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  • Trishauna Schneider

Weightlifting Belt: Purpose And When To Use Them.

A weightlifting belt has two main purposes. It reduces stress on the lower back while the person is lifting in an upright position, and it prevents back hyperextension during overhead lifts. A belt reduces low back stress by compressing the contents of the abdominal cavity.

Belts Stabilize And Reduce Stress On The Spine

Some studies confirmed that wearing a belt during weightlifting increased intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) by up to 40 percent, while one study reported that compression of the intervertebral discs was reduced by 50 percent. So in hindsight it helps to support your abdominal cavity and reduce shear stress on your spine. Increasing intra-abdominal pressure is similar to inflating a balloon inside your abdominal cavity. The pressure inside the abdominal cavity 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 is how lifting belts can help to protect against back injuries during lifting.

Belts Create Better Body Biomechanics

Research shows that when lifting boxes, wearing a lifting belt reduces the amount of spinal flexion (forward bend at the spine), spinal extension (bending back of the spine), and lateral flexion of the spine (bending side to side), but increases the amount of flexion at the hips and knees. In other words, a belt forces you to lift more with your legs than your back, which is precisely the biomechanical position you want to use when lifting something from the ground. These are also the biomechanics you want to use during deadlifts and squats with a barbell.

Belts Beget Better Performance

Will wearing a belt actually increase your power, strength, or muscle growth? Yes! According to some research, wearing a belt will help increase all the above, at least for lower body exercises like the squat. I’ve tested it out myself when doing heavy squats. I increased my 3 rep max by 10lbs wearing a weight belt, and it felt good.

Now…. Constantly wearing a belt can also cause decreased strength development in abdominal muscles. Electromyographic research has found that there are lower levels of muscle activity in the abdominal muscles when a belt is worn while lifting. The muscles that would normally keep the abdomen stabilized are inhibited when a belt is used, which could result in weaker abdominal muscles in the long run.

Strong abdominal muscles are important in maintaining trunk stability in the absence of a support belt. It is also important not to be too dependent on belts while training as they may not be admissible during competition. Lastly, it's also key to utilize proper bracing and breathing techniques so that a belt can be an effective training supplement. One such example is the Valsalva maneuver, which helps to create abdominal pressure that works to cushion and support the spine.

Weightlifting belts can help support the back by increasing intra-abdominal pressure and preventing back hyperextension. They are most effective when used for maximal or submaximal lifts in which the spinal erector muscles work against heavy resistance. However, many ill effects, such as high blood pressure and abdominal muscle weakness, may result from improper use of weightlifting belts. Thus, they should be used sparingly in training.

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