Powerlifting 101: The Importance Of Weight Lifting Belts

Powerlifting is as much about form as it is about power; in order to benefit from the full range of perks that powerlifting and weight lifting offer, you need to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. You wouldn’t expect to become a master in any field without guidance and instruction, so consider this explanation on powerlifting gear (weight lifting belts specifically, although knee sleeves and knee wraps are also used) your first lesson.


Why Use A Belt?

Most people believe that weight lifting belts simply support the back to protect against injury. While this is certainly true, the main goal is to add support from the front by increasing abdominal pressure so you are physically able to lift more.


The reason you never see powerlifters squat hundreds of pounds while breathing out is for this reason: known as the Valsalva Maneuver, the act of holding your breath against a closed glottis increases your thoracic abdominal pressure and braces your body against the weight, which allows you to lift more of it. Weight lifting belts provide a wall for your abs to push against; the added force with limited space creates increased anterior pressure for the spine, bracing you even further. As your torso becomes more rigid, you develop a better transmission of force from the hips to the bar which also creates a more stable foundation for overhead lifts. Since the belt’s primary purpose is to provide a wall for your abdominal muscles to push against, the width across of the back of it has absolutely nothing to do with its functionality, contrary to popular belief.


The Best Belt For You

Ideally, a belt between three and four inches wide, all the way around, is sufficient. Any smaller and it won’t offer much support, any bigger and it may not fit well between your ribs and hips. Be sure to find a belt that is made of firm material (like leather or suede) — you don’t want it to stretch.


Proper positioning and tightness is vital to getting all the benefits of a weight lifting belt. Take a breath and hold it while you place the belt in position, drawing it just tight enough to slightly restrict your braced position — don’t pull it too tight or the belt will actually work against you and may cause injury. Try to resist the urge to move it into a more comfortable position: if you want to achieve the maximum benefit of wearing one, it’s not going to feel inherently natural and cozy.
Weight lifting is a great way to enter the wide world of powerlifting. With benefits that far outweigh the effort involved (only two weight training sessions a week can reduce body fat by 7% and help you sleep better), you’ll be an expert in no time.

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April 2024
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