Amongst a couple of other popular items one of the more common things you will see in any CrossFitters gym bag is a weightlifting belt. The weightlifting belt, when used properly, can provide extra stability to the midline. This extra stability helps prevent back injury and increase the amount of weight a person can lift. The key to getting the most out of your weightlifting belt is proper usage, and while many people own a weightlifting belt, many do not know how to properly use it. People tend to think that the weightlifting belt is like a belt you use to keep your pants up. They think that you simply pull it tight around the waste and BOOM, extra stability. Unfortunately this is not the case, there is more to it than just pulling it tight. In order to properly use your weightlifting belt you have to know how to brace into the belt to create the desired extra stability. Luckily I have found an article on Squat University that contains a great explanation on how to properly brace into a belt. It even include some pretty good pictures that help illustrate the idea! I would definitely give the article a good read and check out some of the articles on the website. The guy who runs it is a doctor of Physical Therapy and puts out a ton of content all aimed at making your squat better.
Whenever we lift something heavy we are taught to perform a bracing technique called the Valsalva Maneuver. For those who don’t know exactly what I am referring to its when you take a big breath of air in and hold it tight in the stomach before you initiate whatever movement you are doing. When done properly, this technique increases intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). This increase in intra-abdominal pressure improves midline stability which not only protects the back, but also allows us to lift more weight. If we put a weightlifting belt on, it can restrict the expansion of our midline even further, and increase the amount of intra-abdominal pressure we can create. This is where there needs to be some technique to properly utilize the belt. In order to get the most out of the weightlifting belt we need to brace into the belt to create as much IAP as possible. Before we go to perform the lift, we need to think about taking a deep breath and expanding into the belt. Once we have expanded into the belt we need to brace the midline by contracting the core muscles. The combination of the expansion into the belt and bracing of the midline will provide us with the most stability possible. Check out this quote and awesome video Squat University did explaining how to utilize the weightlifting belt.
In order to properly use a belt, you must breathe “into the belt”. If you only wear it tightly around your waist, you miss out on the potential of the brace. Always think about expanding your stomach into the belt and then bracing against it.
As you can see there are a lot of benefits when the belt is utilized correctly. With these benefits we also have to understand when it is appropriate to use it. While I would recommend that anyone should use a belt when lifting fairly heavy, you do not want to use a belt EVERY time you lift heavy. If you use a belt every time you lift heavy, you will become dependent on the belt to lift the weight. This trains the body to become reliant and in turn will weaken the core muscles. You still need to understand how to brace and provide stability through your midline without a belt. The belt is simply a tool that can enhance performance but should not be something you depend on to perform. This especially rings true for CrossFitters who want to be functionally fit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone carry around a weightlifting belt with them at all times in case they need to lift something heavy. If you’re someone who uses a belt a lot, be sure to spend some lifting sessions without it. This will probably mean that you lift a little less weight, but that is totally fine! Training belt-less from time to time can be beneficial for developing midline strength and will prevent you from building a dependency on it. If you have a belt, or want to start using a belt for lifting, be sure to ask a coach on how to properly brace with the belt because as always we are here to help you!