The weightlifting belt is one of the most commonly misused pieces of training gear. Use the following guidelines to help you understand how to use it, when you should and how it will help your lifting.
PURPOSE OF A WEIGHTLIFTING BELT
In a nutshell, a lifting belt provides a wall for your abs to push against. The added force with limited space means increased anterior pressure for the spine, helping to stabilize it. This gives you a more rigid torso with better transmission of force from the hips to the bar, plus a more stable foundation for overhead lifts.
It’s not due to the belt supplying the support, it’s due to the way that the body reacts to the belt that supplies the spinal support.
A lifting belt also prevents your stomach from sagging forward, which in turn prevents your lower back from hyperextending. A belt helps your abdominal muscles and lower back do their job. Think of it as an extra set of abs, and it will give you a good indication of how it augments your body.
BENEFITS OF USING A WEIGHTLIFTING BELT
- Reduces the risk of injury
- Reminds you to stay tight and breathe deep into the abdomen
- Maintains and increase intra-abdominal pressure throughout the entire lift
- Belts can improve your bio mechanics
- Protects the spine
- Provides an added sense of confidence and security
Wearing a lifting belt reduces the amount of spinal flexion (forward bend at the spine), spinal extension (bending back of the spine), and lateral flexion of the spine (bending side to side), but increases the amount of flexion at the hips and knees. In other words, a belt forces you to lift more with your legs than your back, which is precisely the biomechanical position you want to use when lifting something from the ground.
These are also the biomechanics you want to use during deadlifts and squats with a barbell.
It is important to mention that a weightlifting belt is not a back brace and should not be so stiff that it can give a false sense of form, especially for CrossFit® performing Olympic lifts. We see a lot of other belts that have these huge back braces and inserts which give the user a false sense of form and can lead to injury, belts such as those from Element 26 purposely use a less stiff material that offers the benefits of the intra-abdominal pressure, without hiding poor form like many other belts do.
HOW TO USE A BELT
A belt works in conjunction with your body. However, if you simply put it on and start lifting, you will be unlikely to realise its full set of benefits. In order to optimise the effects of a lifting belt, you must know how to use it properly.
Bracing and Breathing
In order to maximise the effects of a belt then you must learn how to control your breathing when lifting.
The pressure in your belly is called intra-abdominal pressure. The act of creating intra-abdominal pressure is called the Valsalva Maneuver. This is an important technique that will help
The Valsalva maneuver is basically the process of taking a big breath and holding it throughout the full range of motion for a heavy lift. During the eccentric phase (or slightly before depending on the movement being performed) is when inhalation should take place as this provides the most capacity for oxygen to enter the lungs.
This phase is the part of the movement that requires less effort to perform, such as the lowering movement of the squat or pull-up. During the concentric phase, (the “working” part of the movement) exhalation should be performed (such as at the top when you are standing up from a squat for example).
Taking a deep breath before performing a big, heavy lift can also help the athlete with bracing, as it is a reminder to keep the midline tight. The Valsalva maneuver is very important when it comes to lifting heavy weights effectively.
Medical Definition of Valsalva maneuver: “A forceful attempt at expiration when the airway is closed at some point; especially: a conscious effort made while holding the nostrils closed and keeping the mouth shut especially for the purpose of testing the patency of the eustachian tubes, adjusting middle ear pressure, or aborting supraventricular tachycardia—called also Valsalva”
Only use the Valsalva maneuver when you are lifting heavy weight (80 to 100%) for low reps (1-5x). Basically, the strength portion of the performance, fitness, or competition workouts. Remember this technique should be used for moving heavy loads relatively quickly. For example, squats, snatches, deadlifts, cleans, jerks, presses, pulls… NOT wall balls, double-unders, pull-ups, burpees, ring dips, etc….
Lifting Tip: Breathe down into your belly whilst keeping your lower back neutral, you don’t want to hyperextend your back and push your stomach out. Before each rep take a big gulp of air and breathe it right down into your stomach. A good cue is to imagine that you are trying to ‘eat’ the air.
