Belting It Out

Because we at Ambition Athletics are located under the same roof of what you would picture as a typical gym, although a little old and out dated, we do get to see some interesting things “down the hall”.  One such thing that has always caught our eye is the use of weight belts.  This certainly isn’t anything new in the gym world.  They have been around for quite some time.  I do believe there is a time and place for the use of such a belt guess what, it’s quite rare and not for the average person.

If someone were to ask me who should use such a belt and when, I would likely respond with, no one unless they are an advanced power or Olympic style weightlifter.  Just putting yourself into that niche of those two sports removes a massive number of people.  And, noticed I said advanced.  A lot of juiced up guys at the gym likely think they’re powerlifters much like I like to pretend I’m an Olympic lifter.  Also note that powerlifting consists of 3 lifts.  That is two more lifts than just the bench press, both involving the legs mind you, that most guys in your gym just aren’t willing to do, or at least put in anywhere near the same amount of effort that they do into their bench.  So it’s safe to say that most of us are not advanced.  None of us are Lithuanian superstar and 2x Worlds Strongest Man Žydrūnas Savickas.  He can do anything he wants, literally.

Likely most people’s first thought when considering a belt is that it’s for safety purposes.  It’s supposed to help, right?  I can understand that.  However, as a coach who has been working with people for 8 years, I think more along the lines of a crutch or weakness.  For most, I see the belt as just a band-aid for a larger problem.  With just a little cruising around on the OSHA website I came across these pretty strong words:

“Back belts are a medical device, not protective equipment. They are prescribed by doctors for certain medical problems. There is no proof that back belts prevent injuries. Belts do not remove the hazard of heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, or twisting. Back belts don’t make us stronger. They may even cause other lends of problems:

Long-term use of back belts may lead to less muscle strength. Since the belt holds you up, your muscles lose their tone. Weak muscles can mean a higher chance of getting hurt.

Back belts may give a false sense of strength and confidence. Workers may lift harder and heavier loads thinking they’re safe. They’re not.

Back belts put the burden of fixing the workplace on the worker. The best protection is removing the hazard at the source. Back belts can’t replace good lifting devices and work practice controls. They don’t fix the job and they don’t make lifting safe.”

Here is more from OSHA as well as some more credible resources.

No one in Ambition Athletics wears a weight belt including the coaches.  There was a time in my life when I did about 10 years ago.  I will tell you that the only reason I did was because I knew others did and a big dude that I trusted said I should and gave me an old belt that he had kickin’ around.

So what’s my final opinion?  If you have back pain or are looking to prevent it, there are measures to be taken including learning proper lifting technique, improvement of hip and thoracic mobility, strengthening of the posterior chain and being aware of overuse.  In the grand scheme of things, the healthiest option is to avoid relying on the crutch from the start and learning the right way whether in the workplace or the gym.  If you are an advanced lifter in a case where weightlifting is in fact your sport then the use of a belt is acceptable and in certain circumstances may be encouraged.

– Mike Baltren

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5 Responses to Belting It Out

  1. Jon says:

    I do agree with the belt being a crutch, albeit sometimes with a usage. But what is your opinion on weightlifting shoes?

    • MikeBaltren says:

      It depends on your goals. I think most people should squat without shoes. However, if your goal is to be a better Olympic weightlifter, like myself, then wearing the shoes for the lifts as well as squats, etc. could be the way to go. I just think its important to have the ability to squat/move well without them.

  2. Cliff says:

    I think belts, when used properly, absolutely have a place in weightlifting. The proper way is not to wear a belt all the time, only when performing max effort. Also the belt is not worn tight, but instead is worn with a couple of finger widths of space betwenn it and the belly. Then just prior to performing the lift, you expand against the belt. This provides a strong core. Finally, referencing OSHA is not appropriate for a discussion on using a belt while weight-lifting.

    • MikeBaltren says:

      Cliff, I agree 100%… Max effort is a fine time for a belt if one chooses. It just so happens that I choose not to as well as all those that I train with. The reason I chose to reference OSHA is that other than a few exceptions, which includes the Ambition Athletics coaching staff and some other advanced lifters, there is rarely a need for effort approaching 1 RM. The majority of those training in our facility are much closer on the spectrum to being an average person whose job deals with OSHA than the advanced weightlifter which I described. I suppose one could use a belt for a 10 RM in the squat but again, I just choose to teach and practice otherwise. Maybe the best way to put it is that the belt should be reserved only for those that have earned it.

  3. Pingback: Saturday Good Reads: Edition 1 | LaVack Fitness

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