Do You Even Wear a Weight Belt, bro?

February 04, 2019

Photocredit: barbend

Whether you are new to lifting, or an old pro, you have undoubtedly seen athletes of all varieties working out with weight belts. But did you know that the majority of people are actually using the weight belt wrong? And that with misuse, wearing a weight belt while lifting can actually CONTRIBUTE to injury?

Did you know. . . that a belt is actually NOT supposed to (directly) protect your back? (Shocking, I know!) In fact, studies of people who work in industries where wearing a weight belt is common are actually prone to MORE injuries, as they are not using their core muscles when they lift, but just depending upon the belt to do it for them.

The purpose of the weight belt is actually to help you to increase intrathoracic (or intraabdominal) pressure (this is the pressure within your abdominal cavity when you hold your breath and brace your abs, as if for a punch). WTH is THAT, and why is it important? An increase in intrathoracic pressure counters shear stress on the spine (i.e. your core is tighter, protecting your back, allowing you to lift more weight). Unfortunately, there is also a bad side to this method – holding your breath to increase this pressure (called the Valsalva maneuver), causes a higher spike in blood pressure when lifting than without holding your breath (and is therefore NEVER recommended for people prone to high blood pressure).

Whether you are a neophyte or experienced lifter, wearing a belt is NOT a necessity to lift. In fact, most of your lifting should be without a belt! As a beginner, the majority of your lifting should be focusing on technique, mechanics, mobility, etc. As an experienced lifter, whether you are lifting for strength or hypertrophy, you will be focusing on higher reps, and these lighter weights do not require a belt.

WHEN is using a belt beneficial to you?

  • When you are lifting 75-85% of your max and higher.

HOW do you use a belt?

  • Take a deep belly breath in, which forces your stomach against the belt (again, as if you were bracing for a punch). This creates almost a “second set of abs” tightening your entire core – abs and spinal erectors. Hold your breath throughout the eccentric AND concentric portion of the lift. If you are doing more than one rep, at the end of the lift exhale then take in another deep breath and brace again for the lift.

WHAT lifts are improved with a belt?

  • Normally squats and deadlifts. So when you see that bro at the gym wearing a belt for bicep curls, PLEASE do NOT emulate his methods!

FINALLY, NOT every belt is the same! It is important to find a belt that fits your body! First, wear your belt so that you can comfortably fit your hand between your stomach and the belt. You SHOULD be able to take a deep breath. In addition, make sure that the belt does NOT wedge into your hips or under/over/press up against your ribs (I’ve bruised the FIRE out of my ribs using a too wide belt on a max deadlift). 

Regardless of your ultimate fitness goals, proper use of a lifting belt can assist you in your journey! Use it wisely. 


 P.S. they might be perfect for you! 😉

This is a guest post from Gina Sobrero, Ph.D., ACSM EP-C. Gina is currently living in Kentucky, coaching at Vette City CrossFit as well as a Consultant for several national fitness, nutrition, and supplement companies. Gina can be followed on Facebook and Twitter