When you are looking to make gains in the weight room or any athletic arena you may find yourself looking for that one thing that will give you a little bit of an edge to improve your performance. The weight belt (or squat belt) is one such tool you might be considering. Many consider using belts for the following: improving performance, decreasing chance of injury, protecting an active injury from getting worse, or assuming this tool will help after observing others successfully use a weight belt. But is this tool right for you?
Some evidence has implicated that the use of belts could hinder using your natural abdominal musculature/support making you more at risk for an injury when not wearing the belt. In other words, you are not going to put on a weight belt to garden or pick up your kids so why would you train that way? You need to learn how to brace without the belt to be safe in your activities of daily living. Other findings have shown that as long as the lift is under 90% of 1RM the belt is not as beneficial as you may presume. Some experts caution that a weight belt gives a false sense of security. Athletes may even use the belt as a crutch to make up for poor positioning.
When used as intended, belts and braces can have a positive effect on body mechanics. A belt gives you feedback on how your body position is or if you are engaging your core/midline stability correctly. Properly interpreting these cues requires you working with your coach or trainer. What correct movement feels like is important to become familiar with during a lift. It is this feeling that you should attain during a lift with or without the belt. The belt can help as a reminder to keep good position throughout the lift.
Research has found the use of a weight belt can be utilized to hit bigger numbers for lifts. These belts are typically wider, leather bound, and have a buckle versus fabric with Velcro. The Fabric based with Velcro provides mild/moderate support allowing more mobility and quicker application. These belts work well as feedback tool relying on your core to engage. In my experience, the Velcro Belt can be prone to inadvertently release in the middle of a big lift causing the athlete to bail. That is why relying on good coaching and learning a good set up is the best tool to save your lifts and back.
But don’t sweat it too hard. Here are some easy guidelines for when to use and when not to use a belt. Essentially the use of the belt is up to the individual athlete and their comfort level.
When to use-
When the athlete is reaching to 85+% of their 1 RM,
When the athlete is going for a True Max of 3RM,5RM or 10 RM
During a WOD with High Volume with Moderate to Heavy Weight with Deadlifts, Cleans or Snatches
When the coach recommends the use of a belt if available.
When not to use-
Any lift under 85% of 1RM
Masking an active injury so you can participate in a workout or lift.
Making up for poor technique so bigger lifts can take place.
Longer workouts where your aerobic system will be challenged
In the end it is up to you, and your coach, when and where to use a belt for lifts. Think of this, if your core cannot keep up with lifts under 85% there is no chance they will with hitting 1 RMs. So ask your coach or trainer for some good accessory exercises to promote improved core stability and awareness. Now get out there and hit those big lifts safely!