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When Should I Add A Weight Belt?

We are continuing our series from last week on “When should I… .”  We started this series last week in an effort to provide answers to commonly asked questions around the gym.  If you have a “when should I” question, let us know.  Maybe we will use it for a future email. 

Today, we are covering the topic of the often misused weight belt.  You may have seen these around the gym.  Anytime a heavy barbell comes out some members pull out these wide belts that they strap around their waist and pull really right.  Most of them are black and flexible.  But, some are really thick, made of leather, and have a metal clasp.  We have no issues with weight belts as long as they are used for their intended purpose, as a supplement to help lift a little more weight once natural maximal loads have been reached.  

When to Add a Weight Belt

When considering the proper use of a weight belt, there are four factors to consider:  experience, core strength, proximity to maximal load, and injury.  

  1. Experience:  When you start lifting heavy weights, your ability to lift heavier weights increases rapidly.  This is why everyone constantly PRs their heavy lifts for first 2-3 years of training.  However, as your experience increases, your ability to increase your maximal loads decreases.  You cannot lift more weight indefinitely and will eventually reach your natural max.  It is only at this time that supplements should be used.  It is important to build natural strength first and only use things like weight belts to help overcome a plateau.  
  2. Core Strength:  The true purpose of the weight belt is to provide core stability during a heavy lift.  Weak core muscles will hold you back.  Thus, you must work on strengthening your core as your experience increases.  As you reach your maximal load from experience (see #1), first add core exercises.  A weight belt should only be used for 1-3 rep lifts (see #3 below). Therefore, if you feel the need to add a weight belt when doing high rep lifts, you need to focus on your core strength first. 
  3. Proximity to Maximal Load:  As discussed above, experience and core strength should be able to get you really far with your heavy lifting.  However, assuming you have hit a plateau with heavy lifting, and you’ve addressed your core strength, when should you add a belt?  Anytime you are at or above 85% of a 1 rep max lift.  
  4. Injury:  There are limited circumstances where a weight belt should be used to avoid further injury.  This is a fine line and should be done in conjunction with a health professional.  Again, we want to build the strength in our bodies naturally and only then add a belt.  However, there are conditions where an individual may never be able to build enough accessory strength to support an injured back.  A belt, therefore, may be necessary to provide artificial support.  

If you are considering adding a belt to enhance your fitness, let us know.  The black flexible versions are more versatile, but don’t provide as much support.  The thick leather belts provide a ton of support, but make it just about impossible to do anything other than lift heavy.  

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