If you are in the gym often, you have likely seen people using weightlifting belts. You may have even tried one yourself. Are they worth the hype? Do they cause you to have a “weak core”?
Lifting belts, just like most other assistive gym equipment, have a place in your training but should be used appropriately.
External equipment like belts and sleeves can help provide sensory input to your joints to reduce the feelings of discomfort and pain, even though they don’t do much internally. This is great for training at very heavy weights and trying to push through the aches and pains.
If you are consistently experiencing pain with movements, you should not rely on external support. If you find yourself needing a lifting belt every time you perform deadlifts, cleans, etc. then you are doing yourself a disservice. Pain that is not going away should not just be masked with a support belt. At that point, you need to get checked out and work on any imbalances or faults that are leading to these issues. Your joints will feel way better with a proper mobility routine and warm-up instead of jumping right in with a belt.
Wearing a weightlifting belt increases your intra-abdominal pressure by about 15% during deadlifts and by about 30-40% during squats. Increasing this pressure is helpful to allow your limbs to lift heavier loads with a stable trunk.
Using a weightlifting belt does not significantly change the EMG activity of the spinal erectors. There is no real evidence showing that the use of a belt will make your core weak. That being said, we should not fully rely on the belt to generate out intra-abdominal pressure for big lifts.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
You should be able to create intra-abdominal pressure on your own before using a belt.
Using a belt is a skill that should be practiced.
Try working on breathing patterns in isolation and while lifting.
Warm up with lower load sets without a belt and only use the belt when lifting > 70% 1RM.
If you are using a belt or knee sleeves all the time because you have pain with lifting, it’s time to get checked out and work on things so that you won’t even need the extra support. External support does not fix a “bad back” or “bad knees.”
Corey Hall, PT, DPT