Weightlifting belts are a vital addition to certain aspects of your training and can be an important piece of equipment, depending on the discipline you’re practicing. While powerlifters wear specialised belts for safety reasons to prevent injuries, bodybuilders and cross fitters can also wear them, although there are different types on the market.
The medical science behind wearing a weightlifting belt revolves around the concept of intra-muscular pressure. Studies have shown that it can be beneficial to wear a belt during maximum isometric lifting exertions and Valsalva manoeuvres – the special breathing technique used when bracing yourself to lift a heavy object.
Wearing a belt is a way of equalising pressure in the ears and it increases the erector spinae muscles’ intra-muscular pressure. In simple terms, this means that when pressure in your abdomen is increased, you need to stabilise the whole region using a belt, making it easier and safer to lift heavy weights.
When weightlifters wear a tight, stiff-back belt and inhale before a lift, it will reduce spine loading, as the belt, rather than intra-abdominal pressure, generates the moment of the lift.
There are specific belts designed for weightlifters, each offering potential benefits. Powerlifting belts are designed specifically for powerlifters because of their repetitive action of squatting to lift heavier weights. These are heavy-duty, stiff belts that are a uniform width all the way around.
The abs are in contact with the belt and its buckle enables you to fasten it as tight as required, which means it provides an optimum amount of internal pressure build-up and improves stability – so the wearer can lift heavy weights.
A second type of belt is the Velcro belt. Manufactured using synthetic material and fastened using Velcro, it can’t hold as much force as the powerlifting belts. If more force is exerted than the Velcro can contain, the belt will work loose. It generates a less intra-abdominal pressure than a powerlifting belt, so is unsuitable for lifting heavier weights. However, it may provide some injury protection for general weightlifting with lighter weights.
The traditional or bodybuilding belt is made of leather, with the back thicker than the front. This type of belt fastens with a buckle, but isn’t as strong as the powerlifting style. This is because bodybuilding belts provide less internal pressure than powerlifting belts. However, they provide more pressure than the Velcro belt.
It should be noted that the world’s strongest weightlifters, who lift the heaviest weights, wear belts all the time, both in competitions and in training. Experts say that wearing a weightlifting belt continually may reduce lower back stress, while enabling you to lift heavier weights, thanks to the increased internal pressure.
Anyone starting out in the world of weightlifting may be wondering whether it’s advisable to wear a belt. The answer is that although it’s down to personal choice, it can make you less prone to injury and more stable, and it might well assist with a performance boost.
Some lifters will wear a weightlifting belt to lift any type of weight, while others wear a belt only when lifting heavy weights. A lot of bodybuilders wear a belt to keep their waist tight, while general weightlifters, as opposed to powerlifters, will use a belt to exercise when doing squats, deadlifts, snatches, cleans and bent-over rows. Belts can also be used for standing overhead pressing exercises.
In a nutshell, the weightlifting belt provides a wall that pushes against your abs, creating added force in the limited space, which leads to increased anterior spinal pressure. This helps with stability and gives lifters a more rigid torso, providing improved transmission of force from your hips to the bar.
Many experts agree a belt of between three to four inches wide all the way around is sufficient to fulfil the average requirements. Anything slimmer than that won’t provide sufficient support, while anything wider may be uncomfortable to fit between the wearer’s ribs and hips. Ideally, it needs to be made of firm material, such as suede, leather or some other non-stretch material.
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