Belt It Out

Belt It Out
Should you wear a weightlifting belt when you train? The answer is unequivocally YES. Here are four great reasons why.

Back in the day, almost everyone who lifted weights in some shape or form used a weightlifting belt. Mr. T even made a weight belt part of his street wardrobe!

These days, few if any guys and girls in the gym use a belt. In fact, the most recent study on weightlifting belt usage trends was done in 2003. The researchers reported that only 27% of gym members questioned used a belt. In the dozen-plus years that have passed since then, I'd say that number has grown even smaller. This is likely due to the fact that there is much confusion over whether belts are harmful to progress or helpful. Without a doubt, lifting belts are extremely helpful for a variety of reasons. Here's a breakdown of the many benefits belts have to offer:

Belt Benefit #1: Increased Core Strength

Many "experts" on training have made the erroneous claim that using a belt is a crutch than can lead to reduced strength of the lower back muscles (erector spinae) and "core" strength in general. That's completely false information.

Most people think that weightlifting belts act like a brace to support your torso so that your core muscles don't have to. But that's NOT how weight belts work. Belts can actually help you increase the use of the abs and lower back muscles. Research on weightlifting belts has shown that for the erector spinae muscles, wearing a belt while lifting will either have little effect on the use of these muscles or will actually increase their use by up to 25%.

Studies have also shown a solid increase in the muscle activity of the rectus abdominis (the abs). These data suggest that wearing a belt may increase core development, not hinder it as many believe. This is one of the main ways that weightlifting belts help to stabilize the spine and reduce compressive forces on it. And when you're squatting or deadlifting several hundred pounds, I highly suggest you try any means possible to increase stability of the spine and reduce the compressive forces on it.

Belt Benefit #2: Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure

Another way that belts help to stabilize the spine and reduce the stress on it is by increasing pressure in the abdominal cavity. Some studies have confirmed that wearing a belt during weight lifting increases intra-abdominal pressure by up to 40%, while one study reported that compression of the intervertebral discs were reduced by 50% when subjects wore a belt while lifting. And why is this important? Here's why...

Increasing intra-abdominal pressure is similar to inflating a balloon inside your abdominal cavity – the inside pressure in the abdominal cavity pushes on the spine to support it from the inside while the core muscles in the abdominal wall and lower back push on the spine from the outside. This inside and outside pressure acts to stabilize the spine and reduce the stress it receives when lifting heavy weights. And this is how lifting belts can help to protect against back injuries during lifting. It's NOT due to the belt supplying the support; it's due to the way the body reacts to the belt that supplies the spinal support.

Belt Benefit #3: Improved Biomechanics When Lifting

Yet another way that belts may help reduce back injuries is due to the change in biomechanics it causes. Research shows that when lifting boxes, wearing a lifting belt reduces the amount of spinal flexion (forward bend at the spine), spinal extension (bending back of the spine) and lateral flexion of the spine (bending side to side) while increasing the amount of flexion at...

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