- Using a belt will improve your explosive power and ground force production
- Injury risk under heavy loads is potentially lower
- Using a belt doesn’t weaken your core
Should I wear a Weightlifting Belt?
If you take weightlifting in any form seriously, then you should be using a belt. To me that is indisputable.
The increase in intra-abdominal pressure allows for more effective bracing when performing compound lifts. As the belt becomes an exterior wall, your core muscles have something to press against
The outlay of purchasing a good quality belt is minimal; £20 is enough to secure one that will do a reasonable job.
Powerlifting, weightlifting or any other form of compound movements being performed in a periodised format puts tremendous strain on the body. As weights get heavier, it’s understandable that the risk of injury increases.
However when powerlifting safely, injuries are relatively infrequent (1 – 4.4 / 1,000 hours) and the lumbopelvic region, hip and shoulder were the most commonly affected areas.
Now there are multiple factors that contribute to injuries, including:
Diet: We know how important protein is, but do you get enough micronutrients in yours, proven to prevent injuries
Alcohol consumption: In the long-term, increased fatigue causes injuries. Alcohol is a diuretic, which causes the kidneys to produce more urine increasing dehydration levels.
Poor hydration leads to reduced levels of performance, as it decreases blood and nutrient flow through the body.
Secondly, when you’re metabolising alcohol your liver can’t produce as much glucose, ruining your blood sugar and energy levels. Both of these lead to increased injury risk.
What does a Weightlifting Belt do?
A weightlifting belt increases the inner-abdominal pressure, which acts as a brace to help support the spine under heavy loads.
It is designed to mitigate injury risk when working with heavy loads, theoretically allowing a longer-term lifting career.
The increased pressure from the abdominal cavity helps support the spine from the inside. Whilst the core muscles (lower back included) have something to brace against to help increase this pressure further.
This particular study demonstrated the change in IAP (Intra-abdominal pressure) when using a belt with 90% of 1RM. Results suggested that using a belt significantly increased IAP, which should reduce disc compressive force.
Participants also reached peak GRF (Ground Reaction Force) 0.3 seconds sooner when wearing a belt. Anyone that has ground out a deadlift knows the immense pressure on your lower back.
The faster you can lift the weight, the lower the risk of injury or incomplete ‘hitching’ reps in the deadlift.
In short, when lifting anywhere close to your 1RM, you’d be foolish not to wear a belt. Your peak power output increases and your internal compressive force is elevated and equalised.
Benefits of wearing a weightlifting belt
|Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure||Using a belt creates a brace around your spine, allowing you to lift heavier loads safely|
|Increased Force Production||It increases production of force off the floor in the deadlift and explosive power in the squat. It typically allows you to lift 5 – 15% more with each set or 1RM|
|Core Engagement||Typically, uses a belt increases abdominal engagement and decreases external oblique activation.|
|Performance Increase||Everybody who wears a belt can squat and deadlift more. If your goal is greatest weight lifted, a belt is a necessity.|
Cons of Using a Weightlifting Belt
|Oblique Activation||Whilst using a belt increases core engagement, it decreases oblique activation which can cause muscular imbalance|
|Blood Pressure Spikes||The increased intra abdominal pressure can cause temporary loss of sight and faint-like symptoms if the belt is too tight|
Now, a potential downside to using a belt is to do with core engagement. It’s well-documented that using a belt increases abdominal engagement, but it also reduces external oblique activation.
This can lead to muscular imbalances that can form the beginning of a nagging injury that’s troublesome to get rid of.
Increased intra-abdominal pressure is obviously excellent for spinal protection and potentially mitigating lumbopelvic injuries.
A high risk area of weightlifting.
But it does cause blood pressure spikes which can lead to temporary loss of sight, fainting-like symptoms or just actually fainting.
If you become over-reliant on using a belt, then your bracing patterns can suffer. A belt allows you to press out against it. It effectively gives you a wall.
Without a belt, the vasalva maneouvre allows you to take a deep breath, but instead of pushing out against it, you draw in with your abdominals. Over-reliance on a belt means without one, you’re far weaker than you should be.
In phase 1 you can see the intra-abdominal pressure increases and heart rate decreases. That’s when you should begin the lift.
If you hold it for too long you can see the pressure drops and heart rate spikes. That’s when you can experience faint-like symptoms and dizziness.
So you’ve got to use it properly.
How to Not Rely on a Lifting Belt?
To address the situation, I typically perform volume based deadlift and squat workouts sans belt at the beginning of a cycle and strengthen my core with weighted planks.
In my opinion, a weak core and over-reliance on a belt is a specificity issue.
