Borrowed from CrossFit Verve:
Pros and cons of a weightlifting belt, By (in small part) Courtney Shepherd and (in large part) BoxLife Magazine
I know not all of you partake in the wearing of the weight belt. That could be because you find them silly, you do not have one, and/ or you simply do not know why, when, or how to wear them. I will first direct you to previous articles that go into more depth then I will here and now, about how a weight belt works, and how to wear one:
Between the two previous articles and the one I will be quoting in this blog, there is a bit of overlapping information. People can agree that the weightlifting belt has it’s place as a useful tool in weightlifting training. But the weightlifting belt has made it’s way beyond the powerlifting and strongman arenas and become a common place accessory for CrossFitters. The question becomes, is it a good tool for everyone? Does the average CrossFitter, the person who comes to the gym to enjoy sweating, lifting weights, and maintaining health, need to have this as a standard piece of equipment? Taking highlights from a recent article written William Imbo of BoxLife Magazine (click here for full article), let’s talk about The Pros and Cons of a Weightlifting Belt.
1) The weightlifting belt can help stabilize and reduce stress on the spine.
“The benefit to wearing a weight belt is that they increase intra-abdominal pressure. Intra-abdominal pressure is the pressure within your abdomen. . . when you increase intra-abdominal pressure (as weightlifting belts do), the pressure inside the abdominal cavity pushes on the spine to support it internally, while your core muscles (such as your obliques and abs) and lower back push on the spine from the outside. Your body responds to the increased intra-abdominal pressure delivered by a weightlifting belt by creating a more rigid core, stabilizing your spine and reducing the stress it receives when under heavy loads.”
A weight belt does not replace having core muscles, it can not create stability where there is none to begin with. A weight belt works in conjunction with your core muscles to create circumferential midline stability.
1) Wearing a weight belt can effect motor learning.
“. . .argues that belts affect an athlete’s experience of ‘learning’ how to squeeze and contract their abs—particularly in the case of novice lifters. Instead, the belt acts as a crutch—given that it increases pressure in the abdominal area.”
Those newer to CrossFit, weightlifting, etc. may attempt to use the belt to falsely create midline stability rather than take time to build a strong core and learn proper technique. If we take time to practice perfect form, we build on the technique as well as build a strong midline allowing us to lift heavier loads over time without the need of a weight belt.
2) A weight belt may mask and/ or aggravate existing injuries.
“Say you’re a lifter that’s experiencing some serious back pain during your deadlifts. You’re hyper-extending your back in order to crank out more reps and heavier weight, but instead of checking your ego and dropping the weight, you decide to invest in a weightlifting belt. So the belt takes away some of the pain, but your form is still atrocious and you are still hyper-extending your back. Eventually (and inevitably), the pain returns, but this time it’s much worse and you have to go and see a PT or a doctor, who diagnoses you with a hernia. Simply put, weightlifting belts are no substitute for proper form and appropriate weight. Just because you’re wearing one that allows you to move 10lbs more than your PR doesn’t mean you should completely forgo the mechanics of the movement. That’s how injuries come about.”
3) A weight belt may actually weaken our lower back.
“Much as a belt acts as a crutch to the detriment of the development of the core, it can also have the same effect on your lower back—particularly if you wear a belt for high rep/low weight workouts. Belts will take stress off of the lower back, which is a bad thing because stress (i.e. the weight) is what drives adaptation and development in the body.”
Weight belts were designed to aid in heavy lifting. If the workout is Fran, 45 total thrusters at a very light weight, wearing a weight belt is counter productive to our body adapting to moving light weight for more reps. That goes for items other than weight belts. How about those wrist wraps we all love so much. My wrists can absolutely be a limiting factor in overhead work, but the more I bound them up in support, the less adaptive they become to supporting weight on their own. Yes, wrist wraps help in the moment but over time I will always have to rely on them rather than building strength and tolerance in my wrists.
That is more cons than pros. So does that mean no weight belt? No. It means know when and when not to incorporate a weight belt into your training. The average CrossFitter may never need to. Simply coming to the gym consistently, working on good mechanics, and practicing lifts can build the strength and competence the average CrossFitter seeks to simply enjoy doing things outside of CrossFit.
“The cons that I have listed above reveal the instances where you should NOT use a belt—to mask an injury, during high repetition workouts, or during lifts where the load is to light (under 80% of your 1 rep max), thereby negatively affecting the development of your core musculature and increasing the risk of injury.”
If you are some one who finds themselves gravitating towards the weight belts for every workout that involves lifting a barbell, perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate how you use a weight belt, and is it doing for you what you are wanting it to do? May be it is an even better time to leave the weight belt, the oly shoes, the knee sleeves, the gloves, and all the other fancy accessories, at home. Walk into the gym free of all things excess and just get your WOD on.
“While I do agree that proper execution of movement mechanics and focus on accessory work can be more beneficial to your development as a lifter than a belt can ever be, it doesn’t mean that a belt can’t come in handy—especially when you are attempting to hit those monster weights for a PR. You should think of a belt as a tool. It can enhance your performance in certain instances (i.e. when you need extra support during heavy lifts), but don’t rely on it to the extent that it starts to take away from developing into a strong athlete who is confident as a ‘raw lifter’—no knee straps, no OLY shoes, and no weight belt.”