A man in the gym wearing a weight lifting belt

When Do You Need to Use a Weight Lifting Belt?

Chris

Written by fitness expert Chris on December 17, 2019

A person may need to use a weight lifting belt if he/she is lifting more than his/her own body weight. Keep in mind lifting belts only work for certain exercises where there is a heavy load placed on your spine. These are squats, deadlifts, and various Olympic lifts.

If you’re a regular gym-goer, you’re probably familiar with the sight of a lifting belt. Whether you’ve donned one yourself to lift some extra weight on your deadlift or you’ve seen the big guys at the squat racks buckling themselves in before a 1RM, it’s an integral part of any gym kit.

What is a Weight Lifting Belt For?

A woman in the gym putting on her weight lifting belt

A weight lifting belt is for protection of the lower back during incidences of extreme heavy lifting. They are designed to reduce stress on the muscles of the lower spine and prevent overextension during overhead lifts.

Using a lifting belt reduces stress on your lower back by increasing intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure provides additional support to the bones of your lower back, reducing the effort of your spinal muscles during a lift. For a lifting belt to function effectively in this capacity, it needs to be adequately tightened.

The presence of a lifting belt around your waist can also help maintain correct posture during an overhead lift by acting as a barrier to prevent you from tilting backward under the weight. The presence of the belt can increase awareness of posture and form throughout a lifting exercise, as well.

There’s a psychological benefit to wearing a lifting belt, too. Some lifters report an increase in confidence while wearing a belt, ultimately having a positive effect on their lifting capacity.

When to Use a Lifting Belt

A man doing squat exercises in the gym while wearing a weight lifting belt

The use of a lifting belt is not a universal tool for improving strength and fitness. It is designed to be used during particular exercises involving upright barbell lifts, with the specific purpose of reducing stress on your lower back.

The exercises a lifting belt will benefit are upright barbell lifts, such as the squat, deadlift, and various Olympic lifts, such as clean and jerk and the Snatch. These exercises place a heavy load on your spine. As they are generally used for strength training, the weight being lifted is usually significant during these exercises and outside the range of recreational strength training. If you’re a serious competitive powerlifter or you’re training to increase your 1RM, then a lifting belt will benefit your training and reduce your risk of injury.

When Not to Use a Lifting Belt

As stated, a lifting belt is designed for specific exercises that place a heavy load on your spine. Any exercises outside of this range won’t benefit from the use of a lifting belt. For example, exercises such as lat-pull downs, leg extensions, leg curls, or various other isolation exercises generally won’t benefit from the use of a lifting belt.

Outside of this, there are some contraindications for using a lifting belt. Specifically, wearing a belt over an extended period has been known to elevate blood pressure. If you have blood pressure issues, be sure to consult a professional before using a belt and exercise caution while using one.

Extended and unnecessary use of a lifting belt can have an adverse effect on your training program. As they are designed to reduce the effort of your spinal muscles, the presence of a lifting belt during exercise will reduce the effort that your core muscles have to make in general during a workout. This will interfere with beneficial strength increases in your core that you should experience from a standard training program. If your goal is functional fitness, and you’re not too worried about achieving your 1RM, a lifting belt is probably an unnecessary piece of kit for you.

Even if you’re training for serious strength or powerlifting, it’s a good idea to train lighter without a belt intermittently. This practice will encourage your core to work unassisted, maintaining and increasing its own strength and stability. Overuse of a lifting belt can lead to over-dependence on it and a lack of confidence in your own body’s abilities.

Everybody’s circumstances are different, and your training program should be designed specifically with your needs in mind. It’s vital to consult a professional regarding your circumstances before making any adjustments to your exercise program.

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