I started wearing a belt.
However, if a belt is used because an individual simply hasn’t developed proper back or core strength, it can be problematic. If an individual is using a belt to force a weight to move, that is too heavy for them, this is also problematic.
Very often I will see lifters wearing a belt while doing bicep curls, turning purple in the face, with their eyes bulging. This is a sure way to cause an immediate injury, an overtraining injury, mask weaknesses in the body, or cause cardiac events from blood pressure elevation and lack of oxygen.
I have never told a client that they must wear a belt but, if I am working with a client that is focused primarily on strength, using movements as technical and potentially dangerous as squats or deadlifts, I will certainly discuss the benefits and give them the option of wearing a belt.
In conclusion, I do not believe a weightlifting belt is 100% necessary for powerlifting but, as long as you build a strong core through properly programmed assistance lifts, a belt can aide in one’s lifting long-term.