The belt is not only a great support, but (if the sizing is correct) will also serve as a reminder to take a deep breath in before each rep and to maintain intra-abdominal pressure.
When it comes to placement, personal preference reigns supreme. Experiment and find what feels best for you. The following information is only meant as a guide because individual differences and physique always play a role here.
For squats, place the belt directly over your belly button. If it is placed any lower then it may shift upwards as you hit maximum depth. Too high and it will probably feel awkward.
For deadlifts, try placing the belt a little higher. Even above your belly button. If the belt is worn too low for deadlifts then it may graze your thighs and pull your stomach in too far, which may prevent you from keeping your lower back tight.
Additionally, 6mm knee sleeves support movements and provide safety for joints and tendons. Keeping your knees warm whilst training, they also provide feedback whilst you perform during training and competition. This allows you to optimise your performance and protect his body during long, tough workouts.
The major benefits of the 6mm is the perfect balance of compression and mobility for CrossFit® Athletes. 7mm is a bit too thick for metcons, but 5mm is often felt to be too thin to really give a good bounce at the bottom of a squat and sufficient compression to assist the movement. This 6mm thickness makes it easier to get on and off as well compared with 7mm sleeves.
For an injection of style, try a pair with a reversible design, with one red and one black side. Match your mood however you’re feeling that day.
This is an exceptionally important part of wearing a belt properly. If the belt does not fit, then you will not be able to make it do its job.
Keep the fit snug around the stomach, but not so tight that it pulls your belly inwards. Pulling your stomach in too far completely defeats the purpose of wearing a belt. As your stomach sucks in, your lumbar spine flexes over (rounds). Your belt should be something that you can press your belly against for added support. It is not supposed to strangle your mid-section.
WHEN TO USE A BELT
If you are a total newbie then it is worth experimenting with a belt in order to get a feel for how it works and try out a few different placements on your body. Lift submaximal loads with the belt in slightly different positions and you will find what works best for you. Once you have moved out of this testing phase then consult the following.
- Only wear it for the working sets of your main lifts. There is no real point using your belt to warm up with, because then it becomes a crutch rather than an accessory.
- Only wear it on your really heavy days, don’t wear it for speed days, don’t wear it for high rep days. Wear it for handling over 80% of your 1RM.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BELT
Always chose quality, such as the Self-Locking Weightlifting Belt from Element 26.
The self-locking buckle supports pressure on the belt to ensure it never fails during sets. The velcro is designed simply to hold the strap out of the way. This makes it unlike many other belts that can often fail and snap open once the velcro wears down.
It also acts as a quick release mechanism that allows you to keep the belt on between sets. Simply pull the buckle and it loosens the belt just enough to perform any exercise without having to remove the belt, but can also be quickly tightened again in a matter of seconds once they are ready to lift again.
This is useful for weightlifters and powerlifters, whilst also especially handy for Crossfitters during workouts where heavier weightlifting elements may be paired with lighter, higher rep work – think deadlifting and wall balls for example. In this case the belt is not necessary for the wall balls, however it will be needed for the deadlifts. The buckle is perfect here. Simply snap it shut for the deadlift sets, then open it up before you smash through the wall balls. You won’t lose any valuable time adjusting or re-tightening the belt at all, optimising your performance considerably.
A uniform 4″ profile is a great place to start with a belt, as this is optimised for intra-abdominal pressure. Element 26 have combined this shape with the ability to easily move the location of the buckle out of the way when it comes to Olympic lifts.
A consistent size allows you to do this with the buckle, because the last thing you want when snatching or cleaning and jerking is to be worrying about hitting the bar with the equipment that you are wearing.
They also offer a lifetime warranty on their belts as well.
Belts are often made from leather, which will also provide quality and longevity. 100% Pure Nylon is a great choice as it is incredibly strong, durable and won’t flex or break down like some neoprene-based belts do.
A belt is a great tool once you learn how to use it properly. This takes time and practice, but can yield outstanding results, improve your numbers and decrease the risk of injury.