I work with a lot of newer lifters, and they often see other folks wearing lifting belts and wonder if they should be, too. I sometimes see folks who wear a belt for their entire workout (by this I mean a lifting belt, not those neoprene things meant to train your waist, but I still see those out in the wild, too, thanks Kim K). Let's talk about the ins and outs of belting to lift.
A lifting belt is a wide, sturdy belt that might be made of leather, or other structured materials, worn around the waist during weightlifting exercises. The primary function of a lifting belt is to provide support to the lower back and core muscles. It achieves this by increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes the spine and reduces stress on the lower back. When you wear a belt, you generally want to get a big breath in and hold, while bracing your core against the belt. It's helpful to practice this without a belt, and I usually teach new lifters this technique before adding a belt, otherwise it's just kind of a fun fashion accessory.
According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Harman et al. (2000), wearing a lifting belt during squats resulted in increased intra-abdominal pressure and decreased compressive forces on the spine. This suggests that lifting belts can potentially reduce the risk of lower back injuries during heavy compound exercises. Renowned strength coach Mark Rippetoe, in his book "Starting Strength," argues that a lifting belt is most beneficial when used as a tool to enhance technique rather than as a crutch. He emphasizes that it is crucial to develop proper lifting mechanics and core strength before relying on a belt.
So there's a few commonly cited benefits and drawbacks to belting during lifting.
a) Enhanced Stability and Performance: Research suggests that wearing a lifting belt can improve stability and performance during heavy lifts, such as squats and deadlifts.
b) Injury Prevention: By increasing intra-abdominal pressure and providing support to the lower back, lifting belts may help reduce the risk of certain injuries.
a) Dependency and Weakness: Overreliance on a lifting belt may hinder the development of core strength and proper lifting mechanics, leading to long-term weaknesses and increased risk of injury.
b) False Sense of Security: Wearing a belt may provide a false sense of security, leading lifters to attempt weights beyond their capabilities, which could result in injury.
In my opinion, these drawbacks are pretty easily worked around by doing a few things. First, if you do some lifts without a belt, and only add the belt for heavier loads, you will get the benefits of belt use, while also doing some lifting that forces you to work on core stabilization. I do sometimes see people slap a belt on and think they can do things that are dangerous or just not a great idea. Just keep in mind the belt is not magical, and while some research suggests a belt can reduce risk of *certain injuries*, it will not prevent all injuries. There is also some research that suggests belts don't prevent injuries at all, so don't go in with the thought process that "this belt will keep me from blowing up my back", because it probably won't.
The decision to wear a lifting belt should be based on several factors, including an your experience level, specific exercises, and personal goals. So as per usual, my answer to the question, "Should I wear a belt?" is..... "It depends." For very new lifters, I like to focus on building a solid foundation of strength and technique before considering the use of a lifting belt. Once you have developed good form and core stability, you may gradually introduce a belt for heavier lifts. I want you to be able to brace your core, and have a sense of what bracing feels like without a belt before we add a belt, or any other equipment, really.
Which movements should you consider wearing a belt for? Compound movements, such as squats and deadlifts, generally involve greater loads on the lower back. In these exercises, a lifting belt may provide added stability and injury prevention benefits. I do belt for bench press, because I find it helps me to keep really stable in my torso, but not everyone does. I occasionally belt for overhead pressing movements. I do not wear a belt, and I don't really suggest anyone else to do so for smaller, single joint movements: bicep curls, tricep extensions, that sort of thing.
If you're lifting for max strength, like in powerlifting or weightlifting, you probably want to use a belt. If you're primarily focused on general fitness, lifting for wellbeing, or endurance training, the use of a belt may be less necessary. There are a few different types of belts, and the choice of which type is best for you, as always, depends. I'll go over some different types of belt in a separate post!
If you want a deeper dive into belting, with both research and experience, check out Greg Nuckols post about belt use.