In the good old days, anyone who did an anything with weights would wear a weight lifting belt. In fact, even Mr T would wear one pretty much permanently. Nowadays, it’s quite rare to see someone with a belt on in the gym.A study in 2003 reported that about 27% of gym users were also belt users. But in the last 10 years, that number seems to have vastly reduced. Most likely, this is because there is confusion over whether a belt is useful or actually harmful. Many of the so called experts have made incorrect claims that using a weight belt is wrong and can lead to a weak back and weak general core strength. A lot of people believe that weight lifting belts act as a brace supporting the torso so that your core muscle don’t have to do the work. This is also a false claim.
What is a lifting belt good for?
Lifting belts can in fact increase the use of abdominals and the lower back muscles. Much research shows that using a belt while lifting has little effect on the erector spinae muscle group or it actually increases their usage by up to 25 percent. Many studies on these powerlifting belts also shows an increase in the muscle use in the rectus abdominis. When you are deadlifting or squatting a few hundred pounds of weight, trying to increase the stability of the spine is highly recommended.
Many studies have confirmed that wearing a belt when lifting weights increases the intra-abdominal pressure by around 40%. Increasing this pressure is like inflating a balloon inside the body and this supports the spine by pushing it from the inside. The core muscles such as those in the lower back, push it from the outside. Both of these pressures acting simultaneously will support the spine and lower the stress that it receives when weights are being lifted. This is exactly what belt does during the lifting process.
Research has also recently shown that if you are lifting boxes, a belt will reduce the level of spinal flexion (the bend in the spine) along with also reducing spinal extension. It will also increase the amount of movement done in the knees and hips. So basically, a belt will force you to lift with your legs more than with your back. This is the exact position that you want when you are lifting something from the ground such as when performing deadlifts. You’ll want this support when doing squats too.
So now for the big question: Will using a belt actually increase muscle growth, strength and power? The answer is yes! According to research, using a belt will help with all of those, especially during exercises such as squatting.
How to use a weight belt
It is highly recommended that lifters utilise a belt for their deadlifts, squats, bent-over rows, snatches and cleans. They can also be advantageous during other exercises such as overhead press but to get the most out of a belt, it has to be used correctly. A belt should be fitted quite tightly but not so tight to the point where you cannot move or even breathe. It also should not be extremely uncomfortable. You should be able to press your abdomen up against it to increase your pressure and stability.
Once the belt is on, the correct breathing is key. For example, during a squat, you should stand with the bar on your back and just before the decent, take a breath and hold it whilst pushing the abdominal against the belt. Hold your breath until you reach the bottom and then attempt to exhale whilst still keeping your airway closed to push yourself out of the squat.