Should you lift with a belt? A client wants to know:
I think that I am getting to a point where I will need a brace/belt because I am needing to be more careful to keep strain off of my knee joints (squat) and back (deadlift). What do you think?
I have my own opinion on belts, but just to be sure, I reviewed a few experts articles.
Expert Opinion on Lifting With a Belt
– Dewar (2019) provides a balanced view: “Lifting belts can be an effective training tool for powerlifters, weightlifters, and fitness athletes if and only if beltless bracing and breathing abilities have been developed […] For general weight training and fitness, belt training may actually not be necessary unless you are experimenting with more maximal effort training.”
– Nuckols (2015) writes: “For the life of me, I can’t figure out a good reason (physiologically) someone shouldn’t start using a belt whenever the hell they want to.” His background is in powerlifting.
– Check (2000) recommends you “stop using a weight belt” to “restore the function of your inner [abdominal] unit.” His background is in physical therapy.
My Concern With Lifting With a Belt
To echo Check, my main concern is that when you lift with a belt, you use a different technique than when you lift beltless. You’re training your body to be strong with a belt. But outside the gym, you’re not wearing a belt. So the next time you need to be strong outside the gym, what’s going to happen? If you’re lifting something truly heavy, in my opinion, your risk of injury is greater (than if you had trained without a belt all along).
If you want to get the performance boost of lifting with a belt (5-15% according to Nuckols), I recommend using it for 1-3 top sets (when you lift really heavy). Continue training without a belt the rest of the time, so your body continues to get strong without a belt.
Going back to your concern about keeping strain off your knee and back, keep in mind that it’s the strain that makes your knees and back stronger. Yes, you’ll be able to lift heavier with braces and a belt, but in the end, the added weight comes from the equipment, not your body, and your body is just as taxed as before (because even though it has more support, you’re lifting heavier). All things considered, in your situation, I would only get a belt if you want to play with it and enjoy lifting more.
I Have a Nice Belt, but I Dont Lift With It Anymore
For me, the benefits are not worth the hassle. I own a nice powerlifting belt that helps me lift heavier. I never use it anymore. I just want my body to be strong by itself. I also like to keep my training simple and efficient (for more on efficient training, see A practical, science-based guide to building muscle faster with rest-pause sets).