Ask The Trainer #127 – Are Belts Bad?

Ask The Trainer #127 - Are Belts Bad?

QUESTION:

I’ve heard from several experienced bodybuilders that you shouldn’t wear a weightlifting belt because it will actually weaken your lower back muscles. I tend to wear a belt whenever I lift heavy because I’m afraid of injuring my lower back. I’ve had several lower back injuries in the past and each time it was actually crippling to the point where I could barely walk. I want to avoid a repeat of that at all costs! So my question is— am I putting myself more at risk for a low back injury by wearing a weight belt, or am I being proactive and preventing injuries by wearing one? Thanks.

Kevin


ANSWER:

Hi Kevin. That’s a very good question. One that I’ve heard fellow lifters fiercely debating at the gym on more than one occasion. It makes sense that bodybuilders would tell you to ditch the weight belt, considering the primary goal of a bodybuilder is to fully develop all of the muscles in the body to achieve a balanced and aesthetic looking physique.

Wearing a weight belt every time you lift will take stress off of the core, abdominal, and lower back muscles, which will hinder the strength and development of those muscles. When any of these muscles become disproportionately weak compared to other muscles in the body, you will certainly be more susceptible to a lower back injury.

This is why most competitive athletes refrain from using weight belts when they train. Their primary goal is to have all of the muscles of their bodies work in unison as one fully functional unit. If they aren’t wearing a weight belt in the sport they compete in, then it’s likely they will avoid developing a reliance on a weight belt when they’re training for their sport of choice.

Strength and Power Athletes

However, in the case with strength and power athletes, it’s whole different ball game. This would include Olympic lifters, strongmen, and powerlifters. In these particular sports, you’re judged on your ability to move a weight through a specific range of motion. When you’re deadlifting, doing clean and jerks, or squatting with a weight that’s 85% or more of your 1 rep max, then a good, solid weightlifting belt will be advantageous to your performance and also help reduce the risk of injury.


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Weight belts increase intra-abdominal pressure, which increases the stability of the spine, core, and lower back muscles. With this extra support, a strength or power athlete will generally be able to lift more weight during compound movements where the lower back is under a lot of exertion. I have several friends who are world class powerlifters who swear that a good weight belt will add 20-30 pounds on their deadlift and 50-80 pounds on to their squat. That’s significant!

Wearing A Belt For Other Exercises

In contrast, wearing a weight belt during exercises that don’t place any significant stress on the lower back, e.g., leg presses, leg extensions, barbell curls, triceps pushdowns, dumbbell presses, deltoid raises, etc., is pretty much useless and will only serve to weaken your core, abdominal, and lower back muscles.

Consider a weight belt the same as you would a pair of crutches. If you use them all of the time, the muscles those crutches are supporting will atrophy because an external means of support is doing their work for them. Most people who are new to training generally have weak core, abdominal, and lower back muscles. So, over-reliance on a weight belt will only mask this deficiency.

These are my general opinions of weightlifting belts, but I do want to add a caveat to these guidelines: If you have an existing injury you feel a weight belt will help protect, by all means, wear the belt until the injury has healed enough to the point where your own musculature can effectively support the origin of the injury with little or no pain.

I hope this helps answer your question. I wish you all the best of success in actualizing your fitness goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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