What’s the Dealo with Weightbelts?

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In the words of the great 50-Cent:  Go, go, go, go, go, go.

……Go shawty, it’s your birthday

We gonna party like it’s your birthday

We gon’ sip Bacardi like it’s your birthday

In case you weren’t picking up on my vibe, today’s my birthday, soooooooo, I automatically get a mulligan for taking so long to get this post up today.

I took a personal day off from CP, and as a result I slept in, made a ginormous omelet, opened up my presents, answered some emails, wrote a few programs, dropped Lisa off at work, helped a little old lady cross the street, read scripture to a bunch of orphans, fought crime, and now I’m sitting here writing at a local coffee shop chillaxing.

I’ll hang out here for a while, and then head back to pick Lisa up whereupon she’s treating me to an all-you-can-eat-meat-buffet-extravaganza.

Life is good.

I contemplated not writing a post today, but thought better of it since I took most of last week off due to Thanksgiving/marathon football watching.  And, even more importantly, I didn’t want to leave my loyal readers feeling shafted that I haven’t been a blog writing ninja lately.

I don’t know if it’s something in the water or what, but lately I’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries about my thoughts on weight belts.  Namely, whether or not I feel there’s any efficacy for their use, and if so, when?

As is the case with any question pertaining to fitness, the answer is:

It Depends

For most, here’s where I see a belt’s use coming to fruition:

1.  They have observed others wearing them and have come to the conclusion that it will be a good idea for them to do so as well.

2.  Their back has an ouchie, and they believe that a weight belt with help alleviate the problem.

3.  They think it will make them invincible and chicks will want to hang out with them.

Attacking the first argument (everyone uses them, so I should too) – this is where I feel most trainees miss the boat entirely, and where I feel most need a little dose of tough love.

Sure, there’s a lot of research proving the usefulness of weight belts in increasing intra-abdominal pressure, as well as improving performance: go to Pubmed and do a search, or better yet, go to page 174 of McGill’s Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, where he uses an entire chapter discussing this topic.

Here’s the rub, though. I feel many trainees tend to get carried away and tend to rely on a weight belt as crutch. Looking at the anatomy, you’ll realize that your body has it’s own natural weight belt already in place.

Anteriorly:  rectus abdomimus (or your abz, in bro-science talk).

Laterally:  internal & external obliques

Posteriorly:  erector spinae, multifidus (segmental stability), longissimus, iliocostalis, and we can even throw the lats into the mix here.

And, digging a little deeper, we can’t neglect the roles of the transverse abdominus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor with regards to core function (with both stability AND performance).

Assuming one is perfectly healthy, and doesn’t have a history of back issues, one could argue there’s no immediate use for a weight belt, and that our body does a pretty darn good job on its own!

Note:  this is taking into consideration that, despite many people being asymptomatic, MRI’s have shown 52% of people walking around have a bulge at one level; 38% have bulges at TWO levels. In short, just because you’re pain free, doesn’t mean you’re entirely in the clear.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

Stealing a section from an article I read by Dave Kirschen on this same topic:

I tend to think of a belt as a performance enhancer rather than protection. If you are lifting correctly, your midsection should be strong enough to support itself through the vast majority of tasks you put it through. You may be limited in how much weight you can lift, but you are not in any significant danger of injury without it. The belt really comes into play when you need the extra support to get after heavy weights.

I couldn’t agree more.

Outside of some heavy, I’m going to shit my spine lifting (we’re talking in the range of 90% + of one’s 1RM), weight belts, in my opinion, are less than optimal.

As mentioned above, belts do help to improve intra-abdominal pressure, as well as prevent buckling of the spine with heavier loads, but it’s just gotten to the point where dudes (and girls, too – you’re not off the hook!) wear belts for just about everything:  bicep curls, lat pulldowns, lunges, changing a light bulb, taking the garbage out, you name it.

It’s gotten out of hand.

Attacking the second point (your back has an ouchie, and a belt will help alleviate the problem) – again, I feel this is placing a band-aid over the real issue. Many trainees use weight belts as a crutch and fail to address the actual dysfunctions and imbalances they have.  In a way, by wearing a belt incessantly, they’re “shutting off” the surrounding musculature in terms of doing what they’re designed to do – protecting and stabilizing the spine.

This is actually a tough one to tackle, because there are obviously circumstances where a weight belt is advantageous and warranted. As a general rule, however, most trainees would be better off taking a step back and addressing the issues at hand (unable to find, or even maintain, a neutral spine, having the t-spine mobility of the Tin Man, and hips that are stiffer than a 2×4, to name a few), rather than relying on a weight belt for everything.

And lastly, undressing the third point (they’ll feel invincible) – I’m not going to lie, there IS a sense of “comfort” and peace of mind that comes from wearing a belt; but again, unless you’re using loads upwards of 90% of your 1RM, you’re better off keeping the belt in your gym bag.

Which presents another question:

What Kind of Belt Should You Get?

