I have had some questions about whether or not an athlete should wear a lifting belt as part of their training. While commonplace in strength sports such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman, lifting belts have only recently become more popular among competitive CrossFit athletes. As a result, more recreational CrossFitters are now beginning to question whether or not they need to wear a lifting belt when they head to the gym.
There are some misconceptions about the use of lifting belts in general. A common misconception is that using a belt allows you to be “lazy” and not properly brace with your abs and create an adequate amount of intra-abdominal pressure to maintain a strong, neutral spine. Proper usage of a belt is actually quite the opposite. A lifting belt, when used properly, provides tactile feedback for the athlete when bracing, resulting in a stronger, more stable lifting position. This helps to prevent the lumbar from rounding during exercises such as deadlifts and squats, as well as helps to prevent hyper-extension of the spine when lifting a load overhead.
CrossFit tends to promote an approach to fitness that is both functional and minimalist, so it’s easy to see why some CrossFitters might raise an eyebrow at the idea of wearing a lifting belt. Others might be inclined to adopt a piece of equipment they see being used by elite level competitors without understanding its purpose. This year at the CrossFit Games we saw an overwhelming number of athletes using supportive gear such as weight belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves, including our own Team Invictus athletes.
So, the elite have adopted using supportive gear, but what about the recreational CrossFit athlete? Well…it depends. A large majority of recreational athletes likely have no need for a lifting belt. If you have poor mechanics and mobility, working to improve your technique and quality of movement should be a much higher priority than purchasing a weightlifting belt. A lifting belt won’t fix your technique and it definitely won’t make you more flexible. If you do CrossFit just to stay healthy and fit, you probably don’t need a belt anytime soon either – just pay good attention to your lifting mechanics and stay within ranges that allow perfect mechanics.
Intermediate and advanced level athletes should, however, consider incorporating the use of a weightlifting belt. These individuals typically have much better mechanics, have developed greater strength, and have learned to tap deeper into their central nervous system to move heavier loads. These individuals are also more likely to push the envelope on when to stop due to loss of proper lifting mechanics. Simply put, these guys and gals normally test their limits much more frequently. For them, a lifting belt provides tactile feedback and a little bit of extra support in case a lift goes wrong.
If you would like to start incorporating a lifting belt, be smart about how to incorporate it into your workouts. I would recommend warming up without it and just wearing it during your work sets. As always, be sure to consult your Invictus coaches if you aren’t certain.