Should I use a weightlifting belt?
Weightlifting belts are frequently used in weightlifting, powerlifting, football, track and field and heavy weight training. Even recreational trainees use them. Some gym members wear a weightlifting belt constantly, as if its part of their gym attire. So what does the belt do? Does it support the lower back, as most of the population believes? Does it help trainees and competitive lifters pull or squat more weight?
Most trainees think the belt pulls against the lower back and that’s what provides the support. Not so. A study by J.C. Walsh published in the June 07’ issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that the belt did not affect the curve of the back during squats.
The belt can’t surround the body and selectively push in on the lower back. The fact that it surrounds the abdomen is very important, however, as it can serve as a functional, strong abdominal wall. The pressure around the entire body can create pressue when you’re straining, and that pressure can support the spine.
Some powerlifters have used slightly wider belts and turned the wider portion around to their abdomen. They found that the broad support of the abdomen helped them in the bottom position of the squat.
Weightlifters who snatch and clean and jerk often wear belts during maximum efforts. They routinely push the abdomen out against the belt to create enough pressure to support their back and abdominal muscles during heavy lifts. One elite female lifter told me about the importance of the abdominal pressure and the movement pattern of the squat itself. She’d had surgery to repair an abdominal muscle tear. The repair was very successful. When she first returned to squatting, I asked her to avoid pushing her abdomen outward into the belt until she had healed. When she tried to contract her abdomen, that is, tighten her abs—instead of pushing her abdomen outward when she squatted, she had knee pain. If she pushed her abdomen outward, she didn’t have any knee pain at all. The entire motor pattern of the squat was altered by changing the way she used the belt.
Most support or brace devices actually work. If a patient has an EMG to evaluate the electrical activity in leg muscles during normal walking, the muscle activity patters are easily identified. If the patient then wears a knee brace, the muscle activity in the leg decreases because the brace is doing the muscles work.
Weightlifting belts can certainly serve an important function, especially during maximum loads. Even so, you should try to build your strength without the belt initially. Your muscles can learn to fire in a way that protects your spine. You should definitely not wear the belt for the entire workout. You don’t need to rely on it. Learn to activate your abdominal and back muscles. Put the belt on for your heaviest lifts, but take it off for others.