The weight belt is a piece of lifting assistance equipment that’s been around for decades. At one time, weight belts were worn by pretty much every lifter at the gym, and even as a fashion item outside of the gym by some. In recent years, usage by lifters has dropped with the increase in popularity of functional training, and many trainers believe that a weight belt is a crutch that can lead to reduced lower back strength and overall core strength.
Others however argue that the weight belt is a must for heavy lifts because of their ability to stabilize and reduce stress on the spine, and their use can actually increase the amount of weight lifted and result in better overall gains in strength and size.
As such, one of the most common questions that new lifters often ask is, “When should I use a weight belt?”
Here are the answers:
WHEN TO USE A WEIGHT BELT
You should use a weight belt for squatting and deadlifting (and other big-weight compound lifts) with loads of 85% or more of your 1 rep max(1RM).
Weight belts increase intra-abdominal pressure, which pushes on the spine to provide support from the inside. This will help you stabilize your spine and reduce the stress placed upon it while lifting.
In addition, a weight belt helps reduce the amount of spinal flexion, spinal extension and lateral flexion of the spine. Reducing this forward, back and side-to-side bending helps increase the amount of flexion at the hips, which forces you to lift more with your legs than your back.
The belt itself doesn’t supply the support; the benefit derived from the belt comes from the way your body reacts to the belt. In a nutshell, a weight belt provides a wall for your abs to push against. The added force within this limited space means increased anterior pressure for the spine, helping to stabilize it.
The best time to use a weight belt is when you’re nearing your 1RM on these big compound lifts. Otherwise wear the belt only sparingly, and do not use it on warm-up sets.
WHEN NOT TO USE A WEIGHT BELT
You should never wear a belt during exercises that don’t stress the back or place only minimal stress on the back. This includes isolation exercises, machine-assisted exercises, and any seated free-weight exercise or exercise where you’re lying down.
WEARING A WEIGHT BELT
Make sure your belt fits well. Wear the belt around your lower back and over your front abdominals. It should be quite tight, but not so tight that you can barely breathe or move. You want to be able to press your core against the belt.
Tip: When putting the belt on, take a deep breath, hold it, and flex your abs. Then, place the belt in position and draw the belt just tight enough that you can still push your abs against the belt.