September 14, 2016 at 7:51 pm #5813
The topics “Do I need a belt” and “What belt should I buy” are such a frequent occurrence that it has warranted a detailed posting on the topic. This is meant to be a dissertation on the topic, and shall be inclusive of all the information that is required to answer this question. If you don’t understand a technical term, don’t be afraid to google it.
Before using a belt, learn to breathe
Many people, unaware of detailed anatomical and physiological processes, breathe incorrectly when exercising. Reading the latest article from shiny muscle magazines lining grocery store shelves or the newest blog entry from the current exercise-guru-flavor-of-the-week, the average person exercising believes that you inhale during the eccentric portion of a lift and exhale during the concentric portion of the lift, since this is the oft spouted advice of said sources. In reality, the best way to prevent an orthopedic injury while performing any compound movement is to perform a “Valsalva maneuver,” the execution of which is described below:
“When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts and the volume of your thoracic cavity increases. As air flows into your now larger lungs, pressure equalizes between the outside and the inside. When you clamp down to hold your breath and tighten your trunk muscles, you create a pressure gradient between the inside and the outside. This pressure increases markedly with the intensity of the squeeze. Since your thoracic and abdominal cavities are separated by only your diaphragm, abdominal pressure increases, too. The spinal vertebrae are being held in the correct anatomical position by your back musculature. This correct position is reinforced by static pressure transmitted to the spine across the essentially non-compressible contents of the abdominal cavity. Pressure in your abdominal and thoracic cavities is therefore transmitted to your spine from the anterior and lateral directions, and the spinal erectors are generating pressure from the posterior. When pressure in the thoracic cavity increases with a big held breath, and this pressure is increased by the tightening of the abs and obliques, support develops for the spine as if a rigid cylinder were surrounding the spinal column. A weightlifting belt adds to this effect, its main function being to add support to the cylinder from the front and sides, rather than to apply pressure from the back.” (Starting Strength 3rd Edition, Mark Rippetoe)
In summary, take a deep breath down into your belly and hold it while squeezing your “core,” then perform your lift. Reset your breath between reps.
What does a belt do?
A lifting belt amplifies the effect of the Valsalva maneuver. It does this through a mechanism know as cylindrical stress. The best example cylindrical stress is displayed in the metal hoops wrapped around oak barrels. By keeping your belly from expanding when you inhale deeply, the intra-abdominal pressure is exponentially increased, making your torso much more rigid than without it. The first purpose of intentionally raising your internal pressure gradient is increased force transmission. Essentially, you can lift more weight with a belt than without it, because your upper body, specifically your spinal column, will remain erect under a greater load than without the intra-abdominal pressure generated by the belt. The second purpose is protection of the back while lifting. If you can lift more weight with a belt than without it, then it stands to reason that using a submaximal load will be a less dangerous endeavor with the belt rather than without it.
Do I need a belt?
If you are looking to get bigger or stronger, the answer is yes. Whether you are a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, or a weightlifter, lifting progressively heavier weight is the best way to build strength, mass, and power. Obviously powerlifters will use a belt, but many bodybuilders doubt the efficacy of the tool. Think about it like this – will doing your bench press sets with 225 lbs or 315 lbs make you bigger? That logic can be applied to squats and deadlifts (or insert whatever exercise here), and any exercise where you must maintain an upright torso under load will benefit from a belt.
If you are looking to remain injury free or to begin lifting after an injury related to your back, the answer is clear yet again. Any load you lift with a belt on is a safer lift than without it, for reasons explained above. A common objection to using the belt is the idea that your “core” won’t be worked as well while using one. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you were able to squat 225 lbs for 8 reps without a belt, but you are able to lift 315 lbs for 8 reps with one, do you really believe your core is not being worked just as hard? Try standing up under a heavy squat without your abs and spinal erectors fully engaged, with or without a belt… It isn’t possible. To reemphasize, a belt does not lessen the activation and use of your core musculature.
Using the belt
Now that you know how to breathe and have realized a belt will help you with your lifting goals, you must learn to properly use the belt. It is rather simple, actually – when donning your belt, it should be pulled as tightly as possible across your midsection between your rib cage and your iliac crest (typically, centered on your belly button) while still allowing you to fully contract your abdominal musculature. This will allow it to have its greatest effect. Now simply breathe as described earlier, and then lift. Be sure to loosen the belt between sets.
How to choose a belt
All useful belts are the same height for the entire circumference of the belt. Furthermore, they are made of leather and they are never padded. Many of the cheaper belts are tapered, padded and/or made of nylon, but they are made for the ignorant masses, not for you. Since the purpose of the belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure, and since it does that through cylindrical stress, the height of opposite sides must be of equal heights in order to distribute pressure equally across the surfaces it contacts and it must be rigid – it’s a simple matter of pressure per square inch. The most common height of a quality belt is 4” around. Although there are other height belts, 4” belts are ideal for most people.
