Should you use a weight belt?

Tightening your understanding of when and why to use a weight belt

They look like something given to professional wrestlers after winning a big match. Made of leather and unable to fit through the loops on any pair of pants you own, weight belts have long been found in gyms across the world. But if you’re like many, you may not understand the purpose of weight belts.

So why do those oversized hunks of leather wind up in every gym you’ve ever been in?

Note: This article is meant teach and give you information on how to make an informed decision on whether to use a weight belt or not. Weight belts have their place in the gym for sure, but in a limited role. They should be a used as a tool and not a crutch.

Believe it or not, weight belts weren’t created to make weight lifters look silly. The primary purpose of a weight belt is to allow the wearer to lift the maximum amount of weight with the least risk of injury to the back. It does this in two ways. First, it does this by cutting down on the amount of stress placed on the lower back while lifting weights in a standing position. Second, the belt helps keep you from hyper-extending your back when performing overhead lifts. When lifting extremely heavy weights, these dangers can put you in a world of hurt. By wearing a weight belt, you give yourself the protection you need while getting the exercise you want.

To get the most out of a weight belt, it has to be worn properly. It may be fashionable to wear your belt loosely and drooping over one hip, but if you’re going to wear a weight belt, it’s got to be tight. Otherwise, you do not get the protecting perks of wearing a weight belt. But remember – wearing a tight belt while you work out will make your workout seem a bit more difficult and will also increase your blood pressure. Therefore, as soon as you’re finished with a set of repetitions, you may want to loosen the belt until beginning the next set. This helps lower your blood pressure and allows you to work out longer.

Now that you know a weight belt is there to protect your back when lifting weights, you may be tempted to wear one every time you pick up a dumbbell. However, doing this is completely unnecessary. In fact, there are only two times you should wear a weight belt. Consider wearing a weight belt if you’re picking up some serious weight in the gym (or at home for that matter) or if you’ve suffered a significant back injury and are lifting weights. If neither of these pertains to you, the weight belt is best left for others to use.

As helpful as a weight belt can be when lifting an extremely heavy amount of weight, it can actually reduce your overall workout. Therefore, you shouldn’t use one if you don’t need it. Because the belt has a large role in stabilizing your mid-section while lifting weights, it also keeps your core from getting a thorough workout. So when your workout isn’t pushing your body to its absolute limits, don’t worry about the weight belt. Instead, concentrate on using proper form throughout your movements – form that will help your body take on the shape you desire.

Ever seen someone wearing something like a weight belt while on the job? Known as back braces, these belted inventions serve much the same purpose as weight belts. They, too, were created to protect the user’s back. However, the protection offered through a back brace is often greater than that with a weight belt.

With a back brace, the wearer’s lower back is practically immobile, allowing much less stress on the lower back than even a weight belt permits. Individuals who are required to lift heavy items repeatedly while working often wear these braces. And though they may look similar to weight belts, they should not be worn when working out.

Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer. He can be reached at 403-347-1707 or check out www.360fitness.ca for more information.

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