Data on Weight Lifting Belts
are Many Times Anecdotal
There was once a study made with airline baggage
handlers andweightlifting belts. They had
different control groups meaning, there was a group given belts to wear
during their regular lifting activities, a second group was not given
belts but, rather, educated in how to lift and, a third group that was not
given belts or any lifting education. This convoluted study (not even
worth citing) turned out to be inconclusive because many members of the
first group who were given belts to wear wouldnt keep wearing
them. They complained that they restricted their movements too much,
caused discomfort and in some cases, resulted in bruising.
A Personal Account
When I was quite a bit younger, I once had a job
palletizing 25 pound boxes after they came off an assembly line. One day
I did the math and realized I was stacking between 5 to 7 tons of product
daily. I had gotten used to this volume of work over a period of months
as the production was being ramped up but although I was in shape for
it, I still had a sore tired back at the end of every work day. Do
you think after I got home I iced and rested my
back? Far from it. I weight trained for an hour every evening and
this kept me in the job. I learned that work and exercise are two
different things even when ones work is physically grueling.
Anyway, one day the management overheard the grumbling
of some line worker (maybe me) and went out and bought some back belts.
These were not weightlifting belts. You might have seen them.
They are usually blue colored and have suspenders going over the shoulders
and are made out of thick cloth that wraps around your middle with velcro to
keep it all snug. Vertical bamboo strips are sewn into the material at
the lower back to provide both support and flexibility. After I put on
one of these, the result at the end of the day was dramatic. To say that
my lower back felt better would be an understatement. I felt
very little discomfort at all and was able to tolerate that job a whole lot
better. Everyone with a lifting job should get one of these back savers!
At the very least, weightlifting belts serve this same
purpose. They allow the wearer to tolerate a higher volume of lower back
stress. My most humble opinion has been that it is best to get one if you
do quite a bit of sets and reps involving your lower back.
Some Things to Consider When Buying a Weight Lifting
1) Get the kind that is very wide at the lower
back. You will see some models that are quite thin and there are those
who say that the belt is not so much for external support as it is for
intra-abdominal pressure (more on that shortly). Just
get the wide kind with the double prongs.
2) A good weight belt will seem to be a bit expensive
but considering that you will be training for many more years, this is not that
much of a factor.
3) Get a belt that can be pulled very tight.
Put on the belt and pull it as tight as you can.
It should not be loose. If it is loose, no problem, just go down an inch
or two more and punch an extra couple prong holes. When you have the
weightlifting belt on tight, suck in some air and push out your stomach as hard
as you can. This builds up what is called intra-abdominal pressure.
The belt is useless if you simply strap it on without intra-abdominal pressure.
with Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP)
There have been countless studies done on
intra-abdominal pressure with a weightlifting belt. Some facts about IAP:
1) Spinal Loading is reduced.
2) The AIP helps to stiffen the trunk contributing to
stabilization. This will tend to improve a lifters
explosive power without compromising the joint range of motion.
3) When doing heavy squats it has been observed that
there is spinal shrinkage with discomfort but
only when a belt is NOT worn.
4) Weightlifting belts help to minimize trunk
rotation. Trunk rotation is the cause of many twisting types
of lower back injuries.
Again, to use a belt properly, pull it very tight then
inhale and push out your stomach as far as you can against the belt. Keep
your back arched back while performing a lift. As for breathing during
the lift, it is perhaps best to not hold your breath. If you take in a
deep breath for purposes of holding it to build up AIP, you are doing what is
called the Valsalva Maneuver.
There have been multiple studies detailing the
Valsalva Maneuver in weight lifting. This is when you hold your breath
and exhale against a closed glottis (the vocal folds in your throat) while
performing a lift. You are trying to exhale air forcefully but closing
off your throat so nothing comes out. Unfortunately, this also spikes
your blood pressure and increases the likelihood of a stroke. There was a
study done with subjects doing a double leg press using maximal both with and
without employing the Valsalva Maneuver. The mean blood pressure during a
maximal lift with the Valsalva Maneuver was 311/284 whereas when the participants
exhaled slowly during the concentric phase, the BP for the same lift was
198/175. This is quite a healthy difference. Although the VM works
quite well for thrusting maximal weights using large compound movements, is highly
recommended here to exhale slowly during the concentric part of an exercise.
Some people say to not a use belt except when doing maximal effort lifts. They even give
a percentage of, say, only wear one for squats and deadlifts if you lift over
85% of your one rep maximum. They say that with lighter loads it is
better not to wear one because you need to develop your core
strength. Some go even so far as to say that if you wear a
belt, you are foolishly spoiling yourself, your core will atrophy and you will
turn into a wimp.
If you think a belt will cheat you out of getting an
iron core then work your core directly with assistance exercises such as
crunches, leg lifts, hyperextensions, reverse hyperextensions and so on.
You can warm up without a belt before doing heavy squats, deadlifts or overhead
It is Your
BackNot Someone Elses
Remember one critical point here: It is your
back and health we are talking about. No one else but you will suffer if
you injure your back. If you injure it, you will be at home nursing
your hurt while the person who gave you the advice will just shrug their
shoulders and walk away muttering, It happens sometimes that way. Suck
it up dude.
If you take care of your back, it will take care of
you. There is a tendency for lifters, however, to not take their back
seriously until after they get an injury. Anyone who has suffered a lower
back injury can tell you that education is the key. Know how to lift and
if you use a belt, then educate yourself in how to use it. The proper use
of a weightlifting belt can significantly reduce or even negate the possibility
of lower back injuries.