With or without belt?
Originally, athletes wore weightlifting belts exclusively on Olympic lifts and powerlifting exercises. Today belts are so popular that even regular lifters use it in every single gym around the world. While some wear the belt all the time because it looks good, others are even afraid of the belt. Do you really need to use it? And if the answer is yes, how to use it right and how to use it wrong? If used the wrong way, what problems might occur?
The purposes and types of weightlifting belts
Weightlifting belts have two main purposes. On one hand, it decreases the stress on your lower back when you are standing up with heavy weights, and on the other, it protects your back from bending back too much in case you are lifting weights above your head. The belt is able to do because it increases the intra-abdominal pressure.
This increases the pressure inside your abdominal cavity gives a push on your spine to support it from the inside and at the same time your core muscles and lower back push on the spine from the outside. The inside and outside pressure help to stabilize the spine and reduce the stress it receives during exercise.
The belt continuously sends information to you about the position of your back, so you'll be able to feel and tell if your back is in the right (or wrong) position. If this is your goal, then it is not even necessary to tighten the belt very much. You might feel much safer during the exercise when the belt does not even increase the intra-abdominal pressure.
How and when to use the belt?
Most of the time the belt should be tight if you want to feel every benefit the belt can give you. But if the belt is tight, you should wear it only for a short period of time. A tight belt increases blood pressure. So when the belt is tight, use it on these two occasions:
when you are using maximal or submaximal loads, for example during squats or deadlifts for the protection of your lower back
at exercises like standing military press when you would protect your back from bending backwards too much
Always release the belt between sets and exercises!
When not to use the belt
You don't have to wear powerlifting belts all the time and for every exercise, only when the spine is expected to receive a big load. So do not wear the belt for side lateral raises or leg extensions. Do not wear the belt when the load is insignificant as it won't give you any benefit at all.
The dangers of constant wear use
If you wear the belt all the time, the strength of your core and abdominal muscles will slowly and surely fade away, they will be underdeveloped. Electromyographic tests have found that muscle activity decreases dramatically while wearing the belt. Having strong abdominal and core muscles is absolutely critical for the stability of your body.
Don't get addicted!
Do not forget that the belt is not recommended for beginners. It paints a false picture of safety! The belt won't save you from injuries caused by doing the exercises with bad form. For beginners, the main goal is to develop and strengthen the muscles and joints in order to be able to tolerate heavier and heavier loads. Wear the belt only when it is justifiable!
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