Dr. Hawley’s Health Corner – Weight Belts – Should I wear one?
I thought this would be a good week to touch on the topic of weight belts seeing as how many of us just performed 14.3.
I get asked a lot about weight belts and their place in the weight room so I thought it would be good to revisit a previous post about their usage.
Should I wear a when belt and if I should when should I be wearing one? This is a question that you are bound to ask yourself sooner or later. Unfortunately the answer is not black and white.
The purpose of a weight belt is to provide an external force that can help to stabilize a persons lower back while performing a heavy lift. Usually these belts are worn while a person is performing either a heavy deadlift, squat or overhead press. While being worn during a deadlift and a squat the weight belts function is to create increased intra-abdominal force to protect your lower back and spine from injury. When used during a heavy overhead lift the purpose of the weight belt is to prevent hyperextension of your lower back (leaning too far back).
It seems that, after reading the above paragraph, everyone should be wearing a weight belt to prevent against lower back injuries. There are, however, a few cons in regards to wearing a weight belt. Weight belts, as seen at the local YMCA or other unnamed gyms, are being worn during a persons entire workout no matter what weight or exercise they are performing. The problem with wearing a weight belt when it is not needed is the lower back and abdominal muscles are not being used during those exercises anymore and they begin to get weaker and no longer function properly. The whole idea of the weight belt is that it gives the lower back and abdominal muscles a break when performing heavy lifts so if you wear this belt all the time you are never giving your lower back a chance to get stronger.
There are many people doctors and scientists that feel weight belts should never be used (or at least rarely used) because you should never lift more than your lower back can handle. This train of thought has recently been pushed aside to a certain degree. It is now widely supported that weight belt use has a place in the gym but only if when a person is lifting really heavy weight (90% or greater of your 1RM). When lifting this type of weight it is very possible that your smaller lower back muscles will not be able to support the weight that your legs will be able to lift. There is one caveat to that last statement, people who take the time to really focus on their lower back and abdominal muscle strength tend to have the ability to lift these heavier loads without a problem.
Owning a weight belt is probably a good idea for anyone who is planning on lifting heavier weights. What you really have to watch out for is the over utilization of the weight belt as this can cause weakness in both your abdominal muscles and your lower back muscles. Do not use a weight belt when you are lifting moderately heavy weights as this is a great way to build up your lower back, abdominal and core strength: just be sure to focus on proper form and don’t compromise!