The next consideration is thickness. Cheaper belts are around 6mm thick, while quality belts come in 10mm and 13mm. For most general strength and bodybuilding trainees, the 10mm belt will provide all the support desired, while competitive powerlifters will want a 13mm belt for maximum support under load. The reason why everyone besides a powerlifter should get a 10mm is that the thicker belt is painfully uncomfortable. Most people will have an adjustment period to the 10mm before they get it broken in where even the thinner option is uncomfortable. While the 10mm eventually breaks in, the 13mm will, in most cases, remain as rigid as the day it was purchased.
Now that we have determined most lifters should be wearing a 4” high 10mm belt, the next point to consider is the buckle. There are generally three choices to pick from, though some manufacturers have exotic designs that may meet your needs if you don’t plan to compete in powerlifting. The basic choices are the single prong buckle, double prong buckle, and lever. Buckles are generally less expensive than levers, and more abundant in choices as well. The double prong distributes stress more evenly across the belt and buckle than the single prong style, but is more difficult to manage getting on and off. If the belt is high quality, the double prong offers no advantages over the single prong since this very simple design is essentially bulletproof if the components meet certain specifications, and all quality brands use high quality parts, clearly. Lever belts are a much different and unique buckle. The lever belts can get much tighter than the prong style belts and are much easier to take off as well with the drawback that adjusting them is more difficult than the prong styles. Another point to consider is that lever buckles can fail, and that is the last thing you want to happen when you are half way up with a heavy squat. The quality brands have an extremely low failure rate and usually offer a very long (if not lifetime) warranty on the buckle, but it is still something to consider. If you like to wear your belt the same tightness for all lifts, your waist doesn’t fluctuate in size frequently, and you want to get the belt as tight as possible, the lever belt is a good choice. For most people, though, I recommend a single prong belt – they are cheaper, easier to adjust, and borderline indestructible.
Since we discussed quality in this section, I’ll address price here. There is a noticeable difference in construction quality between a budget belt and a quality belt, but there is a very small price difference between them. Cheap belts have inconsistent thickness which means that the pressure will be distributed unevenly on the belt – the thinner spots won’t hold pressure as well as the thicker spots do. Although it won’t be drastic, it will affect the ability of the belt to do its job. The stitching, riveting, and buckle quality is inferior on a budget belt as well – they will eventually need to be replaced, while a quality belt will last forever (some of the manufacturer’s warranties are literally forever). Also, a quality belt gets more comfortable with use while a cheap belt just wears out. The difference in price between a budget belt and a quality belt is almost negligible. Most of the cheap brands of belts that meet our criteria are around $20 cheaper than our most affordable quality brand – you spend more than that on crap you don’t need (designer coffee, beer, video games, your 400th shirt, etc). It is cheaper to buy one quality belt than to buy two cheap ones, so over the life of the belt it will actually be less expensive to buy a quality belt than a cheap belt. Moral of the story? Don’t be cheap.
Most lifters should buy a 4” high, 10mm thick, unpadded single prong leather belt from one of the vendors listed below.
Approved manufacturer list
Best Belts – http://www.bestbelts.net/ – All their belts are handmade custom per your order. They have excellent customer service, fast construction time for a custom belt, are quite affordable, and they are among the highest quality belt money can buy. You can’t go wrong with any of their products, but the Athlete belt is their specialty – it comes feeling broken-in straight out of the box.
Inzer – http://www.inzernet.com/search_resul…earch&iLevel=1 – Inzer makes the best lever belt on the market – if you want a lever belt, this is the company to order it from. If you want a black belt, they have it in stock. If you want any other color, you’ll have a 2 month wait. Their product is of superior quality, but their customer service is junk. Don’t expect to be communicated with or notified when your belt ships. But damn, they make a nice belt.
Titan – http://www.titansupport.com/products/powerlifting-belts – Titan is unique in that they make both expensive exotic belts as well as very affordable quality belts. In fact, they make the most affordable belts of any manufacturer on the list – the Toro Bravo. If you’re on a budget, this is the belt for you.
Bob’s Belts – http://www.bobsbelts.com/ – Another handmade belt outfit, similar to Best Belts, but a bit more expensive. Very high quality product.
Cardillo – http://www.cardillousa.com/products/weightbelts/ – Extremely high quality belts. The 410DL and 410GL are works of art.January 28, 2018 at 9:17 am #5857
If you’re too busy to work out or simply don’t feel up to it, take a day or two off. Be gentle with yourself if you need a break. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as you can. Now that you’ve regained your enthusiasm, get moving! Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation slipping.January 28, 2018 at 9:17 am #5858
If you’re too busy to work out or simply don’t feel up to it, take a day or two off. Be gentle with yourself if you need a break. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as you can. Now that you’ve regained your enthusiasm, get moving! Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation slipping.January 28, 2018 at 9:17 am #5859
If you’re too busy to work out or simply don’t feel up to it, take a day or two off. Be gentle with yourself if you need a break. The important thing is to get back on track as soon as you can. Now that you’ve regained your enthusiasm, get moving! Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Remember, physical activity is for life. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation slipping.
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