A lifting belt can be an extremely useful piece of supportive strength equipment for the gym. Yet, with that extreme usefulness comes an equal level of understanding for when, how, and why you should wear a lifting belt. This quick guide will assess these points, along with look at the pros and cons that come along with the lifting belt.
In strength circles, lifting belts can be a hot topic because there are multiple training methodologies that surround the idea of belted and beltless training. For example, how much lifting should you perform of each training style, at what point should an athlete where a lifting belt, and what movements warrant a lifting belt’s use, and that’s only scratching the surface of the multiple questions asked around lifting with a belt.
Like every piece of supportive strength equipment, there are pros and cons that come with lifting belts, and these will often be dependent on multiple factors outside of the lifting belts themselves.
Factors to Consider Before Reaching for a Belt
Before reaching for a lifting belt, it’s best to consider a couple factors that will help dictate its usefulness towards training. There are multiple factors that could go into this decision, but for this article we’ll focus on two of the larger aspects and these include: Training history and strength sport with the intent for wearing.
1. Training History
The first important factor to consider before wearing a belt is based on training history. One’s training history entails the amount of time they’ve spent formally lifting weights, and can be taken step further by analyzing how long one has been participating in a specific strength sport. For example, an athlete could be lifting weights for a total of six years, but only competing in powerlifting for the last two. Granted, that’s just one way to look at training history and how to define it.
Ideally, a belt should be worn after a lifter has developed a solid base of muscle and understanding of various exercises. Compound movements, especially, can be very complex at times, and wearing a belt too early in a lifting career could potentially cause a gap in learning, or slow down muscular development. Imagine you started to use a belt after only a few months of training the movement; how do you think your mechanics and growth would fair? If you’re new to lifting, the answer is a good amount.
Now, there’s no set-in-stone equation for this subject, but a good idea is to have a solid base of muscle and experience based on one’s abilities, and these points can be defined in multiple ways. It could be referenced as a set amount of time spent lifting, when a coach approves a lifting belt’s use, or when lifts exceed a point of comfortability per one’s bodyweight. Again, there’s no one right answer, it’s a summation of training context.
2. Strength Sport and Intent
The next topic is much less subjective and a little more defined. This point focuses on the strength sport being trained for and one’s intent for wearing a belt. We won’t spend too much time on this point, but if you’re training for a sport like powerlifting, strongman, or weightlifting where you’ve moving maximal weights, then a lifting belt can be used for support and potential injury prevention at heavier loads.
Stemming off that point, let’s say there’s no meet in the foreseeable future for yourself, or you’re not there yet in your career, but heavy lifts are becoming increasingly more common in your training. A lifting belt can then be used for support, injury prevention, and slight displacement of overexertion during maximal consistent lifting bouts.
The Pros and Cons of Lifting Belts
Before moving forward, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that the points below will not always be the case for every lifter. Things like over reliance, mechanics, and so forth will be dependent on a lifter’s experience and type of training.
Lifting Belt Pros
- Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure: The pressure we create in our torso allows to maintain safe postures through various movements and avoid excessive torso flexion. A belt can be a useful way to physically and mentally cue this process.
- Injury Preventative: Belts can be a useful way to providing a protective layer to the lumbar spine, which can face injury when heavily loaded in a flexed position. Things like squats and deadlifts that go awry can contribute to these injuries, so a belt can be useful to support the back in these situations.
- Mechanical Feedback: Outside of a belt helping us create intra-abdominal pressure, a belt can help cue us in other ways throughout various exercises. For example, a belt can help us maintain a set back in the deadlift and a more upright torso in the squat, clean & jerk, and snatch.
- Mental Support: There’s no denying that moving weight is just as much as mental battle as it is physical. At times, the use of a belt (along with other supportive equipment) can provide lifters with extra mental support and confidence to complete a lift.
Lifting Belt Cons
- Can Become a Crutch: Let’s call it what it is, but using a belt too much can create a reliance on needing it to lift, especially with lower weights. If you reach for a belt, try to create self-made rules for when it’s used and needed.
- Slightly Alter Mechanics: There’s a reason some coaches advise wearing a belt on your last warm-up before the working sets to build consistency in mechanics. A belt can slightly alter mechanics of the hip and back in compound movements, obviously it’s not to a high degree, but it’s something to keep in mind.
- False Security: This point is similar to the first “crutch” section, but a belt can also build a mental block when “feeling” the torso fully braced. For example, if one is using a belt too much, then they can neglect how to fully brace the properly, which could have drawbacks when training even at lighter movements without it.
- Slower Growth (when newer to lifting): If you’re new to training, then wearing a belt too soon could cause muscular development to happen at a slower rate, especially when working with lighters loads, or just learning movements. This is due to needing less of the stabilization beltless training requires.
If you’re newer to lifting, then it might be a good idea to hold off on wearing a belt right away, or limiting a belt’s use to only being used when working at near maximal loads. There are multiple pros and cons that come along with belt usage, and these will often be very dependent on the athlete.
A lifting belt can be an extremely useful supportive strength tool and can benefit a wide variety of athletes. For those working without a coach, it’s a good idea to create a set of lifting rules that you can follow when training belts and beltless.