To Weight Belt or Not to Weight Belt..

 The struggle is real.

The struggle is real.

Before tackling this week's topic, I'd feel remiss if I didn't at least touch on the two feet of snow that was dumped on New England this past week.  Of course, the perks of living in the city were on full display for us, as we didn't lose power and almost everything we need is in walking distance.  Plus, mother nature is going to have to try a lot harder to keep me from the gym - after all, it was still a squat day.  

So, despite CNN treating this storm as the actual Snowpocalypse (and it kinda was for those on Nantucket), I'd classify it as only a minor annoyance.  In fact, the most annoying aspect of the storm was almost getting run over - both inside and outside - at Whole Foods.  But, despite those select individuals (I'm pretty sure their battle cry was "Give me kale or give me death!") the storm could be summed up with this quote by Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker:

This isn't the first time it's snowed in Massachusetts..

Ha!  I thought that hit the nail on the head.  It IS winter, and with 4-6 more inches predicted for tomorrow, let's all remember that.

Anyway, this week I wanted to talk about a pretty specific topic: weight belts.  What is a weight belt?  Well, as you may have noticed, I'm wearing one in this video:

Did I mention that's 500 pounds? :)

Anyway, if you hadn't seen that video before (and as I'm responsible for 90 of the 96 total views, you probably haven't), you can see I'm wearing a weight belt.  So, in a very Jerry Seinfeld-esque way, let me ask what some of you are probably thinking: "What's the deal with weight belts?"

Starting from the top, someone usually starts wearing a belt because 1) it looks pretty badass, 2) they have a sore back and think the belt will help (it won't), or 3) they want to lift more weight.  Beyond that, we approach the crucial question: is a weight belt appropriate for you?  As with everything, it depends.

Anatomically speaking, nature has given your body its own weight belt and the first thing I do with a new client is to help them develop it.  When you correctly use your obliques, rectus abdominus (abzz), erector spinae, and lats, your body is pretty safe.  The problem, however, is when we forget how to use these muscles and suddenly have a gap to fill.  That's why I'm so big into exercises like Dead bugs, because it forces your body to learn how to properly use its own weight belt, which will keep it safe.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that learning to do a proper dead bug is the best thing you can do to ensure back health.

Since our body can be pretty efficient at using our own support system, what's the point of adding an actual weight belt?  Well, it helps to increase the tension and tightness you have in your body.  The belt is NOT a back brace helping you to lift more weight.  Instead, it helps give you feedback in order to get you as tight as possible.  A belt will help you lift more weight, simply because it helps you be more efficient.

 Belts will not actually turn you into Hans and Franz....but their tapered belts are actually useless.

Belts will not actually turn you into Hans and Franz....but their tapered belts are actually useless.

If I'm being honest, the majority of people will never need to use a belt.  Most people train because they want to look better, know their body will hate them if they don't exercise, or simply to get better at a sport (besides weightlifting/powerlifting).  For all of those scenarios, focused work on technique and core stability will do wonders for where you want to go.  A belt is simply a performance enhancer, and if you're lifting to get better at something else, why enhance your performance in the gym itself?

Now, what if you're one of the crazy ones (like me) that's lifting weights to get better at lifting weights?  A weight belt will probably be an eventual necessity.  That said, I usually don't recommend belts until the following criteria have been surpassed without a belt: 

  • Deadlift 2x your bodyweight
  • Bench Press 1.5X your bodyweight
  • Front squat 1.5x your bodyweight
  • Overhead Press 1x your bodyweight

Even then, you're not going to use a weight belt with all of your lifts.  I'll usually warm up and perform my first one or two work sets (65-85% of my 1 rep max) without a belt.  It's only after that 85% mark, and considering how I feel on that day, that I'll use a belt. 

 For those interested in belts, they should look like this..

For those interested in belts, they should look like this..

And, contrary to what you might have heard, belts are not dangerous.  As I mentioned above, they're not a crutch and I only suggest wearing them after you're strong and hitting the numbers above.  Furthermore, there's evidence that using a belt actually assists in increasing someone's intra-abdominal pressure, which helps decrease the transmural gradient.  In plain language, this simply means that one's risk of aneurysm or stroke actually decreases when they use a belt, because the pressure between the blood vessels and the pressure in the brain itself, is a lot more equal.  It's scary stuff, but when you're lifting 500 pounds, things need to be TIGHT!

I know I've done an about face with belts over the years, especially because I always slightly feared them.  If your goal is to lift heavy and heavier things, you'll probably eventually need one.  But, if you're feeling like you just want to look better nekkid (and there's nothing wrong with that..), leave the belts alone.