When to Use a Weightlifting Belt

#biomechanics #liftingtechnique #power #strength Aug 24, 2022

Edited by: Danielle Abel

Should you consider a weightlifting belt?

As lifters progress in experience, a common question that comes up is at what point they should consider a weightlifting belt. 

Unfortunately, it's one of those "it depends" answers.

What does the research say?

Kingma, et al (2006)  found that proper breathing and bracing were still required with belt use in order to decrease spinal compression forces. Essentially they found that the belt provided a physical cue to the lifter and something to brace against. 

Zink, Whiting, Vincent, & McLaine (2001) found that when compared to non-weightlifting belt use, squats performed with a weightlifting belt were of greater velocity and range of motion. However, muscle activation was unaffected as measured by electromyograph (EMG).

These outcomes lead the researchers to conclude that the use of a weightlifting belt may improve lifting power. 

Researchers have even struggled to find an effective way to measure the outcomes of using weightlifting belts, as indicated by Blanchard, Smith, & Grenier (2016). 

The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) provides little guidance

There is no exact training age or % of 1RM to be lifted that is recommended. In fact, there is limited research and evidence-based recommendations on weightlifting belt use. Even the National Strength and Conditioning Association, NSCA, has limited guidance on weight belt use for coaches. There are a few small paragraphs in the book where weightlifting belts are discussed. 

There are, however, some general guidelines on using weightlifting belts that you might find useful when evaluating an athlete or possibly even yourself for using a weightlifting belt. In general, they all relate to supporting the spine by increasing intra-abdominal pressure when lifting.

With or without a belt, bracing is essential for heavy compound movements. Bracing is simply a way of creating abdominal tension with inhaled air to expand the torso in a 360-degree direction. 

  • Movement competency, lifting form, and overall technique should be well established
  • Understands how to breathe and brace without a belt at lighter loads 
  • Used with spinal loaded exercises (ie, squat and deadlift)
  • Used with loads that are near or at maximal levels (ie,1RM)

Practical Application

Ultimately it probably comes down to the lifter's abilities and goals. (Sounds pretty familiar, right?).

Being able to assess your athlete's form and technique along with the style of training they are performing or will be performing in the future is key.

If you're working with an endurance or agility athlete, it may only be necessary to help them use a weightlifting belt during a strength block 1-2 times per year where they are lifting heavier loads since their primary goal is increasing their endurance and agileness. 

Whereas if you're working with a strength athlete, you may be more inclined to reach for a belt.

When you get to the point when you feel the athlete has learned how to breathe and brace and they are continuing to advance how much they are capable of lifting, it may be a good time to introduce a belt and teach them how to implement the same breathing and bracing techniques with the belt. 

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