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How Weightlifting Belts Work And What Weightlifting Belt to Choose
A weighted belt primarily supports your abs, not (directly) your back. It sounds backwards, but here’s why: the belt acts as a second set of abs to prepare your entire body for heavy loads.
To prime yourself for those super-heavy lifts, you’d take a deep belly breath and hold it, a method of “breathing” called the Valsalva maneuver. The Valsalva maneuver helps to create intra-abdominal pressure that cushions and supports your back. And that’s where a weightlifting belt gives its powers. With a lifting belt, you do your deep belly breath in the belt, which pushes back against your abs. This enhances the effects of that intra-abdominal pressure, and in turn helps protect your back and allows it to handle the stress of heavier loads even better. Weightlifting straps are a safe way to fix your bar in place and prevent it from slipping.
Wearing a belt by itself will not automatically level your strength and lifting skills. There is a learning curve to carrying it and lifting with it (just as there is a learning curve to properly adjusting intra-abdominal pressure and lifting). Sure, some may reap the benefits right away, but it will usually take a while for things to click.
When you throw on a belt and use it properly, the skies part, birds sing, and your deadlifts or squats (or both) get a noticeable boost. Greg Nuckols of Strengtheory.com found that well-trained belt users can generally move 5-15% more weight for the same sets and reps, press an extra few reps at the same weight, or lift the same weight for the same number of reps with less effort That’s pretty important!
We can take this to suggest that training with a belt is likely to get you stronger over time than training without a belt. This makes sense in the context of doing more general “work” (ie lifting more weight and hitting more reps) and continually pushing your body to improve, a process called progressive overload. In the long run, you can gain more muscle size and strength.
A weight lifting belt can be used for squats, jerks and deadlifts. Experienced lifters put on the belt for near-maximal efforts, and take it off for regular training and warm-ups. In general, “near-maximal” is a weight that is 80% or more of your maximum lift. The exact percentage is often arbitrary, so wear it if you think you really need the extra support on big lifts.
How to wear a weightlifting belt?
1) Take a breath (hold it)
2) Place the belt in position and fasten the abdominal wall
3) Draw the belt just tight enough to slightly restrict your strengthened abdominal position to achieve maximum benefit
Weightlifting belts will be uncomfortable for a while, especially as you learn to get used to one. However, once you are comfortable with your belt, you can start experimenting with changing the position of the belt on your torso. For example, Omar Isuf, a strength and performance coach, says that experienced strap users tend to carry their straps higher on their torso during a deadlift than they do during a squat. More specifically, in a deadlift you can find to wear it around the middle of the stomach to be more comfortable. During a squat, you can like it above the iliac crest.
You also want your belt to be tight enough to stay in the same place while you lift, but not so tight that you cut off full, deep breathing or circulation. The clothes you wear and even how much water you hold can affect how tight you need to tighten your belt. If you’re just learning, it’s okay to wear it a little looser until you learn from her not-so-tender embrace. Finally, keep in mind that your new belt needs to be broken in the same way a shoe does.
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