Alright folks, things are starting to get a little out of hand… It’s a common occurrence, the longer you’ve been coming to the gym or really getting in to lifting heavier loads, the more forces are being put on your body. Agreed! Now, the question is… When and how should one use a weightlifting belt??
Belts certainly help to improve performance, upwards of 10-15% on your heavy lifts, however there is a time and a place for the acceptable use of a belt:
- I am in need of the additional support to gain a competitive advantage.
- I am lifting at or above 90% of my one rep maxes.
Now, here is the list of the only a few reasons of improper belt use in the gym I have witnessed on the regular:
- I am injured, and instead of fixing the issue, I want to take a class for the 18th day in a row. Who has time for mobility?
*So, a bandaid doesn’t fix any situation, it is merely delaying it!
- My back gets really tight when I do (insert movement here).
*Well, fix the form! 90% of the time it is a technical error. Lighten the load and get the movement pattern down correctly, then you’ll progress dramatically. It’s OK if you do not go RX on a workout… Ever! There is zero shame in learning and performing to YOUR ability, vs killing it RX and having to limp out of here.
- I saw some high level athletes wearing one while training the other day… If they are, I probably should too!
*What was that athlete doing? Oh, yea that person just did a strength session and built to a new one rep max deadlift, and yet you are trying to wear it for Wall Ball…
Let’s take a further step back, how should we breathe when lifting? Old school method is inhale on the eccentric lift (the negative-muscle lengthening) and exhale on the concentric lift (the positive-muscle shortening). Well that’s all and good, but for moving large loads and increasing power output, we want to actually HOLD our breath. It is called diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing). Inhaling through your stomach, and hard, then flexing your stomach, increases your thoracic abdominal pressure rendering your torso much more rigid and stable. So, take a huge breathe of air in, feel your stomach almost inflate, then hold it tight! You’ll feel solid. Good, as I’m sure you all just did that while reading, how does the belt help? When properly wearing a weightlifting belt, once that full breath of air is in, your abdominal wall now has something else to push against, making you feel like a ninja mixed with Navy Seal and elite CrossFitter all in one! In other words, you’ll feel unbreakable!
Most people think that weight belts support the back and can help prevent injury. That’s generally true, but a better understanding of the mechanics will change how many people use their equipment. Even some weight belt manufacturers don’t understand how a belt is supposed to work, which is revealed when they make the back of the belt wider than the front. Ideally, a belt between three-and-four-inches wide, all the way around, is sufficient. If it’s much smaller than that, it won’t provide much support. If it’s much larger than that, it may not fit well between your ribs and hips. The material should be firm, typically leather/suede or something that won’t stretch. If you are using for a heavy loaded CrossFit workout, I’d recommend a Velcro one… Sure, it gives far less support than that of a leather one, but let’s weigh the cost vs reward… You’ll be able to breathe better and make rapid adjustments, plus a lot of the bulk of the belt is lost.
The first step is to set the belt. For many people, the belt sits just on top of their iliac crest (the top of the hip bone). When squatting, some people angle the belt up (above the belly button), some people have it going straight across, and some people angle it down (below the belly button). For deadlifts, it’s usually either straight across or angled up—angling it down may interfere with getting into a good starting position. It is not to go around your hips! I have witnessed this many times over… Doing so only helps to hold your shorts up!
Basically, this is more a matter of comfort than anything else. Start in whatever position is most comfortable. As you learn how to use it better, you may want to play around with different heights and angles to see what allows you to get your torso the tightest.
After you set the belt, you’ll need to adjust the tightness to find the right fit. You should use the tightest notch that still allows for a full intake of breath into your stomach, then try to press your stomach out against the belt. You know it’s too tight if you can’t get a full breath of air in or you have to elevate your shoulders to do so instead of solely expanding your torso.
So, this will help with your WOD times too! There is a lot of undoing of the belt, then putting it back on, then taking it off… Using a belt for higher performance and putting it on and off multiple times per round seems quite the oxymoron and thus making your workout take longer, decreasing potential power output! Time and place folks. If you do choose to wear one during the CrossFit workout, set it and forget it!!! Stop messing with it throughout your workout. You’ll come to find that it’s uncomfortable and that you don’t actually need to wear one for 99% of the CrossFit workouts out there!