If you ask somebody the question, “Should I wear a weightlifting belt or not?” it’s possible to get a response of a resounding “yes”, a definite”no”, or maybe an uninterested “I don’t give a damn, sir!”
Powerlifters often use specific weightlifting belts while people who do CrossFit are extremely proud that they never wear one. Bodybuilders are usually half and half with some believing belts are essential for both safety and performance and some not really bothered about them at all.
The purpose of weightlifting belts are to support both the abdomen and back. By providing something for the abs to push against during a lift, pressure is created inside the body. This is known as intra-abdominal pressure. Having this during a squat, for example, improves stability within the body and allows forces to be transferred more efficiently through the torso. In the case of squatting, this is from the legs to the shoulders where the bar rests.
Now, when we sign up for the gym and have an induction, we are taught by the trainer to exhale when applying force. This isn’t correct for moving larger weights. Maintaining the intra-abdominal pressure means holding the breath. This is why you will often see a professional powerlifter holding their breath when doing a big lift.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the use of belts. One of these is that they make you become lazy and not brace properly with the abs. Actually, proper belt usage is the opposite. When used correctly, they provide a lot of feedback to the user allowing them to get into a more stable and stronger lifting position. This supports the back by preventing the lumbar from rounding and also prevents hyper-extension of the spine.
Lifting belts are useful but There is a place and a time for a wearing them. They should mainly be used for maximum or near maximum efforts that mainly require stabilisation of the back. Deadlifts and squats are two of the exercises that mainly benefit from a belt. These can involve massive amounts of forces on the body and when a belt is used correctly, it can have a positive effect on increasing the amount of weight that can be moved. But weightlifting belts should only be worn by lifters with experience. They need to be able to brace and move safely under heavy loads with out any help from a belt first. So for the most part, they should train with one. Then move into belts when they feel that the extra support is needed to progress to their goals.
One thing that makes me chuckle is when I see someone wearing one for their entire workout. I even saw a guy wearing a belt doing crunches. You should take it off between sets to get a breather and if you have it tight enough, you will be eager to. Also, weight belts come in a variety of different shapes and sizes and it’s actually clear that some manufacturers of the cheaper ones don’t understand how they should even function. This is clear from their design. So great care should be taken when trying to select the right one.