To Belt up or Not to Belt up.

We have all seen it, the guy walking around the gym with the lifting belt on and working on some preacher curls.  Lets be honest, he probably does not need a lifting belt in this case.  If not then, when though? When should I be using a lifting belt? or do I even need one?

When we are doing lifts, such as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, or any of the Olympic lifts, we rely on a concept known as Intra-Abdominal Pressure.  This is the pressure generated within our thoracic and abdominal cavities, otherwise our rib cage and gut. When we lift, we will work to increase the level of intra-abdominal pressure as a means of providing additional support and stability to the spine.  This extra support goes to prevent any damaging forces on our vertebrae, as well as allowing us to better apply force against a load.

untitledOur spine is not designed to be perfectly straight. The nature of the arcs or curves in the spine allow it to better support our body frame and resist the loads we apply to it.  In weight lifting, it is shearing forces applied to the spine that poses the greatest spinal hazard, as opposed to compression or tension forces.  One of the first things that we learn and practice when weight lifting is to keep a neutral spine. Whether it is a hyperextended back in the overhead press or the “howling cat” back in a deadlift, we have all seen examples of what a bad spinal position can be.

There is what not to do and then there is how do we fix it. One of the first things that we need to keep in mind is that if we want to have good posture during the lift we need to have good posture before the lift. Squeeze your glutes and get your hips under you, establish a good neutral spine from your head all the way down to your hips. Square your feet. Pin your shoulder blades back.  Your posture will not get better once you are under load. Establish your posture and then prepare to load up.

The technique that we want to use at this point is the Valsalva Method.  The short explanation that people here is that you: Take a deep breath, and hold your breath while you perform the lift.

The better answer is this:

  • Assume our good posture as described above –
  • Squeeze your glutes and bring your hips under you.
  • Retract your Scapula (Shoulder blades)
  • Keep a neutral spinal and neck.
  • Apply tension to your back by tightening you erectors
  • Tighten your abdominals to bring your rib cage down and take our any over-extension in your back.  (Your abs should feel the same as when you hold a hollow body)
  • Lastly, we will take a deep breathe and build pressure in our rib cage (thoracic) and abdomen.

Squat pressure

 

Erector Muscle Contraction  

Air Pressure held against glottis in creases thoracic pressure against vertebral column and creates pressure on diaphragm and abdominal cavity

Abdominal Muscle Contraction increases intra- abdominal pressure and exerts for against lower vertebral column.

 

 

There are a few factors that can lead to potential problems with this technique, particularly the fact that the additional thoracic pressure causes an initial increase pressure on the heart causing increased momentary blood pressure and increased pulse rate. This is especially an issue of holding the breath for more than 5-7 seconds. The sustained pressure can cause a blood rush to the brain.  One of the important tips about using this technique is establishing a breathing rhythm in the case of multiple or subsequent reps.  it would be ill-advised to hold your breath and then attempt a max set without breathing.

Enter the Weight Belt.

The reasoning behind the weight belt is that by cinching the belt around your abdomen you provide assistance to the abdominals in maintaining the intra-abdominal pressure. This assistance in pressure allows for more stability and more so, prolonged stability. Unlike our abdominal muscles, the belt will not get tired. In many cases people will wear a belt when they have identified that their midline stability is the weak link in the chain. The legs and hips have the strength but the lumbar is not longer able to endure and maintain proper position and function. So that when the belt comes out. squat pressures

The problem with that thinking is this. If your midline is the weakest part, don’t hide behind the belt, STRENGTHEN YOUR MIDLINE.  Improve your mobility and your ability to put your self in solid position. Take a lesson from gymnasts and work on some hollow rocks, planks, supermans, and deadbugs.

The other concern that I have seen is people that are worried about aesthetics. In most cases, this is your body builders that want to maintain that V-cut torso. They don’t want to work their core too much, so they wear a belt to help keep their waist more narrow. For those that are working towards moving some serious weight, such as power lifters and weightlifters, they require more support from the midsection. That is why powerlifters tend to have a much thicker core, and similarly crossfitters will have a more rectangular build as opposed to the V.

So Should I wear a Belt or not?

The weightlifting belt is a tool.  It is a tool to add some added support during those heavy lifts or when you are hitting a lot of heavy volume. It does not mean you should wear a belt and sacrifice improving your core strength by relying on the belt. Improve your abdominal and pelvic floor strength. Develop strength in your posture and position.  You can still use a weight belt but save it for those days when you are hitting 85% of your 1RM or more, or when you are hitting a lot of reps on a high volume day.  A LOT of reps.  You don’t need a belt to do curls. No weight belts in the curl rack.

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