By incorporating beltless training at the beginning of each program, you will ensure you don’t become over-reliant on a belt. This will help strengthen your core, lower back and hips – the most common areas of injury.
Can a Weightlifting Belt Prevent Injury?
Yes. There’s no definitive proof that it can prevent injury and it won’t work in every scenario, but the greater support and stability provided create a safer lifting environment.
An increase in IAP (Intra Abdominal Pressure) decreases the load on the spine and utilises more core muscles when used properly.
But not everyone uses it properly. You can’t just brace through the stomach, you must utilise all your abdominals to reduce spinal pressure.
In one study, 90% of belt users used them to prevent injury. Only 22% used them to increase performance.
When Should I Start using a Powerlifting Belt?
Anywhere above 90% 1RM I would advise using a belt. Deadlifting creates more problems than any other lift in my opinion as lower backs tend to be the first thing to go. But this is dependent on your deadlift pulling style.
Over time, training with a belt will reinforce belted technique in each of the lifts and allow you to lift 5-15% more weight.
Muscle size may not directly influence strength, but it definitely plays a role in your ability to express it. Use a belt when the weight’s start to feel heavy.
A year or two worth of consistent lifting and your own passion for it is enough to use a belt.
So to reach your true peak performance, using a belt is an essential tool in your arsenal.
How to wear a Weightlifting Belt?
When you decide to wear a lifting belt, you need obviously need to understand how to wear one.
The key component in getting the most out of a belt is ensuring you can completely expand your core muscles: abdominals, erectors and obliques. It’s not just about pushing your gut out as far as you can.
The key benefits comes from creating maximum pressure and support all around your mid-section. You should feel the pressure from your spine to your abdominals.
To do that you must:
- Get to grips with bracing and breathing techniques
- Understand the Valsalva Maneouvre
- Find the most comfortable position for you
Typically the most comfortable position is one that covers your abdominals and erectors, around 2 inches above the pelvis.
Too low and the belt with rub the top of your pelvis raw. Wildly uncomfortable and slightly pathetic when you complain about it.
Too high and the pressure on your upper abdomen causes similar discomfort.
How Tight should a Weightlifting Belt be?
As tight as feels comfortable. Too tight and it will cut into your hip and cause your blood pressure to skyrocket as you can’t feed enough oxygen round your system, which can cause faint-like symptoms.
As long as you allow for total core expansion without the belt cutting into your pelvis or abdominals, you’re alright.
Comfortable, but practical.
You definitely shouldn’t be able to fit a finger in the gap, especially when squatting. Squatting I find more effective with the belt as tight as possible.
Deadlifting I find more effective with a belt loose enough to allow bending down to grab the bar. But you need to find a tightness that suits your lifting technique.
How much does a Lifting Belt add?
Around 5 – 15%. A typical week likely includes:
- 6-8 working sets for beltless compound movements each of these workouts
- Average of 4 reps per set
That works out to:
- 18 – 24 beltless working sets per week
- 72 – 96 repetitions per week
- 2880 – 3840 per year
If you performed this with a belt and got the expected 1 – 3 extra reps per set, you would get:
+ Up to 52 additional reps a week
+ Up to 2080 extra reps a year (if every set you were able to push 3 more reps – 7 rather than 4 on average)
Now, whilst this is completely hypothetical, you can see the impact a belt would make if you used it to gain up to 3 additional reps per set.
Volume, intensity and frequency are the key drivers of muscle growth. Volume being the most important. If you’re able to increase the volume of work you do simply by adding a belt, it would be remiss of you not to.
More reps will most likely = size and strength gains
What Thickness Powerlifting Belt is best?
10mm or 13mm thick are your only legitimate options that are allowed in federations. Then most people go for 10cm (4 inches for all imperial scum) or 7.5cm (3 inches you lot) in width.
Please get one that is the same thickness all round without velcro.
Leather tends to be the most comfortable option, suede feels infinitely cheaper and less durable.
Lever Belt vs Prong Belts
So lever belts tends to be more expensive, but much better quality.
You can adjust a lever so it fits snugly and ‘levering’ yourself in provides a much tighter, comfier fit.
You can pick up a decent quality prong belt for around £20. A ‘decent’ lever arch belt will set you back at least £50. My advice would be to start with a prong belt, if you like the sport enough, then purchase a lever.
So Should I buy a Belt?
So hopefully this has allowed you to work out whether you need to buy a weightlifting belt.
And obviously you should.
They’re exceptional for improving performance, (possibly) mitigating injury risk, persistent injury prevention and core stability.
They’re not something you should become reliant on, but they’re a brilliant addition to your arsenal.
Do you wear a weightlifting belt? Which one’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments