I’m assuming you’ve been to the gym if you’re reading this post. If you have, you’ve probably wondered why some lifters wear belts. I’ve wondered this too, so I did some research.
Contrary to popular belief, weightlifting belts don’t directly support your back. Instead, they provide support for your abs, which in turn supports your back. Here are some other reasons people wear belts:
- Belts support your abs
- They indirectly support your spine
- Belts enhance the Valsalva maneuver
While belts do have many advantages, there are some times that you shouldn’t use them. For example, if you have high blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t wear one.
Belts are also only needed for lifts like squats and deadlifts, where you’re lifting a lot with your whole body. You’d look stupid wearing a weightlifting belt while on the treadmill.
Wearing a weightlifting belt helps you brace your abs, which supports your core and spine. They also help you do the Valsalva maneuver, which helps you lift more weight. More on that later.
The popularity of belts has also decreased recently. A few decades ago if you walked into a gym, lot’s of people would be wearing belts. However today, it’s a lot rarer. I’ll go over a study on that down below, so keep reading if you’re interested.
Advantages of Wearing a Belt
A lot of my friends, myself included until recently, didn’t know what the actual benefits of weightlifting belts are. Here are a few of the main ones:
Supporting your spine:
As I mentioned before belts don’t directly support your spine, but they do support it indirectly. Belts push up against your core, which in turn supports your spine and back. For things like deadlifts and squats, this decreases your chances of injury and helps you to lift even more weight.
Stabilizing your core:
Contrary to your spine, belts directly support your core. When you do a lift, your abs push out and have nothing to brace against. When you wear a belt, it gives your abs a place to push up against, which stops your stomach from sticking out so far. This extra support helps the Valsalva maneuver, which I’ll go over below.
Enhancing the Valsalva Maneuver:
Just as I said before, wearing a belt gives your abs a spot to push up against. When this happens, you build up internal pressure in your body. When you build up pressure like that and are holding your breath, this is known as the Valsalva Maneuver.
Most people do this while weightlifting without realizing, with the exception of people that really know what they’re doing. This maneuver is kind of complicated, so I’ll cover it more in depth further down this article.
While belts are great, there are some disadvantages. While they’re not bad enough to turn people away from using them, they’re still there. Here are some of the disadvantages:
Raising Blood Pressure:
This doesn’t just go for belts but also wraps, and anything else you put on your body. When you attach something to your body, especially things that wrap around you, it has the ability to restrict your blood vessels.
While this isn’t a cause for alarm for everybody, you should take caution if you have problems with high blood pressure.
Raised blood pressure can also give you nose bleeds while weightlifting, and I actually wrote an article that goes more in depth on that. Check it out!
Changing Your Body Shape:
Take this one with a grain of salt. Some people think that wearing a belt has such an effect on your core that it actually widens your middle, giving a thicker appearance and a “tree trunk” look if you use a belt too often.
I personally don’t think this would happen, but there’s no way to know for sure. Enough people have experienced it, that it might be worth it to take some caution with overusing belts.
Belts Support Your Spine
As I said before, wearing a belt doesn’t directly give any support to your spine. Instead, it helps you brace your core, and your core muscles support and protect your back.
This is because when you brace your ab muscles, it makes them tougher and harder. This stiffness helps support your spine and give you a better posture.
When you lift a lot of weight, especially during deadlifts and squats, a lot of the weight is carried by your back. Without proper technique, back development, or a belt, you risk injuring your spine and back muscles.
Injury to your spine is one of the most dangerous to get because you can damage your spinal cord and even end up paralyzed.
As scary as that sounds, if you learn the proper technique while lifting, and combine that with wearing good gear, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Safety should be one of your top priorities while lifting, especially if you’re lifting a lot of weight.
Aside from hurting your back, lifting heavy weights can carry lots of other risks. Always take the proper precautions, and know what you’re doing, to ensure that you stay safe and are able to keep lifting.
Enhancing The Valsalva Maneuver
While I’m not a doctor, the Valsalva Maneuver can be described as “A maneuver performed by moderately forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway.” Wikipedia
Try This: Pinch your nose shut, keep your mouth closed, and try to “breathe out” without actually breathing out. With time, you’ll be able to close your nose without using your hands, once you get used to doing it.
You’ve just done the Valsalva Maneuver. It feels silly, but if you keep reading, you’ll see why it’s important.
Basically, the Valsalva Maneuver helps control your breathing and is responsible for giving you optimal strength during your lifts. This happens because the maneuver delivers blood with more oxygen to your muscles, which make them work better.
The Valsalva Maneuver only works when combined with a good breathing pattern. To have a good breathing pattern, breathe in and out before you do your lift, then use the Valsalva Maneuver while you’re going up and down.
This will ensure that your blood pressure is stable, and your muscles are getting oxygen.
Now, this is where belts come in. When you do the Valsalva Maneuver, you’re pushing out with your lungs.
