If used inappropriately, the weight belt has the potential to be more harmful than helpful.
How does a weight belt work? Well let’s first address how it doesn’t work, it is NOT designed to support your back. It is NOT designed to stabilize your back. The belt is not meant to be worn when your back hurts or feels tight from previous work in an attempt to “save it” or “prevent it from getting hurt”. A weight belt acts as a surface for your abdominals to brace against during a time of increased intra abdominal pressure.
To use the belt effectively, you need to use the Valsalva maneuver.This involves take a large breath of air into your belly (not your chest), and trying to exhale forcefully with a closed throat. This will push your belly out into the belt, which will help increase the pressure build up around your entire midsection.
The goal is not to tighten the belt as much as possible but rather to create the tight feeling through the Valsalva technique.
The next question then, is when should I wear a belt? A weight belt is not creating a stabilized midline where none exists. It does not create core strength, the athlete needs to already possess it.
If you are lifting correctly, your midsection should be strong enough to support itself through the vast majority of tasks you put it through. You may be limited in how much weight you can lift, but you are not in any significant danger of injury without it. The belt really comes into play when you need the extra support to get after heavy weights.
Breathing hard against a belt is a skill that needs to be practiced prior to heavy lifting. If you are new to using a belt, bring it out during the warm up sets of a heavy lifting day. Continue to use it through the heavy lifts. On days of light weight, high volume (meaning lots of repetitions), leave the belt behind. This is the work our midline should be able to handle on it’s own.
We got the why, we got the when, now how about how do I wear a weight belt? A good starting place is around the natural waist, allowing the belt to go across the small of your back. It is not meant to be worn low on the hips or across the hips/ hips bones. When there is flexion at the hip, i.e. squatting, deadlifting, the belt should not get wedged in our hip crease. On the flip side, we do not want to wear it so high that it presses against our rib cage. The belt should not worn to it maximum tightness but rather with enough room to place one finger between your belly and the belt. This room is where we will press our belly against when creating our intra abdominal pressure.
There are an abundance of cool tools and accessories used by athletes to aid in lifts. If you have a question about when you should or even if you should be utilizing them ask a trainer, they will gladly point you in the right direction. If you are unsure how to use any of these cool accessories, again, ask a trainer. Accessories can be incredibly helpful but if used improperly, can have the opposite effect.
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