When Do You Need a Weightlifting Belt?

Weightlifting belts can be fantastic performance enhancers, but they are very often misunderstood – and often misused. So let’s take a look at what lifting straps actually do, and when you will actually benefit from them.

You’ve probably seen someone wearing a thick weightlifting belt in the gym and wondering if it helps them lift better or even safer. The latter is actually a common perception; According to astudy published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the majority of wearers surveyed use them because they think it will help prevent injury. It is unclear if this theory is true in practice, as we were unable to find any peer-reviewed studies specifically looking at the correlation between the use of weightlifting belts and the incidence of injury in the gym.

However, we can take a hint from studies in manual labor conditions such asthis at JAMA , which shows that wearing a back support strap when lifting heavy objects at work does not seem to reduce the likelihood of back injury or lower back pain. … In short, don’t wear a belt thinking it will protect you from bad ideas at the gym. In any case, the lifting strap is not quite for this.

How do weightlifting belts work?

In fact, a weightlifting belt primarily supports your abs and is not intended to directly support your back. Sounds the opposite, but here’s why: The belt acts as a second set of abs to prepare your entire body for lifting the heavy weights we discussed when we talked about strengthening your core muscles here . The short version is that when you prepare for these super-heavy exercises, you must take a deep breath and hold it – a “breathing” method called the Valsalva maneuver .

The Valsalva maneuver helps to create intra-abdominal pressure that softens and supports the spine. And that’s where the weightlifting belt bestows its strength. When you put it on, you take a deep breath from your belly into the belt, which is repelled by your abs. This enhances the effect of intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn helps protect your back and helps it cope with the stress of heavier exertion. This medical and scientific study in sports and exercise confirms that the resulting pressure is higher and builds up faster than without a belt.

The strap increases the efficiency of the lift, potentially allowing you to put on a little more weight than without it. Of course, this is assuming you know how to lift correctly and use the correct technique in the first place . In the end, you can lift a little more weight and gain more stability where you need it (trunk and torso).

But – and here’s the big but – wearing a belt alone will not automatically increase your strength and lifting ability. One must learn to carry it and lift with it (just like there is a learning curve on how to correctly apply intra-abdominal pressure and lift). Of course, some may immediately take advantage of the benefits, but it will take a lot of effort before everything becomes clear.

When You Really Benefit From Your Weightlifting Belt

Simply put, it all comes down to your performance goals. If you are serious about lifting weights and getting stronger, wear a simple and simple belt. If you regularly squat and deadlift very close to your maximum weight, or want to overcome a plateau , try wearing a belt.

When you put on the belt and use it correctly, the sky parted, the birds were singing, and your deadlift or squat (or both) received a noticeable boost. In this excellent analysis of weightlifting belts, Greg Knuckles writes that well trained belt users can usually move 5-15% more weight in the same sets and reps and can do an extra pair of reps with the same weight or lift weights. the same weight for the same number of reps with less effort. It is very important!

We can assume that over time, training with a belt will probably help you get stronger than training without a belt. This makes sense in the context of being able to do more general “work” (that is, lift more weights and do more reps ) and constantly pushing your body toward improvement — a process called progressive overload . In the long term, you can increase muscle size and strength.

When you don’t need a weightlifting belt

When it comes to gaining strength and performance in the gym, it’s hard to argue with wearing a belt, but there are a few big red flags here. You probably want to avoid using a strap if:

  • You have high blood pressure or certain medical conditions: If you have health conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, or conditions that can be aggravated by intra-abdominal pressure (such as a hernia), you should not wear a belt (or even use Valsalva), period … We also discussed this in our article on breathing , but in this case, this warning is doubly repeated, as the belt will further increase intra-abdominal pressure and blood pressure. Pregnancy is another case where you should avoid intra-abdominal pressure, even if you can still wear your belt.
  • You cannot lift large weights with good technique, or you don’t know how to stabilize your body without a strap: a strap will not magically destroy poor form.Without invigorating your core, there is a good chance that you are not properly stabilizing your body for heavy loads. The strap doesn’t lock for you, it just helps you hold on more tightly. However, feeling like your core muscles are being pushed into your waist can provide some feedback that will help you hold on better.
  • You don’t squat, deadlift, or overhead presses : no, you don’t need to wear a bicep curl belt.

If you do heavy squats, deadlifts, and bench presses and are going to keep doing them, it’s never too early to get a belt if you start by learning how to use it instead of expecting it to solve the problem for you. We have a guide to choosing your first weightlifting or powerlifting belt .

Weightlifting belts are “sometimes” an accessory

A weightlifting belt is not a fashion; it is a teaching tool. You don’t have to rely on the belt every time. Lonely. The exercise.

Most lifters prefer to use a squat and deadlift belt, where a little extra support can prevent curvature of the spine during these strength lifts. Many experienced lifters put on a near-maximum-effort belt and take it off for regular workouts and warm-ups. Just to be clear, “near maximum” is a weight that is 80% or more of your maximum lift. The exact percentage is often arbitrary, so wear it when you think you really need extra support on high climbs. Some lifters only use it in their top sets; others do all of their work sets with a belt to maintain a consistent feel from set to set. Knowing when to wear it and when not to wear it comes with experience and may also depend on your training style (eg high volume versus low volume ).

In all other cases, when you are not squatting or doing deadlifts with a huge weight, you do not need to wear it. In fact, if you can wear it all the time, chances are you are wearing it incorrectly. The straps should be tight enough to sit in one place, but not tight enough to interfere with circulation. You can still take a full breath while wearing it, but it will be uncomfortable to wear it between sets.

Not every gym goer needs (or wants) a weightlifting belt. This is useful, but not required. Just remember when they are good for you and when they are not, and use them accordingly. These are tools, not championship belts, to be displayed in the gym. This article was originally published in March 2016 and was updated on June 3, 2021 to include updated links and align content with the current Lifehacker style.

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