Not all belts are created equal. At the expense of sounding like a broken record, a weight belt is mostly designed to help one increase intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn, stabilizes the ENTIRE mid-section. Belts that you can purchase at your local Wal-Mart that are skinny in the front and wide in the back are worthless, because they do a piss poor job at providing enough support for the entire system.

Remember that one time you decided to buy your cottage cheese from the dollar store because, well, it was a dollar? How did that work out? It probably tasted like sour butt crack, right? You get what you pay for. And purchasing a top-notch weight belt is no different.

I’d recommend heading over to elitefts.com and perusing their weight belt section. They’re not cheap, but they’re legit, and will last F.O.R.E.V.E.R.

Keeping that in mind, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take at least a few moments to discuss how to use a belt properly.

1.  Seriously, don’t wear one for every exercise!  Squats and deadlifts would be the staples. Others on the list would include goodmornings, HAS (Heavy As Shit) farmer carries, and competition bench presses. I’m sure I could think of more, but whatever.  The point is if you’re wearing a weight belt to perform tricep kickbacks, you’re tool.

I’d recommend going belt-less for all of your warm-up and build-up sets. From there, once you reach roughly 90% of your 1RM, strap that baby on and dominate!

2. Mistakenly, many trainees tend to latch their belt on as tight as possible – to the point where they’re cutting off circulation. Again, the belt is there to help, but you also need to do some of the work. Instead, leave some wiggle room and latch the belt a little looser than usual. This way you’re forced to PUSH OUT against the belt and get more kinesthetic feedback.  Additionally, as a result, you’re teaching yourself to increase intra-abdominal pressure without relying too heavily on the belt.

3.  And that’s about it.  This ain’t rocket science, yo.

I’m sure I’m missing some points, and I could expound on a few things in more detail, but I think you get the gist.  At the end of the day, I can just defer to Dr. McGill on the matter:

If one must lift a few more pounds, wear a belt. If one wants to groove motor patterns to train for other athletic tasks that demand a stable torso, it is probably better not to wear a belt.

What are YOUR thoughts?  Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Sound off below.

PS:  It’s MY BIRTHDAY!!!!!

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  • Lars Krogstad

    Congrats Tony! Happy B-day coach! Great post today, considering I was thinking about mailing you about this very question.

    • Anonymous

      This just goes to show I have Jedi-like mind reading skillz

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1538422969 Rick Williams

    I have had a belt now for 6 months and have used it maybe 5 times all P.R.s. At the rate Im going I wont have it broken in for years.

  • Dean Somerset

    Goldberg was in town filming a movie a few years ago, and he worked out in our gym. MASSIVE DUDE!! He had a thick belt he wore with everything, and it had GOLDBERG in big metallic sparkly gold writing. After his workout he was chillin at the juicebar and saying how he liked the fact he could get a full workout in without people bothering him for autographs or whatever. At which I chimed in a said “maybe they would leave you alone if your belt didn’t have GOLDBERG advertised all over it to bring attention.” He didn’t think it was funny.

    • Anonymous

      Hahahahahahaha. Hilarious. I remember when The Rock trained at SportsClub LA when I worked there back in the fall of 2006. He was in town filming The Game Plan. MASSIVE dude. Cool, too. He didn’t wear a belt.

  • http://unblob.blogspot.com/ Cort the Sport

    Happy Bday!!!

    THANK YOU for this. I hate those skinny-in-the-front belts (and the whole belt overuse thing). I’ve had my thick black suede belt for 21 years (since my powerlifting days). It’s the lever kind that you have to adjust with a screwdriver to change the size so it provides a disincentive for getting fat too!! I love it, but I’ve maybe worn it two times in the last year since I’m not generally going for singles or doubles for what my training requires now.

    People are such lemmings, they just blindly buy what they think they need without having any idea why or the reasoning behind it.

    • Anonymous

      Eric has that same kind of belt Cort. I have an hefty elite belt – it’s awesome.

  • http://rc3.org/ Rafe

    My approach as someone who’s focused on general fitness is that I skip all the assistive stuff — belts, straps, etc etc and just work on whatever is weakest on any given lift. So when I’m doing rack pulls, my grip is the weak point and I just lift as much as my grip will allow. If I were working on improving my dead lift rapidly, that wouldn’t make much sense, but for what I do, it seems to be the most sensible approach.

    • Anonymous

      Weeeeeeeell, I think there ARE legitimate uses for straps. I used straps back in the day, I just didn’t use them for EVERY set. I think you may be leaving some potential strength (and hypertrophy) gains in the tank…..just sayin,

  • Cameron

    Happy birthday Tony!

    Haven’t ever used a belt but then again don’t lift anywhere enough to warrant it. Focued on training for athletic performance so would be unlikely to use in the future.

    • Matias

      Cameron, that’s really interesting to me because I also train for athletic performance yet I do plan on using one. Im curious. What kind of training do you do, and what athletics do you participate in?

    • Anonymous

      We had a kid in over winter break last week who pulled 565 for a triple……sans a weight belt. He’s a beast.