Having a belt in front of your stomach gives your lungs something to press up against, helping you do the maneuver.
While you definitely can do the Valsalva Maneuver without a belt, it really helps to wear one. It’s just one more benefit of wearing a belt while you’re weightlifting.
Belts Stabilize Your Core During Lifts
When you wear a belt, it presses up against your abs. If you do the Valsalva Maneuver as I went over above, your core will be pushed out against the belt itself all throughout your lift.
Without a belt, if you have a weak core, there won’t be much keeping your spine in the right place. Belts help many people with weak cores lift more weight, safely.
If you do have a weak core, however, use caution when using a belt. If you become too dependent on the belt, it can make it worse for your core muscles.
While belts are helpful, you need to make sure that you don’t use them as a crutch, and develop your ab muscles separately. Unless you have an overly weak core, you’ll be okay.
Just make sure that you train your core separately, in order to keep it in shape on its’ own.
If you know anything about weightlifting or fitness in general, you should know that your core is one of the most important aspects of your muscles.
Keeping your core in shape helps keep your body balanced, and creates a platform for your other muscles to grow stronger.
While it’s more popular to work on your biceps, chest, or legs if you want to build up your overall strength, make sure that you pay attention to your core.
Raising Blood Pressure
Now, we get to the disadvantages. When you wear any type of gear, whether it’s belts, wraps, or sleeves, they constrict different parts of your body.
When this happens, your gear tightens on your muscles and blood vessels. This raises your blood pressure, which can have some pretty bad consequences if you’re not careful.
Having high blood pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing for lifting, except that it can cause nose bleeds. I actually wrote an article on exactly why lifters get nose bleeds, so check that out if you want to learn more.
While there may not be many effects on your lifting, high blood pressure definitely isn’t something that you want to have. It puts a whole lot of extra strain on your heart, and blood vessel system as a whole.
High blood pressure also puts you at a higher risk for stroke and heart attack, so it’s something you want to avoid. To do so, make sure that your belt and other gear isn’t too tight.
Wearing tight gear for one lifting session won’t give you a stroke, but over time, it’ll wear down your body. Take the right steps for safety, and you’ll avoid a visit to the hospital down the road.
How to Pick a Weightlifting Belt
When it comes to actually
For powerlifters, there are bigger, leather belts that provide more support for your abs, as well as boosting your performance.
For more Olympic-style weightlifters, there are Velcro belts, that don’t provide as much of a performance boost but still support your abs. Below, I’ll go over the differences more in-depth.
Leather belts are usually wider, and thicker than Velcro belts. This is to provide a bigger platform to support your abs, and in turn, increase your performance. Powerlifters usually need to lift a lot more weight, so they require more support than weightlifters.
Velcro belts are more commonly used for Olympic weightlifters, who need the support, but not the bigger performance increases. Belts like these are usually thinner and don’t provide as much support as leather belts, but still help you avoid injury.
You don’t always need a belt. While I’ll go over more specifics on that in a little bit, I’ll tell you this now; you shouldn’t use a belt unless you’re deadlifting or squatting more than 80% of your maximum lift. In most exercises, like curling or bench press, you shouldn’t touch a weightlifting belt.
When you Need a Belt
As I said above, you don’t always need a belt, and a lot of people never will. This being said, many people will need a belt. There are many situations, especially if you’re a serious or experienced lifter, where you’ll find that it’s best to wear one. Here are a few of those situations:
You’re Lifting Above 80% of Your Maximum Lift:
Chances are, if you’re lifting, you aren’t lifting 80% of your maximum weight all of the time. For example’s sake, if your max deadlift was 100 pounds, your 80% max would be 80 pounds. Simple, right?
If you aren’t lifting that big of a percentage of your max lift, you probably don’t need a belt. Lifts this big put a huge strain on your body, and a belt can help protect your core and spine.
If you’re lifting lower than 80%, it would do yourself better to not wear a belt. It’ll help you train your core, and back, to lift raw. Hang up the belt, unless you’re lifting a large percentage of your one rep max (1RM).
You’re Doing Heavy Deadlifts or Squats:
As I said before, you don’t need a belt unless you’re lifting close to your 1RM. This being said, if you’re lifting your 1RM for bicep curls, wearing a belt won’t do much to help you.
You only really need a belt for big, compound lifts like deadlifts and squats. It might feel cool to wear a belt for other exercises, but if you’re like most people, you’ll only need them for deadlifts and squats.
When to Avoid Using a Belt
While there are definitely times where you should be wearing a belt, there are more situations where you don’t need one. Read more about those situations and avoid looking stupid in the gym:
You Have a Weak Core:
If you have a weak core or abs, you might think that wearing a belt will help you overcome that, and still hit big lifts. This seems logical, but in
Wearing a belt when you have a weak core is a good way to always have a weak core, and become dependent on your gear for lifting. Get your core stronger with other lifts, then use the belt once you’re ready.
