I’ve been lifting weights for several years now, but it wasn’t until about 2-3 years ago that I got really serious about it and began actually lifting heavy. I used to hang out in the free weight area, using dumbbells that seemed heavy enough at the time, but I never really pushed myself hard enough. One day, a woman (with incredible arms) actually approached me and told me that I should be lifting heavier.
I would like to say that she was like my fairy-weightroom-godmother and that I immediately pounced into the weight room, but I just smiled, said thanks, and went about my business with my 20 lb dumbbells. Fast forward another year and my boyfriend (now fiance) convinced me to actually move into the world of heavy lifting. “I don’t want my legs to get big! I have big legs!” I cried*.
*Clearly I was delusional and stupid.
Oh, how times have changed.
Now, it’s hard to get me out of the weight room. I used to call it “the big boys room”. Now it’s mine, all mine. No longer am I intimidated by the barbells, plates, racks and platforms; now, I find comfort in there.
Even after starting to take weight lifting seriously though, it took me a while to work up enough courage (and know-how) to get into dead lifting. Hallelujah!
At this point, I’ve been dead lifting for about two years and have been slowly building up my strength. I have finally pulled over 200# (225 lb is my current 1RM), although I know that I have potential to lift much more than that. Only recently though, did I get something that will help me on my path to dead lifting dominance: a weight belt. Now, the funny thing is that I work out in a gym that, outside of the weight room, is inhabited by hipsters and she-hipsters. I’m pretty sure a lot of them don’t know what a weight belt is, or why I would be wearing such a bulky accessory to the gym.
I can get over the weird looks though. What I really need to figure out now is if using a weight belt is the best way to go. If you ask around the weight lifting world, you’ll find people with very strong opinions on both sides:
“Yes! Absolutely! Wear a weight belt to protect your lower back AND you will lift more!”
“No! Absolutely not! Wearing a weight belt will make your core weak, you moron!”
So how do I decide which camp I’m with? Well, most of the people who advocate wearing weight belts agree on one thing: that the strongest people in the world use them. Check out photos of powerlifting champions, strongman champions, etc. and almost all of them are wearing a belt. So I guess the “core weakening” argument is kind of invalid, unless of course someone my size were to wear a weight belt for every single rep of every single lift, and not learn how to properly breathe/engage the core. Then, yes, I would say that’s a problem.
For me, I would say that I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t plan on using my belt on a regular basis, but maybe that will change as my dead lift loads increase. For now, I’ve only used it a couple of times, on my max dead lift days (this has been 2 times in the past 6 weeks). Two weeks ago, I brought it into the weight room with me, as my plan was to pull triples at about 80% of my max. My plan was to use the belt at the 80% sets, but I found that I didn’t need it at all. Again, this will probably change as my loads increase.
I will say that on the day that I used it for my 1RM, my back felt glorious afterward. On previous max days, I never had back pain, but would get little twinges and serious fatigue in my lower back, and felt like it would take days to recover. After using the belt though, I’ve had none of that, even when hitting a 20 lb PR last week. So I guess at the very least, the belt will be used for my max days on dead lift for now, and as my capacity increases, maybe on some of my higher-load submaximal days as well.
Based on my own reading and limited personal experience with the belt, I would recommend it to others, if only for max lifts, and for max dead lifts especially. When it comes to squatting, it really comes down to personal preference, as many people feel that the belt really throws off their breathing during squats. I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t back squatted since my ankle injury in June. I’ll let you know about the belt once I start cranking out those bad boys again. For front squatting, I don’t lift enough to warrant a belt. Because of my ankle and because of the nature of front squats, the load is much less than I would use for a back squat, negating any use for a belt whatsoever. Again, this may change as my loads increase.
So is there any reason why you shouldn’t use a weight belt?
In my opinion, beginners should not be using a belt, even for heavy lifts. Until you have a proper understanding of abdominal bracing and proper movement patterns, you should not be relying on a weight belt to support or protect your lower back. The weight belt should be strictly a lift enhancement tool and not a personal protective device for those who have not properly learned to lift yet. I’ve been dead lifting for 2 years now, and I’ve just now gotten to the point where a belt will benefit me. Using it as a crutch before you’ve learned to properly move heavy loads is a recipe for disaster and injury. If you ask me, staying injury free is a much better idea than overloading your lifts before you’re ready, just because you think you have a magical protective belt. It doesn’t quite work that way.
Readers: Do you use a weight belt? Which lifts do you use it for? What’s your take on the weight belt vs. no weight belt argument?