I’ve been asked a lot about the use of a weightlifting belt and when it’s appropriate to use one. To answer that, first let’s actually understand what the belt is for and what it is not for. The proper use of a weightlifting belt is to help your core maintain inter-abdominal pressure throughout a heavy lift. It is Intended for movements that stress the lower back at heavy loads (above 85% of your 1Rep max). It is not intended for movements that put no stress on your lower back, such as heavy bicep curls or light weight squats or deadlifts).
According to the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), research shows that the use of a weightlifting belt at light loads (below 85% of 1Rem Max load) hinders the development of your core stabilizing muscles. Using a belt at heavy loads (above 85%) helps the athlete maintain inter-abdominal pressure, as while building up to that load your core stabilizers are getting the stimulus and work they need to become stronger. Therefore, it’s advised that if you chose to use a belt, only do so when lifting above 85% of your 1 Rep max load for that movement.
“So Coach, do I use a belt for every lift when above 85%?” I personally use my 2Pood weightlifting belts on every lift with the exception of the snatch. Some people use it on the snatch, but personally, I find while wearing it on the snatch I catch the belt with the barbell and end up missing the lift. Even if I was not hitting the belt with the bar, I’d personally still chose not to wear a belt on the snatch because my snatch is roughly 110 Kg and my overhead squat is roughly 132kg, so my best snatch is about 83% of my best overhead squat. At 83% maximal load my core stabilizing muscles can sufficiently handle the load by creating plenty of inter-abdominal pressure without needing the belt for assistance. This is why the snatch is my only exception to when I do not wear a belt lifting heavy loads and why I generally advise against a belt for snatches.
Other things I factor in when recommending an athlete use or not use a belt is their level of lifting experience, the rep/volume we are training, the purpose of their training, do they hold their breath or do they breath throughout the lift, and health issues such as high blood pressure. For starters, let’s discuss the health issues and breathing while lifting. If you have high blood pressure, you should never hold your breath while lifting heavy weights. That would drastically increase your blood pressure. Secondly, you are able to create plenty of inter-abdominal pressure to stabilize the core while breathing, so let’s leave the breath holding to the advanced and trained lifters.
If you’re a new lifter, or your purpose of lifting is general health, there really is not a need for a weightlifting belt. As a coach, I’d rather my athlete not be dependent on an external item such as a belt or wrist wraps. The exception to this would be if I see that you’re having a hard time maintaining a tight core during the heavy sets (when we lift above 85%). In that case I’d suggest the belt, only for those heavy sets and prescribe some core strengthening exercises and breathing technique exercises for you to work on. For trained and advanced lifters, I am all for the belt when working heavy (above 85%) loads. It’s there to assist you in maintaining core stability, which keeps you safer during the lift, so why not use it?! The difference here between a newer or recreational lifter and a trained/ advanced athlete is the trained athlete will give the core stabilizing muscles plenty of work while building up to the heavy set as well as a trained or competitive athlete also likely works their core muscles in other exercises such as crunches, Russian twists, bicycle crunches, GHD work,etc). They also tend to lift heavier loads so when the ability to add a small amount of safety comes into play, I am all for it. For the newer lifters, I always want them to lift without the belt in 99% of cases because their core stabilizing muscles aren’t as developed, and need to get used to bracing to stabilize heavier loads.
Hopefully this all makes sense. Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Instagram @coachcris_