Weight lifting belts are controversial, there’s no denying it.
Some experts say it’s counterproductive to use a belt. They explain that the belt makes you feel like you’re more capable, but it really only supports you in an artificial way, and when you try to work out without the belt, you run the risk of injury.
Others say belts are an indispensable piece of weight lifting gear. They point to top Olympic lifters or record-smashing powerlifters as proof. These super-strong athletes use weight lifting belts to perform at their best in world-class competition.
So what’s the deal with lifting belts? Are they counterproductive, indispensable, or somewhere in-between?
First, let me explain exactly what they do for you.
A lifting belt helps keep your abdomen tight. You push against it during heavy lifts to harden the abdomen and increase the pressure in your body cavity. This acts like a supporting structure to strengthen the spine. And since the lower back is the weak spot in many of the major powerlifting moves and Olympic lifts, it stands to reason that anything which lends support to this area of the body will increase the weight you’re able to safely lift.
Folks who council against the use of a weightlifting belt do so because of the support and assistance it provides. They argue that this support makes it difficult or impossible for you to strengthen the lower back and the spinal-support muscles. In effect, you’re keeping yourself weak by relying on a belt.
But others disagree. Belts, they say, give you a chance to work out harder and with more intensity than you could otherwise. After all, if the lower back is the weak link that holds you down, it makes sense to use a belt so your gains keep coming past the point they otherwise would if you didn’t make accommodations for the lumbar spine and the muscles which support it.
You can’t escape the fact that many lifts are limited by lower-back strength. Especially if you lift overhead or if you do powerlifting moves like squats and deadlifts, the lower back is the spot that fatigues first (and the spot that takes the longest to recover from an intense workout). With a belt, you can work out harder, and more frequently, it’s that simple.