Should I Wear a Weight Lifting Belt?

by Nashville personal trainer Dan DeFigio

In most cases, no. A weight lifting belt is used to create additional intra-abdominal pressure to help support the spine. It is usually used when performing a weighted movement in which the spine is placed in a compromised position (usually bent over). Examples would be squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, or clean-and-jerks. Many people often wear a belt through an entire workout. This is not recommended for two reasons:

  1. The additional pressure in the abdomen raises the blood pressure considerably. This increase in pressure aids spinal stability during a set, but can be dangerous if the blood pressure stays elevated for long periods.

  2. Wearing a belt robs the trunk muscles of their supportive duties. If you use a weight lifting belt regularly, you are making your spinal stability weaker!

A weight lifting belt should only be worn under extreme circumstances, such as during a maximum-effort single lift. Under normal training circumstances, you should force the musculature of the waist to perform its full supportive duties — build your own belt with muscles!

Always remember to maintain a supported neutral or slightly-arched spine position when performing exercises in a bent over position. If you allow the spine to round, the disks are exposed to unacceptable forces and may eventually herniate.

Note: People with hypertension (high blood pressure) should not use weight lifting belts. Anyone at risk from added intra-abdominal pressure (not limited to hypertensive people) should not be lifting weights heavy enough to necessitate use of a lifting belt. Ask a physician if you are unsure.

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