A weightlifting belt is a commonly misunderstood piece of equipment, especially to beginners, and people new to crossfit. If i had a nickel for every time I saw someone using a belt incorrectly or giving out bad advice concerning a belt, well lets just say i could buy a couple grilled stuff burritos from Taco Bell with that nickel collection. ATTENTION: if you are deadlifting 135 pounds with a perfect sphere of a rounded back, bending your arms and looking sideways in the mirror, a weightlifting belt is the least of your problems at this point. Dave Kirschen from “elitefts.com” outlines the basics of weightlifting belts and how they need to be properly inserted into your programming.
Here’s the deal on belts…
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.
Most people assume that a lifting belt supports your back. The truth is that a good belt is designed to increase intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes your entire midsection. This is why the design of your belt is very important. The typical gym belts that are skinny up front and wide in the back do not cover enough abdominal surface area to provide the support you need. For lifts that challenge core strength like the squat and deadlift, you need a belt that is wide all the way around and will support your abdominals and obliques.
Types of Belts
There are three basic designs of powerlifting belt. They are the prong, lever and ratchet. I prefer and recommend the prong design because it is far less expensive and cumbersome than the ratchet and more flexible than the lever (If you need to adjust the size of a lever belt, you need to disassemble it with a screwdriver). Powerlifting belts come in two basic thicknesses, 10mm and 13mm. The 13mm is tougher, but the 10mm needs less break-in to feel comfortable. Get a single prong rather than a double prong because it’s easier to tighten.
For tips on breaking-in your new belt, check this out: Virgin Belt Users.
While you can easily use this belt for every lift, there are also special belts for specific purposes. For deadlifting, you can get a thinner belt with no buckle like the Spud Inc Deadlift Belt. The thinner design makes it easier to get down to the bar. Some lifters will wear a standard powerbelt backwards so the buckle does not get in the way. Most just wear it the same.
For bench, you can use a narrower belt, like the Spud Inc. Bench Belt. A narrow belt holds your bench shirt in place (if you use one) without interfering with your ability to arch. Personally I just use my normal belt because I feel it gives me more support.
How to Wear it
The belt should fit around the small of your back, with the buckle covering your lower abdominals. It should be worn fairly low, but should not get jammed in the crease of your hip when squatting or deadlifting. Because you’ll be expanding your abs into the belt during the lift, you’ll want to wear it one notch looser than all the way tight.
In order to take advantage of your belt, it’s important to use the valsalva maneuver. This means taking a big gulp of air into your belly, than trying to exhale forcefully with a closed glottis (throat). The pressure should push your belly into the belt and increase the pressure around your midsection. This action should also force your lower back into an arch. Again, it’s really important to push your abs out to get the pressure, not tighten the belt as much as possible.
When to use it.
You shouldn’t wear your belt for every exercise because you still want to allow your back and abdominal muscles to function normally. For heavy special exercises, I’d work up without it, than put it on when you need it. For technical lifts like squatting and speed squatting, I would get it earlier because filling the belt up is an important technical cue that you need to practice.
Don’t wear it for assistance work, it shouldn’t be necessary.
If you wear your belt while doing curls, make sure that you’re wearing color coordinated fingerless gloves. Straps are optional for this.