Why Beginner Weightlifters Should Not Wear Weightlifting Belts
Written by Bryce Smith
The fitness world is all over the place with regard to whether or not athletes should wear weightlifting belts. The opinions vary depending on the genre of fitness enthusiast; but overall, it comes down to one thing – safety. A safe athlete is a better athlete because they can continue to have longevity in their sport. Our first goal is to enhance proper biomechanics without the use of a belt or additional accessories like knee sleeves or wrist wraps.
In life, we do not have the ability to press a pause button while we put on all of our gear, so why should we have this luxury in training? CrossFit is preparing us for the unknown, right? If a child is about to run into the street, your natural instinct would be to run and grab the child before he or she was hit by a car. You would not run to get your weightlifting belt and knee sleeves because that would be silly and, of course, too late to save the child. You get the point.
In my opinion, beginner weightlifters should never use a belt. They should focus on strengthening the musculature around the main joints and become better movers through repetition. The time under the bar will lead to greater adaptation to stress. All too often I see athletes coming in to the gym and seeing the more advanced athletes using belts. As a result, they too feel the need to purchase a belt so they can become just as strong and awesome.
Unfortunately, you need to spend more than just a few bucks on a belt to become as strong and awesome as many advanced athletes. Time will need to be spent enhancing the quality of your movements, breathing patterns, and most importantly intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the midline, which leads to strength gains and performance enhancement. If one relies too heavily on a belt as a beginner, they will never master the motor recruitment patterns or valsalva maneuver (the breathing mechanism used for midline stability) which is necessary for long term back health and muscular efficiency. Athletes must practice breathing in to the belly (not the chest) to program proper motor recruitment patterns for midline stabilization during heavy lifting. This can also be practiced through Chinese planks, weighted planks, hollow body holds, yoke carries, or simply taking a heavy load out of a rack and holding it for a lengthy duration to practice time under tension.
The analogy is like having cars drive across the golden gate bridge while the foundational integrity of the bridge is broken and just relying on a few cables for support. In time, after many cars drive across and a high amount of stress is placed on that bridge, it is simply going to give. I would hate to see that happen to an athlete’s back, simply because of premature or overuse of a weightlifting belt.
In summary, beginner weightlifters should properly learn to use their core and midline before relying on a weightlifting belt, as it can mitigate motor learning of the abdominal muscles and prevent the low back from gaining strength.