There tend to be two schools of thought when it comes to weight-training belts. Some people use them for every repetition on every exercise and wear them from the second they step through the gym doors to the moment they leave; others eschew them completely. The truth is that, while weight-training belts certainly aren't a necessity, they can provide support, reduce injury risk and boost strength provided you don't develop an over-reliance on them.
Design and Purpose
There are two main types of belt: thin rubber belts that are wide at the back and thin at the front and worn mainly by bodybuilders and general gym-goers, and thicker belts that are the same thickness all the way round and much more rigid. These are used in powerlifting and strongman competitions. This second type of belt is far more effective and beneficial then the former. A belt is designed to sit around your lower back with the buckle covering your abs, writes powerlifter and trainer Dave Kirschen. Contrary to popular belief, belts aren't designed to protect your back. Rather, they create a surface for you to brace your core muscles against, increasing intra-abdominal pressure and giving you greater stability.
There's no need to wear a belt for every exercise, as you simply don't need to, writes Tony Gentilcore, coach at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts. Your squats and deadlifts should benefit from wearing a belt and you may also wish to use one with heavy bench presses, overhead presses or carrying exercises such as farmers walks or strongman events. You certainly don't need them for isolation movements such as curls, lateral raises or machine exercises as your core muscles aren't involved enough to warrant it.
Belts aren't just for men, bodybuilders or powerlifters, according to trainer and nutrition coach Jen Comas Keck. On the big lifts such as squat and deadlift variations a belt will stabilize your mid-section allowing you to lift more weight while keeping upright and using better technique. More lifted weight leads to firmer, shapelier legs, adds Keck.
Drawbacks and Considerations
Weight training belts shouldn't be seen as a way of preventing injuries or an excuse for not learning correct technique, claims Chris Frankel, strength coach and lecturer at the University of New Mexico. If you lift with bad form, wearing a belt won't help much at all. Only use a belt on exercises where you feel it genuinely adds support and increases stabilization, and put it on once you reach around 70 to 80 percent of your single repetition maximum.
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