It’s one of the most widely used training accessories, the weightlifting belt. Unfortunately a majority of athletes & coaches use their belts the wrong way. Most people think they just put It around their waste and tighten It down as hard as they can. I’ll often ask those who have a belt on if they know the purpose and the functionality of the belt, more often than not.. they do not.
WHY USE A BELT?
I’ve been one of those athletes who used a belt for EVERYTHING, I’ve been one of those athletes who used It for max effort lifts & I’ve been one of those athletes who doesn’t use one. Which version of me is right?! When should you use a belt?
A weightlifting belt provides stability to your lower back, this we know.. but how?
Breathing mechanics play a huge role in properly using a belt. We take a large breath before we squat so we can feel stable and braced. If you use your diaphragm, you will feel your stomach rise and fall. You will not feel your chest cavity expand and deflate. What this does is create pressure in our abdominal cavity which in turn helps stabilize your core muscles.
Using a belt during all this is simply adding an additional layer or support during the expansion of the abdominal wall. Lets now think of our stomach like a balloon, as we blow air into the balloon It expands. We can do a little test with a balloon by applying some stretch tape around the middle, and blow It up again.
Doing this will stop the expansion of the balloon but at the same time It will help create more pressure. Now if we apply hard duct tape around the balloon, this will halt expansion and create even MORE pressure than a stretchy tape. This is the outcome we are looking for while using a weightlifting belt.
The takeaway here is.. the belt does not REPLACE our core/trunk muscles, It helps as a restraint on limit of expansion to great internal pressure.
HOW TO WEAR A BELT
In order to use a belt properly, we have to think about breathing INTO the belt. If you take a large inhale with your lungs, your chest cavity will fill and you will still be able to speak casually. If you inhale using your diaphragm pushing INTO the belt you will have limited ability to speak. It’s a test you can do at home just using your hand against your stomach.
The belt should sit higher than you generally think, mid belly. Just below the sternum and just above the hips, a weightlifting belt is not a fashion statement by any means!
In this Video we see Team USA’s Nathan Damron with some excellent bracing paired with phenomenal squat technique.
WHEN TO USE A BELT
We know that using a belt can add to more stability in your movement, but It can also be a crutch if you use a weightlifting belt too often. You are in turn weakening your given core muscles by relying on this passive support system.
Learning how to brace properly first without a belt can yield tremendous results in heavy lifts when later adding a belt for more support.
The purpose of this article is not to shy you away from using a belt, rather learn how to use your bodies natural belt before adding on an accessory just out of comfort.
If you like your belt, thats great! Practice with some lighter weight to feel the breathing pattern correctly before adding additional weight. OR practice lighter weights without the belt to really tap into your bodies ability to support itself!
We want breathing and bracing to be second nature, that way when you do attempt a heavy squat or heavy lift it will be second nature.