4 Myths You Were Told About Lifting Belts
Lifting belts get a lot of attention and internet debate for a piece of equipment that is legitimately just a long strip of leather…
Bros will get in heated debates over when it’s okay to wear a belt, who should be wearing a belt, how strong you should be before buying a belt, if the belt is actually making you weaker…etc, etc, etc…
The truth is, it’s really not all that deep.
A lifting belt is a piece of equipment designed to increase “intrabdominal pressure”. Intra- meaning inside, abdominal- meaning your abdomen, and pressure- meaning… well, pressure. So we are increasing the pressure inside our abdomen. This increased intrabdominal pressure makes our trunk more rigid, allowing for more stability when we lift, in turn resulting in a small increase in performance when it comes to resistance training. Additionally, a lifting belt can sometimes decrease an individuals perceived levels of pain while lifting, especially in instances such as low back pain.
Other than that…it’s just a belt. Internet talk about…just a belt…can often get a bit carried away and here’s 4 myths regarding lifting belts that have arose out of that ongoing internet chatter.
1. Lifting Belts Help Prevent Back Injury
Look I get it, logically, slapping a thick piece of leather around your midsection you’d think you’d be getting some sort of protection out of it right? Sure, maybe you now have some minor defense against unexpected knife attacks to your stomach, but in terms of back injuries…you were just as safe without the belt.
Unfortunately, lifting belts have not been shown to decrease your injury risk when it comes to resistance training. As mentioned above, however, they can act as a sort of “security blanket”. Many individuals will report a decreased sensation of pain while wearing a lifting belt, which can be great for someone who’s afraid to perform physical activity because of pain, and the belt helps them do so. It’s just important not to get this mixed up with the belt actually preventing injury.
When it comes straight down to it, all your belt is doing is increasing intrabdominal pressure. That’s it. This increased intrabdominal pressure is not protecting you in any specific way compared to not wearing a belt.
2. Wearing a Belt Will Weaken Your Core
Another common myth perpetuated around the use of belts is that the use of a belt is actually going to weaken your abs and lower back. This causes many individuals to use their belts extremely sparingly out of fear of missing out on potential core gains, or fear that they will become completely dependent on a belt.
This is not an issue you need to worry about.
This is actually a topic which has well studied and when measured by EMG (electromyography, test which can be used to measure muscle activation) there’s no significant difference between muscle activation in your core. There are slight differences in muscle activation depending on the lift being looked at and whether a belt was worn or not, but nothing concerning in terms of ab activation. I.e. you’re still going to be using your core/training your core whether you wear a belt or not.
In fact, the longer you think about it, the funnier the idea of your core “turning off” because you are wearing a belt becomes. Even you can’t consciously turn off your core at will, let alone a piece of leather…go ahead…try to “turn off” your core right now…let me know how it goes.
When coached correctly whether a lifter wears their belt or not has much more to do with load management within a program. Wearing a belt will allow a lifter to increase load on the bar and sometimes it’s good to limit that load so as to limit overall fatigue. However, you won’t hear a good coach tell their athlete, they won’t be wearing a belt for training today so they can “focus on activating their core”.
3. Only Advanced Lifters Should Wear Belts
You can wear a belt for your very first resistance training session ever. No skill and/or strength requirement needed.
People like to gatekeep who can and cannot wear belts but it’s always based around arbitrary strength milestones so that someone has to “earn” the privilege of wearing a belt.
This is stupid and arbitrary.
There’s never any actual scientific reasoning behind people who say you need to have a certain level of strength before you can wear a belt. Resistance training mechanics including breathing and bracing as well as your base technique do not change whether you wear a belt or not, and you’re not putting a beginner lifter in any sort of extra danger if they are wearing one.
If you have the money to purchase a belt and would like one…go for it. You don’t need to wait around to “be strong enough” or for someone to “allow” you. If you have goals of competing in strength sports like powerlifting or strongman, the sooner you get used to wearing a belt, the better.
4. Your Brace Changes When You Use a Belt
Breathing and bracing does not change when you wear a belt. Read that again.
People act like the first time someone get’s a belt they are learning an entirely new skill. You’re not. If you have already been taught how to properly breathe and brace for lifting you already know what you need to know to wear a belt. Your brace does not change because you put on a belt.
Lifters can sometimes be incorrectly cued to “push their stomach out” into the belt, like they are mimicking that they have a pregnant belly. This is based around the idea that you want to “fill in the gaps” between you and your belt. This will naturally happen with your normal breathing and bracing as you take in air, you don’t need to force it.
All you are doing by pushing your stomach out is messing up your brace. Take a big breathe in, brace your core like someone is going to punch you in the stomach and lift. You don’t need to stick your gut out to use a belt.