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A weightlifting belt can be an excellent addition to your training arsenal. It might not be something that you use all the time, but it can really help you with your lifting under certain circumstances.
The importance of bracing
Bracing your midsection is essential when you lift heavy. Heavy by definition means any lift which you can complete for sets of 5 reps or less; think a heavy squat or deadlift. If you are doing a set of 30 goblet squats, you don’t need to use a belt because the load required to complete 30 reps will not be heavy enough.
A strong, stiff torso is essential in barbell movements such as the deadlift, squat and press. Not only for optimal performance, but also safety and spinal health.
A cue you will hear all the time before a heavy lift is “big breath, belly tight”. This is one of our external cues to make sure that you are organising your midsection and creating as much stiffness as possible during a lift.
The way we create stiffness is to brace, which involves contracting the musculature of the entire midsection. This means not only the abdominals, but also the spinal erectors which surround the spine.
A big breath in the belly (as opposed to a chest breath) helps to reinforce this stiffness.
The weak point of any compound (ie any lift which uses multiple joints and muscles) movement is always the midsection. The legs may be strong enough to finish the lift, but the torso is the limiting factor. That is why it is possible to complete a squat or deadlift with a rounded back.
Why use a belt?
A belt helps to make your braced position stronger. It will give you immediate feedback because you can push your midsection into the belt at the front and back and this will immediately make your torso feel stronger.
The vast majority of people will lift heavier weights with a belt than without one. So if your 1RM deadlift is 180kgs, you might be able to get 190kgs or even 200kgs with a belt.
And let’s not forget that a braced position is not only stronger, but safer. So a belt can help you to stay safe.
When to use a belt
There are a couple of situations where belts can really help. If you are a beginner and struggle to understand the bracing concept, a belt can be a great tool in learning how to brace correctly. A good strategy is to throw on a belt for one set. Then do the next set without the belt, with the goal of trying to create the same stiff position as you did with the belt.
Otherwise, a belt is a fantastic tool for those of you who are beyond the beginner phase. That means 6 months of so of training, or the point where you can easily squat and deadlift your bodyweight for reps.
Remember that a belt will allow you to train with heavier loads and heavier loads means more fitness and more gainz!
When not to use a belt
Too much of anything is bad for you, and the same goes for using a belt. We don’t use belts for gymnastics movements like pull ups and push ups. You wouldn’t use a belt for doing planks. You also don’t need a belt for single joint movements like bicep curls.
You don’t need to use a belt for every single rep or every single warm up. A good rule of thumb is to use the belt for either your work sets or your heaviest sets of the day.
What about metcons?
You should not use a belt during a metcon! Remember our first rule of using a belt, for sets of 5 or less? If you are doing a metcon with weights at your 5-rep max, you are not really doing a metcon! Metcons should always be done with submaximal weights.
It is also important to understand the cost of a braced position and that cost is a massive spike in heart rate. Ever done a heavy set of 5 in the deadlift and feel like you sprinted 400m? That is because holding your breath and bracing hard jacks your heart rate up massively.
One of the keys to performing well in metcons is controlling your heart rate and breathing as much as you can. Using a belt and bracing hard are not compatible with that goal. Now, you should always be trying to cultivate stiff torso when you train, but if you brace at 10 out of 10 during a heavy squat, during a metcon you should brace at 3 out of 10. Still some stiffness, but not as much as required for something really heavy.
Want to learn more?
Come to our seminar from Grizzled Gear on Saturday 26th November at 16:00 at CrossFit GVA.