If you are a regular in the gym, then there is no doubt you are familiar with weight lifting belts. They are a common sight in most gyms these days. In fact, if you lift heavy weights, you probably have a weight lifting belt of your own. Most people believe that these belts help to keep your lower back safe when lifting weights. As such, they believe it is good idea to wear one during near maximal weight lifting efforts. And even if they aren’t keeping your back any more safe, they at least provide a sort of psychological safety net when it comes to lifting heavy.

However, there are many who feel that weight lifting belts can actually do more harm than good. These people assert that lifting belts will lead to issues as far as control and strength in our core. So, we once again find ourselves caught in between two opposite points of view. Which one of these schools of thought is correct? Lifting belts tend to be helpful for many people, but can also be harmful in certain situations. As such, a person’s individual circumstances will play a big role in determining whether they should be using a belt or not.

 

Core Activation

Core strength and activation has become an extremely popular topic among lifting enthusiasts these days. With lower back issues running wild, people are looking to bullet proof their core to prevent injury. So, we will start off with the issue of core activation with weight lifting belts. The debate rages on as to whether wearing a belt will strengthen or weaken your core over time. Although we don’t have long term studies on the subject, there are acute studies we can draw from.

It seems that in the short term, wearing a weight belt actually increases EMG activity in the rectus abdominis [4]. In other words, your abs do seem to reach higher peak activation when wearing a belt. Additionally, it has been shown that other trunk muscles such as the lats, and the obliques have higher muscle activation as well [1]. However, it should be noted that lumbar and thoracic spinal erectors have shown decreased activation when a belt is worn [1]. Overall, it seems that wearing a belt leads to more muscle activation in key core muscles.

Another aspect of trunk stiffness would be the amount of intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) that one can create during an exercise. The more pressure that exists in the trunk, the stiffer our trunk will be while lifting heavy. Put simply, more stiffness allows for more force to be transferred through the body which means more weight can be lifted. When it comes to weight belts, the evidence is pretty clear. Wearing a belt while lifting increases IAP significantly compared to lifting without a belt [2][3]. This increased IAP may explain some of the differences in EMG activity we discussed above. Either way, more IAP is a good thing when it comes to core activation, strength, and reduced injury risk.

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