With the heavy-ish deadlifts and back squats last week we had several people asking about the use of a belt...so I wanted to address many of the common questions we get about weight lifting belts.
Let's first take a minute or two to talk about weightlifting belts as it is something that has come up in classes quite a few times recently. So let's address some FAQ's:
Do you need one?
No. That's doesn't mean you shouldn't have one. More on that below.
What kinds are there? What kind should you get?
For most of us this is almost totally up to your personal preference. The main styles of belts will be leather with a pronged buckle, lever belts that utilize a "lever" buckle, or a nylon material with a velcro closure. Unless you are competing any of the above is fine. If you are competing then you likely already know certain federations have different requirements.
But what does a belt do?
Several things. When you wear a belt AND properly brace while squatting, deadlifting, or anything that requires bracing (everything) you are able to increase your intra-abdominal pressure more than you would be able to without a belt. What the heck does that mean? It means that by having this belt surrounding your "core" you increase the amount of pressure in your abdomen which helps to keep your vertebra from moving. That's a good thing.
Another thing that happens when you wear a belt AND brace properly is that you increase intra-muscular pressure. This means that the muscles of your "core" (erector spinae, transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis) see also (back and abs) are actually able to contract harder and produce more force. Two benefits of this are that you can a) lift more weight and b) make these muscles stronger while wearing a belt vs not wearing a belt as they are working more with the belt on.
Will a belt help keep you from getting injured?
Only if you're bracing properly while wearing it. No point in having a belt, no matter how sweet it looks, if you're not utilizing it properly.
For most of us there is also a large psychological component to wearing a belt and if that alone is the only reason you are able to hit a PR, then why the heck not have one?