Ahh the Lifting Belt…
One of the most highly sought after gym accessories that everyone seems to have.
If you are someone who is religious about wearing a belt for every single exercise from the bicep curl to the standing calf raise, for the love of science and your self esteem, read this.
I can guarantee that all of you have entered a gym and have seen someone wearing a belt, perhaps you have one! While it appears that the lifting belt has a specific use(s), most people truly don’t understand the purpose behind wearing it.
This article is going to dish you some science on why your lifting belt will NOT shrink your waistline while also giving you a when and where approach to using the belt.
The Facts and The Fiction:
Unfortunately, if you are here looking for some science to back up a fashion statement or a “tight waistline” claim then you better go searching elsewhere.
Lifting belts have made their way into almost everyone’s gym bag so there must be some reasoning behind it. Right?
Here is what lifting belts can and can’t do for you.
Will A Lifting Belt “Shrink” My Waistline?
Heck no. To start there is no research on this. This claim is extremely popular in physique athletes who care about waistline size and achieving that desirable “V” tapered look. For powerlifters, they typically do not exhibit any concern about keeping a trim waistline for their sport.
For you physique athletes that are wearing the belt in an attempt to slim your waistline, you have either fell for a tricky sales tactic or are just looking for a solution to recover from an extremely aggressive offseason of overeating. It’s not going to work!
If you really want to trim up the waistline, consider increasing your training volume, reducing some calories and then maybe throw in some pelvic floor muscle training accompanied by a posterior pelvic tilt. Makes for a great illusion!
Should I Use A Lifting Belt For Every Exercise?
Unfortunately the scientific literature doesn’t support the use of the lifting belt for every muscle group and exercise trained at the gym. The bulk of the research suggests that the belt is most effective when training lower body prime movers. Various studies have looked at core muscle EMG activation and concluded that the muscle activation was lower when utilizing the belt in sumo and conventional deadlifts.
Other evidence has shown increased EMG activation in muscles of the posterior compartment of the thigh while no increases in primary core muscles. Overall, there is no need to use a lifting belt for every exercise however, implementing this tool into certain exercises could be beneficial (Refro and Ebben, 2006).
Will A Lifting Belt Reduce Spinal Compression?
3 total studies to date have examined the effects of lifting belts on spinal compression. Interestingly enough, all found that lifting belts do in fact reduce the amount of compression the spine experiences during a variety of heavy compound lifts (Renfro and Ebben, 2006).
It is thought that the increase in IAP (Intra-abdominal pressure) might increase trunk muscle activation to reduce the compressive forces acting on the spine. This MAY reduce the risk of a disc injury over time.
It is also important to note the RPE (rating of perceived exertion) was much lower on lifts such as squats and deadlifts when performed with belts compared to no belt (Reilly et al, 1995).
Will A Lifting Belt Improve Resistance Training Performance?
There is some evidence suggesting that lifting belts have an effect on the repetition velocity during a given exercise; however, there was no findings that showed an increased force output (Renfro and Ebben, 2006).
In particular, the research demonstrated that squat velocity was enhanced when using lifting belts compared compared belt-less lifts. It was also noted that lifting belts could have an effect on the reps of the latter half of the movement seen through an increase in velocity at the end of an 8 repetition squat (Renfro and Ebben, 2006).
While lifting belts can provide an advantage in some aspects of training, unless you are using it during heavily loaded lower body movements, consider loosening up the buckle until it falls back into your gym bag.
If Lifting Belts feel like they offer you some sort of additional performance benefit than by all means use one. Research is currently lending to the belts impact on rep velocity, lower spinal loading and potential decrease in perceived exertion.
Just don’t be caught trying to trim that waistline with it!
Take Home Points
- Lifting belts will not shrink your waistline!
- There is no need to use the lifting belt for every exercise!
- Lifting Belts have been found to reduce spinal compression.
- Lifting Belts can enhance resistance training performance in terms of increased rep velocity.
Renfro, G. J., & Ebben, W. P. (2006). A Review of the Use of Lifting Belts. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 28(1), 68-74.
Reilly, T., & Davies, S. (1995). Effects of a weightlifting belt on spinal loading during performance of the dead lift.