If you’re training hard and getting stronger (as you should be; by progressively overloading your weights!) then there will come a time when the question will enter your mind – Should I get a weight lifting belt? (abbreviated as ‘WLB’ from here on).
It’s a pretty good question and one that needs a little understanding. There are common myth’s floating around in regards to weight lifting belts because of the lack of knowledge on WLBs uses. The most common myth I’ve heard about WLBs is,
Weight lifting belts are used to protect your lower back and keep it straight
If you have heard that common myth or maybe even think it yourself; please get it out of your head. You will only get injured by believing it. People tend to use the belt when they get back problems or their lower back starts to get sore. WLBs do NOT help in any way to solve this problem.
If you have a back problem then you should not be lifting heavy weights until it is sorted out. Never push through any pain that doesn’t feel like the usual post workout soreness.
Trust me on this one, I’ve been there and it wasn’t a good experience.
The Stupid Mistake I Once Made
A few years ago, I felt a slight tingling sensation in my left hamstring after a squat session. It didn’t feel like the normal ‘jelly legs’ feeling after a session, it felt very peculiar. Although I noticed it, I just ignored it and went about my day as usual. I should have realized that something was up because;
1) I was training outdoors in cold weather (that’s good ol’ British weather for you) and I didn’t stretch accordingly.
2) I didn’t warm up properly. When I was in my beginner phase of progressive overload training I noticed an excellent increase in strength.
This pumped me up (and apparently deflated my brain at the same time); I was excited about every training session. I didn’t give a crap about warming up properly.
I just wanted to get onto the heavy weight and try to lift more than the previous session. I should have lifted lighter loads to warm up and then gradually build up the load to the main sets on the heavier weight.
3) The tingling sensation I mentioned was very strange and unusual. It immediately occurred after a poorly executed rep on squats with a heavy load. Which was a huge tell tale sign of damage.
4) After the training session, every time I went to bend from the waist down I felt the weird tingling sensation in my hamstring. Although it felt strange, it didn’t hurt. So I chose to ignore it (and obviously common sense too).
So being a jackass that I was, what did I do? I continued my training as usual by upping the weight to 100 kg/ 220lbs the next squat session which at the time was a new personal best.
After the session, as I was walking, that tingling sensation in the upper hamstring suddenly turned into a razor sharp pain. It was like someone stabbing me in the ass!
It was painful every time I lifted something off the floor and it became very (very) clear that I had now tore my hamstring.
Although I sorted it out and have never had any issues with it since, it took me a long time to do so. It was painful and I couldn’t do some of the normal everyday things due to the pain.
I had to put most training exercises on hold and use a range of self treatments to fix it. It took almost 5 months of constant attention to heal fully so I could get back to where I was on my strength training program.
I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did. It’s an easy one to make when you are aggressively perusing a training goal. Don’t ever try to push through any unusual pain. Always listen to what your body is telling you, the clues it gives you can save you a lot of pain (and time).
If I had chosen to listen to my body and start the healing process after the little clue I received in the form of a weird tingle; I don’t think I would have fully tore my hamstring and it would have been a lot quicker to heal.
What Type of WLB Should You Get?
Avoid the flimsy nylon belts from the fitness stores with plastic buckles or Velcro straps.
You should purchase a thick leather belt. One that has a robust metal buckle with prongs. You can either get a 1 or 2 pin prong belt, two pin is better.
The belt should be able to fasten securely and be made with a material that does not stretch.
When Buying a Weight Belt I Look For;
- A leather belt
- Metal buckle with prongs (preferably 2 prongs)
- About three-four-inches wide, all the way around.
The one on the right is the same one I have. It does the job very well and has not caused me any problems. Be sure to check the size before purchasing any belt.
How to Wear it
Your WLB should be fairly tight and not lose. Your core area needs to be able to push out against it. However, don’t go too tight and strangle your core with it like a python.
The position where you place your belt is down to personal preference. I like to have my belt lower down towards the belly region, some people prefer to wear it higher up. Test it out and see which you prefer.
So How do WLBs Help You?
WLB transfer and distribute force over your entire core area (core area meaning from just under the nipple line to the pelvic region).
The muscles in your core work as a whole unit to create a solid foundation of stability in the body.
As you lift weight at near maximum capacity inhaling a deep breath into the abdomen and then tensing the abs braces you and allows you to lift more weight.
During a heavy squat, as you inhale and flex your abs, you increase pressure in your chest cavity. This adds pressure to the anterior part of the spine from the inside and counters balances the forces on the back side of your spine (where the force of the weight is).
In short, when squatting with heavy loads this pressure helps prevent you from
‘Getting squished (by the bar), just like grape,’ in the words of Mr Miyagi.
Quick Break down;
- A WLB provides your abs with a wall to push against.
- The added force means increased anterior pressure for the spine, helping to stabilize it.
- This gives you a more rigid torso which leads to a better transmission of force; thus helping you to lift more weight.
When Should You Use a WLB?
You do not need to use a belt all the time. I wouldn’t use it for the beginning sets or warm ups. I only use a belt when I am lifting above my own body weight.
A WLB will certainly aid in your lifting performance. I recommend using a WLB once your lifting progresses. It will be of great use to you as you try to lift heavier loads when strength training. It has helped me a lot.
However do remember that nothing can beat the use of proper form. This should be in the front of your mind and practiced to perfection every time. If you have shitty form you will never be able to lift the maximum capacity you are capable of.
Do you use a belt? Thinking of getting one? If you have any thoughts, comments or questions you can leave them in the section below.