Written by Callum Parker
Are You Using Your Lifting Belt Correctly?
Lifting belts are brilliant bits of kit. They can be the difference between failing or hitting a new one rep max. Throughout my career, I have used them extensively to get the best out of clients and out of myself. Yet, I see many trainees use belts incorrectly and for the wrong reasons.
The Function of a Lifting Belt
If you think a lifting belt’s primary function is to protect the lower back, you are only half right. Whilst it’s true that a belt can give additional support to the lower back, for injury prevention, it has a far more practical purpose.
When you perform a big, compound movement (like a squat or a deadlift), your body will function at its best when all the muscles and joints are working together as one. If there are any individual weaknesses, the whole structure will be compromised.
The most important part of any lift is the set-up. If you don’t set-up correctly, you will not perform the exercise correctly. It’s as simple as that. A vital component of the set-up for squats and deadlifts – exercises that you would traditionally use a belt for – is the block. This is when, before each rep, you take a big inhale of air into your belly and squeeze your abs. The purpose of this is to brace your abs – and lower back – to provide the entire body with stability and support.
Sometimes, there’s only so much tension the abs and lower back can bear on their own. This is when the belt comes in. By providing the lower back and abs with an extra layer of bracing and support, you create an even more rigid and solid foundation. From this you will be able to generate more force and move more weight.
How To Use A Lifting Belt Correctly
So, now you know what a lifting belt actually does, it’s time to put it into practice.
The biggest mistake I see amongst casual lifters is a lack of understanding of what the belt does and how to utilise it correctly. A commonly held belief is that the simple act of wearing the belt automatically protects the lower back. Consequently, complacency with form sets in which, ironically, leads to a higher injury rate.
It is absolutely crucial that you create a block before each rep when wearing a belt. It will only serve its purpose if you hold up your end of the bargain – by inhaling and squeezing the abs, you push out against the belt and make it tight, which is where the support and stability comes from. A sure-fire recipe for disaster is to forget about good form because you believe that your lower back is bullet-proof when wearing a belt.
So in summary, ensure that you ALWAYS create a block before each rep (big breath into the stomach, squeeze the abs and hold throughout the lift!) This way the belt stays tight and gives you the extra support you need to push out those tough reps!
When To Wear A Lifting Belt
Another common misuse of the belt that I see on a regular basis is wearing one when it is not required. It has not become that unusual in most gyms to see some guys keeping their belt on for the duration of their workout. As well as being unnecessary, it’s a strong indication that the wearer has absolutely no idea what the belt actually does. Plus, if you’re able to keep it on after your set has finished, you aren’t wearing it tight enough!
Your body requires the greatest stability and support when performing high-stress, complex movements. Primary examples are squats and deadlifts – true full body exercises when performed correctly. It is during these exercises that a belt will prove it’s true worth. A belt will protect the back whilst making you stronger and more powerful.
Conventionally, though, a belt is most useful when lifting close to, at or exceeding your one rep max. This is when you are most at risk of injury. Any additional support will further reduce the risk of injury as well as increase the likelihood of you hitting the rep.
There is no need for a belt if the exercise that you are performing requires relatively little core activation. This includes pretty much every isolation exercise that you can think of, as well as prone exercises like the bench press. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be engaging your core when you perform these exercises, just that it is not essential for completing the movement.
So have you been getting the most out of your lifting belt?