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To Belt or Not to Belt

September 29, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

When working out in a gym, you will often see people wearing a belt strapped around their lower back. Many adopt belts for training for one of three reasons:

1)   They have observed others wearing them and thus think they should wear one.

2)   Their backs have become sore and think the back belt will help.

3)   They want to lift a few more pounds.

None of these are good reasons to wear a belt.

The average healthy individual should not wear a back belt when training.  Even people who want to lift very heavy weight as exercise should not wear a back belt.  A back belt should be reserved for only very competitive power lifters and weight lifters whose single goal is to win a competition by lifting the most weight they can and are not concerned about back health and safety.

From a scientific perspective belts do assist in generating a few more “foot-pounds” of torque in the torso through the elastic recoil of a bent torso. However, if a neutral spine is preserved throughout the lift, this effect is minimal.  In other words, to obtain the maximum effect from a belt, the lifter must lift poorly and in a way that exposes the back to a much higher risk of injury (again, a risk a power lifting competitor may take to win a competition).

Furthermore, evidence suggests that people change their motor patterns together with their motion patterns when using a belt.  This change of patterning becomes engrained in their spinal memory.  Thus, these motor control changes can elevate the risk of injury when the person engages in some sort of lifting (whether it be in the gym or in a real life setting, such as lifting children or heavy luggage) while not wearing a belt.

It is more important to develop your natural weight belt.  We all have something called the “abdominal hoop” which is our internal weight belt. The hoop consists of the abdominal fascia and the lumbodorsal fascia, which are passive structures that cannot be trained.  The hoop also consists of the transverse abdominis and the internal obliques.  These deep abdominal muscles can be trained and strengthened, which in turn will stiffen and tension the “hoop”. This tensioning of the hoop is like tightening the natural weight belt.

To train these muscles see my blogs entitled:

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2010 10:08 am

    Great blog so much interesting information here

  2. October 29, 2010 3:38 pm

    Hi Gerard, good post.

    I think it’s important to understand that just because we see someone who looks like they’re in good shape/very strong doesn’t always mean we should copy them. The average person training for health would be well advised to take your advice on back belts.

    I’ve written a post on a similar but broader topic of training for health vs. performance titled “The two most important questions you need to ask yourself about exercise”.

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