There is conflicting evidence on whether a weight lifting belt is beneficial or harmful when practicing weight lifting.
Although weightlifting seeks to strengthen the body, an immense amount of strain is put on the back in particular. It is common to sprain muscles and ligaments participating in this sport, as the back is continually flexed and extended against resistance. Particular injuries include spondyloysis, a type of stress fracture. This is often caused when performing weight lifting exercises such as the dead-lift, squat and snatch. If you are older in years, disc degeneration can mean that you will be particularly susceptible to injuries caused by weight lifting.
With this in mind, a belt can be worn during weight lifting to help support the fragile areas of the lower back. They tend to come in either four or six-inch thickness, and are made from either leather or nylon. The aim is to support the lumbar region and you should consult your trainer or doctor to ensure that you are using the style that is best suited to you.
In addition to a belt, there are other precautions you can take to limit the strain placed on your back during weight lifting. Firstly, know your personal limits and try to do more repetitions rather than adding increasing weights. It is usually possible to use a weight lifting machine rather than free weights for some exercises, and this can help you maintain ideal posture during exercise. If you do use free weights, ensure you have a spotter to watch your posture and help correct any mistakes that may lead to injury.
Recently, some evidence has come to light that suggests that risk of injury can actually be increased by using a weight lifting belt. It is possible that you may worsen any back pain, rather than cure it. The trend is to focus on ‘core stability’, which has been popularised by disciplines such as Pilates. The idea is that your back should be supported by a strong internal belt of muscle, which can be developed by ‘hollowing’ the abdomen during exercise.
Despite this direction in weight lifting, surveys show that a third of weight lifters believe that a belt can improve performance or reduce injury. The same number admit to using a weight lifting belt for their entire routine of exercises…even those done on machines. Herein lies the problem.
Any professional advocate of using a weight lifting belt will strongly caveat their recommendation by advising that the belt should only be worn during the most strenuous free weight exercises. It is believed that the belt should be worn only on the heaviest sets. If not, over a long period of time it is claimed that your back could actually get weaker.