Do you Really Need a Weightlifting Belt?
Weightlifting is a powerhouse sport that displays strength, grace, power, and agility all at once. While the actual lift may only last a few seconds, the strength training involved is an almost daily commitment. Of course, getting the most out of your training is the ultimate goal, so we dive into one of the most frequently asked questions of weightlifting: Do you need a weightlifting belt?
What is Weightlifting?
Let's cover the basics before we jump into weightlifting belts and their role in the sport. Weightlifting is a sport and exercise that involves lifting a barbell with weight plates from the ground to above your head.
There are 2 Standard Lifts in Weightlifting:
- snatch: single-movement lift
- clean and jerk: two-movement lift
Weightlifting: Snatch Lift
The snatch lift was initially introduced at the Olympic games in 1896 as a one-handed lift. However, it wasn't until 1924 that the two-handed lift we know today was unveiled. The snatch lift involves lifting the weights from the ground to above the head in one singular motion. Although it's one smooth motion, there are four steps to ensure success in the lift without injury.
Stages of the Lift:
Weightlifting: Clean and Jerk Lift
This lift made its debut at the first Olympics in Athens and is still a fan favourite at the Olympics today. The clean and jerk lift involves somewhat of a break during the lift, allowing the athlete to adjust if needed before completing the lift. The athlete must end in a static position for the lift to count in both lifts.
Due to the method of the clean and jerk lift, athletes can typically lift 20% more weight compared to the snatch lift. It also contains an air of suspense for the audience that many viewers find exciting.
What is the Purpose of a Weightlifting Belt?
A weightlifting belt typically comes in three options: leather, suede, or Velcro-style. The International Weightlifting Federation requires weightlifting belts to be no wider than 12 cm wide, although most athletes choose a 10 cm belt for strength training.
Weightlifting belts are sometimes referred to as the Spanx of the strength training world. Weightlifting belts increase intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the spine and core while performing squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
Do I Need to Use a Weightlifting Belt for Strength Training?
The short answer is probably not. Weightlifting belts are typically recommended for strength training for the Olympics, and if that's you, congrats, and we hope you bring home the gold! However, if you're not training for the Olympics, the rule is to only wear a weightlifting belt during competition or when lifting a heavy load or hitting your one-rep max. A heavy load is considered anything above 80% of your one-rep max.
By appearance only, a weightlifting belt seems to be ideal for beginning strength trainers since its purpose is to provide support. However, it can do more harm than good if you're using it too often or incorrectly. Training your body to lift without equipment ensures that the right muscles engage and grow with each strength training session. This also helps prevent injury.
Using a belt too often and when you're not hitting your max doesn't allow your abdominals to support you on their own. The transversus abdominis muscle wraps around your lower abdomen and, along with your other abdominal muscles, supports and stabilizes your spine. The muscle basically acts as your own personal weightlifting belt.
What Does the Transversus Abdominis Muscle Do?
- supports posture
- contains and supports organs
- supports the lumbopelvic region
When Should you Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
Weightlifting belts should be reserved for competitions and when hitting your max weight. A belt should only be used occasionally during strength training when hitting your max.
Strength training aims to teach your muscles to engage and develop to help you hit your goals. Your one-rep max should be what you can lift raw without the help of equipment. So, when you make it to the competition and wear the weightlifting belt, you can confidently lift the weight and avoid injury.
Strengthen Your Body’s Natural Weightlifting Belt
Let's train and strengthen your natural weightlifting belt, the transversus abdominis muscle. Bonus points because this is one of two muscles that create a chiseled six-pack.
3 Exercises for Strength Training Your Transversus Abdominis Muscle:
- hollow body hold
- forearm planks
- bird dog crunch
How to do a Hollow Body Hold
- Lie face up on a yoga mat with legs and arms extended, keeping arms close to your ears.
- Contract your abs while pulling your back towards the ground.
- Squeeze your thighs and glutes together, point your toes, and lift your legs off the ground.
- Lift your upper body off the ground while keeping your head in a neutral position to avoid straining your neck. Both your upper and lower body should be off the ground.
- Hold for one minute.
How to do a Forearm Plank
- Place your forearms on the floor with your elbow directly underneath your shoulders. Arms should be parallel to each other.
- Extend your legs directly behind you with feet hip-width apart.
- Ground toes into the floor and engage your glutes.
- Keep your neck and spine neutral by looking at a spot directly in front of you, about a foot in front of your hands.
- Hold the plank for 20 seconds. Work up to holding the plank for 60 seconds, increasing by ten-second intervals.
How to do a Bird Dog Crunch
- Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees on a yoga mat. Place your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Extend your left arm forward and extend your right leg back, keeping a flat back and your hips in line with the floor.
- While squeezing your abs, bring your left elbow and right knee together, meeting in the centre of your body.
- Reverse this movement by extending your arm and leg out.
- Repeat for 10-15 reps, then switch to the other side.
Strength Training With or Without a Belt?
Keep your belt for competitions and hitting your max weight. First, focus on developing your natural weight belt while you're training. Then, continue hitting the gym and training your muscles to reach peak performance. You have goals to meet, and we're here to help you reach them.