Oh the sensitive weightlifting topic of belts, do I dare broach the subject? I think I will. I’m not going to pass along an opinion about weight belts, I’ll save that for the experts like the guys from 70s Big and Rippetoe to debate, I’ll just share the facts and some dos and don’ts.
I have seen a lot more people turn to the weight belts during class lately, especially when we were doing our max lift attempts for the challenge. So what I’d like to reinforce is the purpose of the weight belt and make sure no one injures themselves as a result of using it. To start, putting on a weight belt and squeezing it tight doesn’t automatically make you a safer lifter. If you put on the weightlifting belt and use it to support your core in exchange for bracing, you run the risk of injuring yourself. Nothing can replace exerting pressure in your abdomen and bracing with your abs to protect your back. Both of those things should still happen when you’re using a weight belt, as the primary function of the weightlifting belt is providing a solid object for you to brace against. When you have something to brace against, you will know that you are maintaining your brace throughout the entire lift. I have also seen a couple of people wear the belt too high, so they aren’t getting the benefit of using it to brace your lower abs against. The belt should be worn around your lower abs and the small of your back.
As I started to lift heavier, my back was starting to bother me more and more. I thought I was doing a good job of maintaining core stability and bracing with my abs, but it turned out that I didn’t really have my low abs engaged at all. I have since turned to a weight belt to help teach my lower abs to turn on and stay on during lifts and hopefully that’ll translate to all movements involving the core (which is pretty much everything in CrossFit). Personally, I like to do my warm up sets without a belt and only wear it for heavy sets so I can practice low ab bracing without the belt.
If you google “purpose of weightlifting belt” you will find many varying opinions about whether or not they should be used and when. Some people find the belt to be uncomfortable and they lift better without, some people find they get in the way of the bar during Oly lifts, and some people won’t lift heavy without one. If you decide you’d like to try lifting with a belt, talk through your reasoning with one of the trainers and determine the appropriate times for you to use it. Just remember, the belt is not a substitute for bracing, it is a tool to brace against.