Weight belts have been around for a long time to help support the back during exercises that can put a lot of pressure on the spine. The Squat is a perfect example of this as is the Dead-lift; both are exercises that use the lower back to help with the movement. Of course the legs can do the movement and are strong enough, but it is the back that needs a bit of protection during this type of training.
Why isn’t the back strong enough?
Quite simply the back isn’t strong enough because the training often involves pushing more and more weight as quickly as possible before the rest of the body is ready. If you haven’t tried using a weights belt then you should give it a go, they really do help you lift more weight by protecting your smaller muscles.
Why don’t we like the Weights belt?
Before I start explaining the negative aspects, I should point out that using a weight belt for weight lifting competitions is a very sensible idea and should be used when you are trying 1 rep max exercises. This is because you are using much heavier weights than you would normally. However if you are just training at the gym to get fit or stronger then I don’t advise using a weights belt because in the long run you are actually making yourself weaker and setting yourself up for an injury.
What causes the injury?
By wearing the belt you are actually allowing your core muscles to completely relax and therefore not function during your chosen exercise. So whilst you are busy looking constipated and turning red in the face lifting the heaviest weight you can, think about the muscles that are not being used and the fact that you are making those muscles vulnerable to damage.
Which muscles are left out?
The main muscles that the belt replaces are the main core muscles called the Transverse Abdominals which in themselves are just like a big belt that travels round your waist from your chest bone all the way down to your pelvis and from side to side. They sit under your oblique muscles (located either side of your abdominal) and your rectus abdominis (6 pack) their job? Exactly the same as the belt! Therefore if you are wearing a belt then you are ignoring these muscles as well as all the small erector spinae muscles at the bottom of your back and your other stomach muscles that also aid with your core strength.
Why is wearing the belt bad?
If your core muscles are not working during your workout then you will have a weak spot in your body. This means that if you suddenly take off the belt and perform the same series of exercises you may cause yourself an injury. Even when you are not exercising, the difference within your body of strength could cause your own body to injure itself. Probably the complete opposite of what you were trying to achieve in the first place.
What you should you do?
If you have never used a belt and you are not planning a career in weight lifting then we suggest that you don’t use it and put that thought to the back of your mind with all the other sordid ones. If you have been using a belt for a while then please do not suddenly stop using it and try to do the same weights as usual. You will injure yourself so don’t say you haven’t been warned!
The first step you must take is to drastically reduce the weight and focus on the stomach and lower back and stop the exercise when they feel tired. When this happens put the belt back on and carry on with your workout as usual. Over time you should be able to increase the amount of time you spend without the belt and you will slowly learn how to increase your core strength.
The best way to learn how to activate your core properly is to get yourself down to your nearest pilates class and spend a few sessions learning how the muscles are activated. It is not as simple as you may think and can take up to a year to master! Or to get a better idea read our post on your core muscles.
Concentrate on technique
Finally change your mentality! Don’t focus on lifting the heaviest weight you can, instead think about how well you can lift it. This means technique comes first and impressing the other gym goers comes last. If you can get your technique right your strength will be so much more functional than if you use a belt. I promise you that the difference is incredible and you will not regret swapping the belt for good technique.
If you want to look like you are advertising a laxative in your gym then by all means continue to use the belt, however if you want to build true strength then we suggest you leave the belt well alone. Be careful though and make sure that you listen to your body and don’t lift more weight than your core can handle. Always focus on the core because if anything will get injured it will be the smaller core muscles rather than the stronger leg muscles.
Let us know your experiences with the weight belt and whether you use one or not. Good luck with your training, be safe and have fun!