You Have a Back Injury:
Many people also think that a belt is a good way to lift while you have a back injury and avoid hurting yourself further.
In reality, you should lay off the heavy lifting until your injury is healed, or risk hurting yourself further. Do some physical therapy to help your injury, and stay off the big lifts until you’re better.
Most of the Lifts That You Do:
I went over this before, so I’ll keep this one short. For the majority of lifts, you don’t need a weightlifting belt.
For most exercises that you’re doing, especially accessories like bicep curls, wearing one won’t help you at all, and will just get in the way. Again, save the belt for squats, and deadlifts.
You’re Lifting Light Weights:
Once again, I’ll keep this part short. You’ll really only need a belt if you’re lifting 80% of your 1RM, which is a lot of weight. For most people, in most cases, you won’t need a belt.
Belts Don’t Weaken Your Core
Another popular myth is that using a belt will weaken your core or your abdominal muscles. I want to stress this a lot; that’s just a myth.
The truth is that when you wear a weightlifting belt, it only supports your core, not weakens it, and can even strengthen your abs. Despite common misconception, there’s nothing about supporting your muscles that’ll make them weaker.
When you wear a belt, it gives your abs a surface to push off of and brace against. Supporting your core can also benefit the other muscles in your body.
When your abs have more support, it takes a lot of stress and strains off of your core. This means that your body can use its’ energy in a more efficient way, and lift more weight.
As I mentioned before, belts don’t weaken your abs but strengthen it instead. This means that you’ll be able to lift more in the long run and get that six-pack you’ve always wanted.
Overall, the myth that belts will weaken your core is just that; a myth. Your purpose for wearing a belt shouldn’t be to get stronger abs but to lift more weight and utilize more support for your core.
Learn to Brace and Breathe
While wearing a belt is a great way to support your body, and lift bigger weights, wearing one won’t do much good for you unless you know how to breathe properly.
As I wrote before, for best results, you should use the Valsalva Maneuver whenever you’re lifting, with or without a belt. It’ll help to give your muscles the best amount of oxygen, which they use as fuel, and keep your body running.
The whole point of wearing a belt is to support your core and to enhance the Valsalva Maneuver. Without doing the Valsalva Maneuver, you’re missing out on a lot of the key benefits to wearing one.
To get the best results, push your abs out and brace them up against your belt. While you’re doing this, hold your breath for the duration of your lift. This is the best way to do the Valsalva Maneuver and will help you get the best results out of your belt.
This is one of the most important takeaways from this article; you need to learn how to properly breathe during your lifts. Without doing so, you not only lose out on the benefits of wearing a belt, but you’re also not lifting optimally even when you’re not wearing one.
Belts Can Protect Your Spine
As I mentioned earlier, belts won’t directly support your spine. This being said, the support that they give to your abs, supports your back.
When you’re doing big lifts, like deadlifts and squats, a lot of the weight is transferred onto your back. If your core muscles can’t handle all of this weight, you risk injuring or even breaking parts of your back.
When you wear a belt, your core is supported. When your core is supported, it gives your back more support and helps you avoid injury.
When deadlifting, hurting your back is one of the most dangerous, yet most common injuries that can occur. If you’re lifting a lot of weight, close to your 1RM, wear a belt and protect yourself.
“Nobody Wears Belts Anymore”
A common argument against wearing belts is that almost nobody does it anymore. Unless you’re in a serious powerlifting or weightlifting gym, it’s rare to see someone actually wearing one.
There’s some history to this, so keep reading if you’re interested.
A long time ago, it would be common to see almost everybody in your gym wearing a belt, for almost all of their exercises. That lasted until someone wrote about the fact that belts aren’t necessary, and suddenly, everybody stopped using them.
This is also a common argument against wearing mouthguards while you’re in the gym, which also has actual benefits. I wrote a post on wearing mouthguards in the gym too, so check that out!
Wearing a belt all the time and never wearing one are two extremes, and the best strategy lies between the two. While you definitely shouldn’t be wearing a belt for all of your lifts, there are times where you should be. Find a balance between the two, and do what suits you best.
The Bottom Line
There’s been a lot of information in this post, and I don’t blame you if you don’t read or remember all of it. Here are some of the key points summed up:
You Don’t Always Need a Belt
Some people will tell you that you should wear a belt all the time, but that’s not true. You only really need to wear a belt when you’re doing squats or deadlifts, and when you’re lifting close to your one rep max.
While you don’t always need a belt, there’s definitely a time and place. Find out what works for you and your body best, and do that.
Learn How to Breathe Properly While Lifting
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of
Tip: Learn the Valsalva Maneuver to breathe optimally during your lifts.
Belts Help You Avoid Injury
I’ll keep this one simple; belts support your abs and core, which support your back. Wearing one helps you be more stable while you’re lifting, and avoid injuring yourself.
If you’re into lifting a lot of weight for squats and deadlifts, pick up a belt to keep your back happy and healthy.