Since we are currently in the holidays and are about to enter into a new year, I see people all around the gym training with their new workout paraphernalia. One common piece of lifting gear that I see is a lifting belt. Seeing so many people wearing them, you have to wonder, what are lifting belts used for? In this post I hope to clear the mystery and functionality of what lifting belts actually do.
When performing heavy barbell exercises, such as the squat and deadlift, you have to first mentally and physically prepare the body for the lift. If you have a good coach to work with, you will hear them say to “get tight” and to take a big breath. This is because the torso is supposed to transmit force from the barbell to the muscles.
I can’t think of a better example of this than the deadlift. The deadlift requires a lifter to transmit force from the ground to the hips using the entire body as a force transmitter. The arms, shoulders, spine, abs and legs must remain tight in order for the exercise to work. If tension is lost, then force is not effectively transferred and the result is a missed lift, or worse, an injury.
The key word to remember here is TENSION! Typically for most lifters, the hardest place to maintain tension is in the core. By core, I, of course, mean the abs, hips and low back.
A lifting belt provides this tension for you. It literally forces you to keep your core tight during a heavy lift and this is why you will see a lifting belt in a serious lifters gym bag.
How To Wear A Belt
A belt should be worn around your waist, not your hips. Your waist is the area around your belly button. To demonstrate, take your two index fingers and put them on both sides of your belly button; now, trace an imaginary line around your waist starting from your belly button. This is where the belt should be worn during your lifts.
You should also measure around this area when purchasing a belt, because most good quality belts can only be purchased online (more on that later).
Sizing your belt is kind of tricky for people when ordering from an online distributor. Typically you are given a range of measurements for a specific size. For example, let’s say, hypothetically, a large size belt is 33-41”. But then you will see and X-large belt that, hypothetically, ranges 36-43”. Since there is some overlap, which one do you pick? I advise people to pick a size with your actual waist size in the middle of the range. For example, if my waist size is 37-38”, I would pick a size large belt.
Which Type Of Belt To Wear
As mentioned in the previous section, most high quality belts can only be purchased online. Now, I already know that some people are turned off by this, but it is the truth. The cheaper low quality belts that you find at your local sporting goods store are alright. But these belts are designed for economy and looks, neither of which applies to weight training.
Have you ever seen those belts that are extremely narrow in the front near the buckle and are extremely oversized in the back? Whoever designed these belts clearly has no clue about what the belt does. Yes the belt should help you to keep your back straight, but the back should be kept straight as a result your abs pushing out against the belt. Not by having a ridiculously oversized backside. Remember, we want to increase abdominal tension with the belt, not use it as a back support.
With that said you should pick a belt that at least 10-13 mm thick and doesn’t expand too much during the lift. Once you get better at lifting and want to venture out into other strength avenues, you can then get an olympic lifting belt, bench press belt, deadlift belt, etc.
A belt should also have a single prong buckle. This allows for a much easier way to lock the belt while preserving tightness.
When You Should Wear Them
Don’t be that guy who puts a belt on the second he walks through the gym doors and then does bicep curls. A belt should be worn only when it is needed. The fact is that a belt is only needed when you are attempting a max lift on a compound barbell exercise, such as squats.
When the belt is worn too much, the body becomes used to it, and as a result, the belt becomes a crutch. The lifter should learn to cue his/her abs in order to brace and support their torso and not rely on the belt to do so for every lift.
So in summary, lets do a quick recap:
- Only wear a belt during a maximal attempt (not during warmups).
- Pick a belt that is quality made (not cheap).
- Pick a belt that is 10-13 mm thick.
- Chose a size based on the middle of the measurement range.
- Push your abs against the belt during maximal lifts.
Now that you know what a belt is used for and how to use it, start reaping the fruits of your labor.