It’s rare to walk across the CrossFit floor and not see at least one athlete wearing a weightlifting belt. But why? Is it necessary? Should you wear one? Should you NOT wear one?
First, wearing a belt is a performance enhancer, but for some, a belt is necessary to perform certain movements without pain. Your core should be strong enough to support yourself through the main lifts, injuries aside. If you choose not to wear a belt, AND are not a competitor, then you are going to be perfectly fine without one. However, if you want to push your maximum amount of weights, then consider using a belt. Now, let’s learn how to use it the the right way.
To use a belt correctly, you should first learn how to breathe correctly by using the Valsalva Maneuver. As you are reading this take in a deep breath, but do not let your chest or shoulders rise at all. Breathe deeply and allow your belly to expand (I know, not the most attractive look). If you have trouble doing this, lie on the floor, place your hand on your abdominals, and practice making your hand rise.
Once you have this down, try to exhale but keep your throat closed to create pressure. Whether you choose to wear a belt or not, this is how you want to breathe while lifting. Now, put your belt on and try this technique. If you do it correctly, you should feel an incredible amount of pressure. This intra-abdominal pressure will help keep your back flat and arched. Your belt should be tight, but how tight is up to you. Personally, I like to have mine with some room, mainly because it’s a good visual to expand my midsection a greater degree. For some competitors, another person needs to help tighten up the belt for them before going into a big event to get it as tight as possible.
Now that I’ve reviewed how to use the belt correctly, let’s talk about when you should use it. For the big lifts, you should always wear a belt when you are going for a maximum attempt. Squats and deadlifts fall into this category, but you should never rely on wearing your belt. Unless you have an injury, warm-ups and building a set to the higher max should be achieved without the belt, but still practice breathing correctly . CrossFit is rooted in functional fitness…Do you grocery shop with your weight belt on? You should not wear a belt until you need it.
The point when you will need a belt depends on when you are going for a maximum lift. Again, on warm-ups go as long as possible without a belt to engage your core as long as possible. Once you feel your form would break down on a heavy set, then it’s time for a belt. If you are a competitor, always use a belt in competition.
An injury will also affect when you will put your belt on. Athletes with nagging back pain but solid form, especially with squats and deadlifts, could benefit from using a belt earlier in the rep scheme. If an athlete is able to lift pain-free with a belt, then by all means go for it.
If you are thinking about getting a weight belt, talk to athletes who wear them. Belts are like shoes — you need to find the right one for you. Try to get a high quality belt because it does make a huge difference. Take the time to learn how to breathe properly and push out on the belt to create intra-abdominal pressure. And, as always, if you need help, let me know.