Weight Lifting And Belts (CrossFit Equipment Series)

When you enter our gym, you’ll see a few things. Some giant squat racks, pull-up bars, a front desk, and way in the back you’ll see a wall of Velcro and leather belts. 

Why on Earth do we have these belts back there? Well, if you have heard anything about belts, you’ll know that they prevent hernias and make ya look super cool.

Well, I’m here to tell ya that actually the forward is incorrect and why we actually use them!

What is a Weightlifting Belt?

A weight lifting belt is a 3-4” across brace that is worn around the lower back and over the belly button of an athlete who is attempting to lift weights. Preferably, during compound lifts (think squats, deadlifts, cleans, and other multi joint movements) a belt is used to help provide support to an athlete perform a lift safely, who might otherwise lose form and risk injury. These belts are usually constructed of Nylon and Velcro or Leather and a Buckle. 

Why Do We Think Belts Prevent Hernias?

A hernia is an opening of the abdominal wall, caused by excessive strain to the area. Kinda like popping a pimple, you apply enough pressure to a closed system and something will have to give. Except, instead of pus, it is usually an organ. Hernias can be incredibly painful and require invasive surgery to truly repair, so we would want to do everything we can to prevent them. 

When you lift with a belt, you feel stronger and the weights feel less heavy. This reduced strain is what leads people to believe that if they wear a belt, they are preventing a hernia. Rather they are just masking the real cause, a weakness in their abdominal wall. Also, if we go back to the pimple analogy, we could just be applying more pressure and thus increasing the chances of a hernia!

So why do we really use them?

How To Use a Weightlifting Belt.

Much like any piece of equipment we end up using in sport, we need it to assist it in our performance. So if a weightlifting belt isn’t there for hernias, why do you still see people using it and why does it make my lifts feel lighter?

When you lift, your body follows the laws of physics just like everything else. In order to pick a barbell, in say a deadlift, we have to use the muscles of our arms to hold onto the bar and the muscles of the back of our legs (you’ll hear this referred to as the “posterior chain”) to provide the bulk of the lifting force across the main lever of the movement, your hips! The lift isn’t a closed system, all of this effort gets put into the floor through your feet. 

Now, you aren’t a perfect machine like a door hinge. We have this wonderful thing called a spine and it sucks at stay rigid on its’ own, unlike our femurs. This is why there are these tremendously strong muscle groups such as the traps, lats, lumbar triangle, and obliques that work together to support most of the structure of the spine! These muscles are so strong that they are usually the muscles you feel when picking something up incorrectly because they are the last thing standing between you and total loss of posture.

Now I said most because we are FINALLY getting to why you use a belt. Our spine is supported on the sides by these wonderful back muscles but, the majority of it’s support during a lift should actually come from the abdominal cavity.

During a lift, your abs act like an air mattress. Your spine relies on the air that you fill your belly with to absorb most of the forces that try to escape anywhere but straight up and down the spine (as it should. Your back is a support column, not the thing that is moving the weight. To learn more, check out this story from us: ). 

A weightlifting belt helps in your abs support role by giving the walls of that air mattress something to push off of! When the belt is tight, it applies more pressure to the abs and thus, more support for your spine. Allowing you to potentially have a safer lift when used properly!

We can also use the belt as a teaching tool as well! When we wear it loosely, we can train an athlete how to use their abs! We do this by giving the abs something to reach for. If the stomach ain’t touching it, you aren’t filling that air cavity to the extent that you could. 

When To Use A Weightlifting Belt and What to Look For in A Good Belt!

Now that you understand this tool a bit, we don’t want you using it al the time! Just like your doctor doesn’t want you wearing that cast after your bone is fully healed. We don’t want our body to become reliant on these tools. 

We should really focus on using belts for lifts @ 90%+ of your 1 rep max and when you’re working on learning how to brace. We can use it outside of this of course, but the push for virtuosity is going to involve what was listed previously.

Now, if you would like to get a belt, you should look for these qualities:

  • All Belts:
    • 3” thick for ladies and 4” thick for men.
      • Any larger and they actually are considered illegal in competitions, should you ever be interested.
  • Velcro:
    • These belts are usually made of Nylon and are great for easy on and easy off. So, unlike leather belts we are really just looking for one thing; a reliable patch of Velcro and a rigid enough belt!
      • The Velcro patch should be long enough so that when you wear it, it doesn’t have a chance of popping off. Even on the toughest lift. 
      • The belt should be able to bend like a pool noodle, not like a blanket. 
  • Leather:
    • These belts can get quite expensive, but offer even more support and can last much longer than Velcro belts.
      • In my personal experience, my Velcro belts last 1 year while my leather belt barely looks worn after 4 years.
    • These belts should be quite thick and made of multiply leather.
      • You should not be able to fold the belt, only bend it.
    • The buckle should be at least dual pronged.
      • Any less and there won’t be enough support across the whole belt to justify the upgrade in price. 
  • Recommended Brands:
    • Rogue Fitness
      • Nylon and the Rogue Ohio Belt
    • 2POOD
      • Any of ‘em.
    • That’s it.
      • There are other brands out there that will provide support and you can absolutely use them and be successful! Just in our coach’s experience, these are the longest lasting and most worth your time belts. 

There are some other small details that go into deciding the right belt for you! If you’re ever interested in getting one, talking to a coach is a great way to narrow down the choices and get the belt that you’ll like the most.

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