Is relying on a lifting belt holding you back?
You get everything set up correctly for your deadlift. Foot placement, grip the bar, tighten the lats, and PULL!
That excruciating feeling that you swear you could hear out loud. That was your back. You didn’t mean for it to create that terrible shape but now you are in a world of hurt. If you have ever been in this situation, you know how painful and scary it can be!
It can make even the most dedicated lifters reach for their lifting belt for every deadlift. I know, because I have been there. The sense of security and midsection strength created by this hard piece of leather makes it very appealing to run to and never look back. So this begs the question, should you wear a belt for your deadlifts?
Should you wear a belt for deadlifts?
Before I answer that question, if you have experienced the situation above, I highly urge you to go see a physiotherapist and/or hire a lifting coach to help you with your deadlift technique. Obviously something went terribly wrong!
First off, we need to understand how your midsection works in order to prevent an injury to your back during a heavy lift, like a deadlift. You need to create intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) through your midsection to make it strong like a bulletproof cylinder: solid from all sides. I typically call this “bracing” your abdominals, and the intra-abdominal pressure will help protect your spine when you lift.
How to “brace” your abdominals when you lift
You brace your abdominals by taking a big belly breath and harden your abdominal wall like you are about to be punched in the stomach. Right before you lift, take a sharp breath in through your mouth that fills up your belly, aka diaphragmatic breath. This shouldn’t make your shoulders raise up by your ears, instead, it should almost make your belly push slightly out. Hold this breath and harden your midsection as you take your lift, letting only a small amount of air out at the top if needed. Breathe and reset your core at the bottom of every rep.
This style of breathing helps you brace your core, and actually comes naturally to most people when they move heavy things around. Have you ever grunted when picking up a heavy box or bag of dog food? That is a little bit of air escaping as you create intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).
Quick note: you don’t want to SUCK IN to create your braced abdominal wall. This controversial method of flexing your abs that stems from pilates and yoga will not help you in your deadlift. This could actually cause more harm than good!
Conversely, we also don’t really want to PUSH OUT either. Merely pushing out your belly is how some people may confuse bracing their abdominal wall, but this isn’t strong at all. Plus, your pelvic floor will definitely not like that extra pressure!
When to use a lifting belt
Using a lifting belt can help you create more intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) by physically giving you that hard, external wall for your abdominals to push against when you brace. This tactile queue helps you know when you are braced properly.
Using a belt is great and many very strong people use them. The only downside is that some people may rely a bit too heavily on this piece of equipment instead of developing the strength and pressure from their own bodies.
If you use a belt right off the bat when you start lifting, you don’t give your body the time it needs to create the strong abdominal wall that is required to lift heavy. This is the biggest mistake I see new lifters making! This is problematic, and can even create more back issues down the line when you rely on a belt for your core strength.
You wouldn’t rely on a belt to pick up a bag of dog food, so why should you when you’re learning to lift weights?? Here at Next Level, we believe it’s best to get strong FIRST so you can confidently lift heavy/awkward objects without tweaking your back.
There is a time a place for a belt, however. I typically recommend my lifters to use a belt when they are testing maximal lifts, and only once they have developed a strong foundation with their lifts without a belt.
Lifts that are above 85-90% of your one rep max may be an appropriate time to use a belt. Just make sure you understand how to use it correctly.
Most novice trainees (less than a year lifting experience) will never need to be lifting anything close to a one-rep max (1RM), so I recommend using your core strength as a guide to how heavy you can lift. As soon as technique falls apart, your back starts to round, etc., then you have probably gone too far. Put your ego aside, and lift a weight that your body can do with solid technique.
When to practice beltless training
Practice beltless training for as long as possible! Spend some quality time (aka months or even years) creating a strong technique with your lifts before you use a belt. Yes, you will need to lift with “lighter” weights until you develop substantial core strength, but it will be worth it in the long run.
If you are an experienced lifter (at least 2+ years of training), using a belt can be a helpful tool. Make sure you do your warm-up sets beltless, and only pull that sucker out when we get to 85% or more. If you are training intelligently, you should not be pushing the envelope with lifts over 85% very frequently!
Also- practice your accessory lifts without a belt. Lifts such as Romanian deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, banded deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, etc, are typically lighter weight and can all be done beltless. The more you get used to using your own midsection for support, the better!
I hope this post gives you a better understanding of when to use (or not use) a belt and gives you a clearer picture of how to brace your abdominals so you don’t need to rely on a belt in the future.
If you need any help with your deadlift technique or you don’t quite understand how to use your core effectively, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Here at Next Level, we offer in-person training as well as online and would love to take you through a movement assessment and see what is going on.
Do you lift with a belt? Yes or no, leave us a comment and tell us what works best for you!
Talk to you soon,