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  • Lifting Belts 101

    [size=x-large]Lifting Belts 101[/size]
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    C[size=small]ookies go with milk, pizza goes with beer and lifting belts go with lifters. Wherever you see one, you usually see the other. The majority of gym lifters wear a lifting belt of one kind or another. Like any other piece of lifting gear there are more effective ways of using them for max results. Effective use of a lifting belt use can improve results and safety, but conversely, misuse can have the opposite results. So with that in mind, let’s get into a little Lifting Belts 101.

    The oldest and most widely used type of lifting belt is the thin, narrow in front, wide in the back style that are sold at all local sporting goods stores. This type of belt may work for the average gym rat, but not necessarily for a powerlifter. Powerlifters tend to lean forward during their competitive lifts so they require more support in the front of the torso. Deadlifting mega legend, Lamar Grant, realized this years ago and wore a thin in front, wide in back style belt backwards so the support would be in the front of his torso. Belt makers saw a new untapped market and made belts that were the same width all around to meet powerlifters’ unique needs.

    Biomechanics 101 speaking, wearing a lifting belt allows the abdominal muscles to push against it during exertion. This aids in stabilizing the spine, the result is enhanced power, stability and support. The increase in intra-abdominal pressure also lessens pressure on the spinal disks, lowering chance of disk injury. As a sort of side benefit, this pushing action also works your abs in the process.

    The down side of this is that frequent use of a belt hinders a lifter’s abdominals to work and grow stronger. The better answer is to limit use of a belt to sets of three reps or less. This guideline allows your abs to develop on the lighter, higher rep sets while providing the lifter benefits on these heavy, low rep sets. This can also pay dividends in your life outside the gym. Many retail stores, like home improvement stores, require employees to wear quasi-lifting belts during work to ‘protect’ them while they are lifting and moving merchandise on the job. Some stores have found that numerous employees end up injuring their backs while off work. The reason is simple, wearing the belts at work substitutes for strong abs. When they lift or move objects off the job without belts, they have greater tendency for injury due to underdeveloped ab strength.

    I doubt the need to use a belt for the bench press as compared to the deadlift and squat as there is less pressure in the spine. A belt also restricts a lifter’s arching ability which increases the distance a lifter must press the bar to lockout. But if you absolutely, positively must use a belt to bench, use a thin one, not a double or triple thick belt used for squatting. One justifiable use for a belt for the bench is to help keep your bench press shirt on securely. In this case, put the shirt on and loosely cinch the belt around your waist to better hold your shirt in place to prevent slippage.

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    I recommend not wearing a belt while doing assistance work like curls, pulldowns, shoulder and tricep work, etc. There simply is no need for it. Let your abs and other torso muscles support and stabilize your body during these exercises. They will get extra work and build strength that will come in handy.

    Another issue is how tight to cinch the belt. The tighter the belt, the more support, but that too can have drawbacks. If cinched too tightly, it could result in breathing problems or elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Also, if worn too high above the waist, it could bruise or crack a rib. With this in mind, use common sense. If you are short of breath or are in pain, the belt is most likely too tight or worn too high. You may need two helpers to get a belt on tight. Have one helper pull on the belt and the other hold the lifter and fasten the buckle. To minimize and negative effects from wearing a tight belt, tighten the belt right before you take your attempt or set. Immediately after the set or attempt, loosen or remove the belt. Common sense is usually the right answer.

    There are several types of belts. Most are made of leather, which is the best choice. Belts vary in thickness also. Some are single layered; others are double or even triple layered. Most belts come with buckles but some designs use a lever device to open and close. I suggest trying both to see what works best for you. I can’t emphasize enough to not try any new gear for the first time at a contest. This advice also applies for tightness and belt placement around your waist. Use your competition gear and everything that goes with it in training so you know how it works to prevent any surprises. Bring a backup belt in case your main belt gets lost, stolen or breaks.

    Powerlifting rules do not mandate a lifter’s use of a belt, unlike a one-piece singlet or shoes. Generally rules limit the width of the belt to 10 centimeters and the thickness to 13 millimeters and the thickness to 13 millimeters. This eliminates yard-wide-in-the-back belts worn at trendy health spas. Always check the rules of the organization you compete in beforehand to avoid problems with illegal equipment. It could be too late to come up with legal gear on meet day.

    I hope this lifting belt 101 article has given you some useful tidbits to think about concerning belts. A lifting belt is a mainstay of a powerlifter’s arsenal both in competition and training. Using it properly can mean higher totals and reduced chance of injury. But it is important to know when and how to use one. Strengthen your abs and torso muscles by not relying on a belt during your higher rep sets and assistance work. Of course, abdominal exercises like crunches still should be part of your training program. Combining the lifting belt with stronger torso muscles can improve your lifting results and safety and those two always go well together.
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