Weightlifting Belts = Weaker Core?

Politics aren’t the only thing that’s polarizing.

Believe it or not, so are weightlifting belts. Depending on who you ask, you can end up with two very different, sometimes passionate responses. One camp insists wearing one will actually weaken your core. The other argues wearing a belt decreases the risk of injury and allows you to lift more. So who’s right?

Several powerlifting belts hanging on hooksLet’s start with how belts work: 

When you take a deep breath to brace your core, you’re creating pressure inside the abdominal cavity. This pressure pushes on the spine to support it from the inside, while the core muscles in the abdominal wall and lower back push on the spine from the outside. This inside and outside pressure acts to stabilize the spine. A belt gives you something to push against, so it can increase abdominal pressure/provide more spinal stability.

Who should wear a belt?

Belts are for experienced lifters ONLY. It’s critical that you learn how to brace without a belt. Introducing a belt too early often inhibits proper motor learning – which can make it unsafe.

When should you wear a belt?

Belts should not be worn for lighter weights – in other words, for weights less than 85% of your 1RM. And I think it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), only experienced lifters should be attempting maximal weights. 

You should use a belt for HEAVY, COMPLEX movements like squats, deadlifts, clean and jerk, and overhead press. You should leave the belt in your bag during warmup reps, heavy curls, and core exercises. 

Can you really lift more with a belt?

If you’re talking about empirical data, the answer is a resounding YES. What about science? Multiple studies have shown that a belt can improve performance on heavy, complex movements like squats and deadlifts, assuming you’re using a belt properly. Having said that, it’s unlikely that it actually reduces the likelihood of injury.

Who SHOULD NOT wear a belt?

If you have high blood pressure or a hernia, you’re not a good candidate for belting (or the Valsalva maneuver, for that matter). 

If you’re new to strength training, do not use a belt. First, you need to learn how to brace WITHOUT A BELT. And you need to spend a lot of time practicing this technique before you introduce a belt.

So what’s the verdict?

Wearing a belt is really a personal choice. If you don’t want to wear one, for whatever reason, don’t. If you’re like most competitive strength athletes and you feel like a belt improves your performance, cinch it up tight and don’t look back!

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