  • Kevin

    First off, Happy Birthday! Second, this is literally perfect timing, as I just hit a 405 deadlift yesterday, which I set at my baseline to achieve before I even considered a belt. Your ninja skills are improving with age.

  • Donovan Chee

    Happy birthday Tony! We share the same birthday but well, I am younger. Joking aside, on a serious note, while you have mentioned that “unless you’re using loads upwards of 90% of your 1RM”, how would it apply to lifters with different strength levels eg a lifter who weighs 75kg deadlifting only 60kg (1RM) as opposed to a lifter who weighs the same but pulls 160kg (1RM)?

    • Anonymous

      Hmmmmm, that’s a good question. Using a belt at 90% isn’t set in stone. By all means, if you can pull without one, do it.

      Having said that, once you’re pulling 2x-3x bodyweight, it might be more prudent to try the belt out.

  • Dean

    Happy Birthday. I must admit I use one of those skinny weight belts for my chin-ups. I put a chain through it to hang weight plates on. They are good for that.

    • Anonymous

      Indeed – that is definitely a legitimate use for the belt.

  • REES

    Well said. Happy birtday pal

  • http://www.facebook.com/Harold.J.Gibbons Harold Gibbons

    Tony, way to celebrate your birthday with a kick-ass post. Everything was spot on!

    It seems that belts have become more of an integral fashion symbol than an accessory to training. Far too many people wear them just because “It’s what you do!” without understanding their for performance enhancement rather than protection. It reminds me of the body-building mentality of looking like you lift heavy weights instead of actually lifting heavy weights. I enjoyed your analysis and suggestions. We know that heavy things won’t lift themselves, but too many folks think that a belt is the magic bullet.

    • Anonymous

      Right Harold – thanks for the kind words, and glad we’re on the same page…….;o)

  • Dag-Are Halland

    Happy birthday Tony! I liked your article. I’ve been wondering about taking belts into usage in my own training, but see now that not doing so thus far has been a good decision.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Robking1 Rob King

    Great post Tony.

    I trained for years in powerlifting using a powerlifting belt, read something by Poliquin about lifters not using it and modeling many olympic lifters who gave it up.

    Felt great to give it up, but it’s easy to get trapped into wanting that extra bit a belt can give.

    Getting over a nasty back injury (Herniation l4/l5 I am testing a belt on heavier front squats. I find the belt helps me big time.

    I love that your reply for belt use is “It Depends”…..

    Great read..

    Thank you;

    Rob
    http://www.RobKingFitness.com

    • Anonymous

      Rob – coming from you, that means a lot! Thanks for the kind words, and good luck with that back of yours.

  • Mike

    Great article Tony. When I started lifting (read – doing biceps curls and bench presses) I was very much pro-belts. Then I went all “functional” and thought they were the devil’s work. Now I’m in the same camp as you – they serve a purpose for those looking to get stronger, on particularly heavy sets and a select number of exercises.
    Happy birthday too.

  • Franco G

    I loved it. I definitely see far too many people using belts even for ab training :) Completely agree with the “it depends”.. I usually use it when I go in that 85% range on my squats and deadlifts but there will be times where I´m feeling strong and/or forgot to put it on and executed the exercise just fine. The idea, I feel, is to keep it as an accesory and not depend on it for everything. Everything has it´s time and place I guess.
    Care to take a stab at the use of lifting straps… I see far too many people who can´t do their back training if they don´t have their straps…. love to see you comment on that

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  • David

    Great post. I tried using a 10MM powerbelt on squats for a few sessions. I thought it was prudent of me to try it since I was squatting double BW for reps. I’m a short guy, 5’7″, and I was starting to get bruises on the bottom of my left ribs and it was unbearably uncomfortable. Call me a pussy, but I stopped using the belt. Afterward, I realized that the belt didn’t help at all – I was using it correctly by the way. It wasn’t my trunk that was the weak point; it was my legs. Perhaps sooner or later my leg strength will outpace my trunk strength and I will have to turn to the belt once more.

    Though the belt does help with barbell presses.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you found the post useful David, and thanks for the kind words!

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  • Walt

    I haven’t tested my 1RM deadlift in a while but I can deadlift double BW (340lbs) for multiple reps (stop and go) with straps. My low back has started to feel really sore for days after my deadlifting with weights this heavy so I’m considering getting a belt to use during double BW+ lifts. I don’t like the idea of using a belt as a crutch but I’m afraid the soreness in my low back will derail my training in the long term or lead to injury.

  • https://www.gripped.com.au/ David

    Hey congrats Tony.nice article there.I think It’s still possible to lift heavy loads safely without a
    weightlifting belt, as long as the lifter sticks to proper form and
    gives the muscles adequate recovery time to avoid back injury.In short Weightlifting belts shouldn’t be worn tightly for the entire duration of
    a workout.I have been using an Gripped Neoprene padded White Delux Belt
    which is sure to turns heads when hitting the gym.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I agree David. I wasn’t trying to imply that one ALWAYS has to wear a weightbelt when approaching maximal loads, but that they can certainly enter the discussion.