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A lifting belt is an important step in your fitness journey, and it will help you to improve in certain aspects. Although it can have a lot of benefits, if used properly, it is also important to know when to start wearing a lifting belt so you can take full advantage of it.
A belt is a tool to overload your body and push your limits, and it allows you to lift more weight over time, the same way lifting straps work for the deadlifts. In the last case, people use straps because they need a better grip, even though their body can lift the weight. A belt works in the same way; it doesn’t make your legs stronger when you squat, but it gives you more stability in your upper body, therefore you will be able to increase the weight.
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What should you expect
A lifting belt simply allows you to create more intra-abdominal pressure. Using a belt properly it’s a skill, therefore most people will have to be patient until they can see some results. This technique, like many others, takes time to learn and even more time to master.
If you are a beginner, there is a lot to learn about weightlifting before learning how to use a belt, therefore it’s a better option to train mostly beltless in your first months of training. (about %80 beltless in the first months). Give yourself time to learn how to execute the exercises with a proper form, how to control your breathing, and how to brace before learning how to take advantage of a belt.
Does a lifting belt weaken your core?
There are studies that have shown some interesting information about this topic. In these studies, individuals who used a belt actually activated their core more than individuals who didn’t use one. A potential reason for this can be that the belt acts as an external reminder for the lifter to get ready and create tension. However, a belt is not necessary all the time, just when harder sets are performed.
Overall, using a belt properly and at the right time will not make your core weaker, and it will help you progress. If you want to find out more about when it is the right time to wear a belt, I recommend that you watch Allan Thrall’s video.
Note: This article does not provide medical advice and it is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any health problems or injuries address to a qualified medical professional (i.e. your doctor).
Standards about when to start wearing a lifting belt
As Allan Thrall said in his video, it’s really hard to impose general standards for when to start using a belt, because everyone has different starting points. Every individual has a different strength level, so it’s not accurate to impose the same numbers for everyone. There are beginners who can lift significantly more weight than others, therefore the numbers when they should start to use a belt are totally different.
The standards about the bodyweight (E.g. use a belt when you squat 1.5 times your bodyweight) are also not all the time accurate because some individuals weigh significantly more than others.
If you want to use a belt as a tool, you can simply start to use one when you hit a plateau without it, therefore you can continue to improve.
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The impact on your performance
It is true that increasing your 1RM (one rep max) without a belt will increase your 1RM with a belt. However, this is also true in the other way. Working on increasing your 1RM with a belt, will increase your 1RM without a belt as well, therefore it will not make you weaker from any perspective and it will not have a negative impact on your beltless training.
Even though there are people who can lift a tremendous amount of weight without a belt, this doesn’t mean that using a belt won’t increase your performance in the gym. For the majority of people, it will create a considerable difference, which varies between 5% and 15%.
At first, it may not look like a huge improvement, but when you take into consideration that most people are able to squat over 200 pounds, a 10% difference is 20 pounds. Another aspect to discuss is that all of us will hit a lot of plateaus in our lifting journey, therefore a 5%-15% improvement might seem too much to ask for when you have not progressed in months.
Indirectly, a lifting belt is also correlated with hypertrophy and your overall muscle mass. At first, we should clarify that a belt won’t magically add 5 pounds of muscle overnight or will make your calves bigger just because you wore it. It would be really nice, especially the last part.
Now let’s focus on how a belt can improve that aspect over time. One way to build more muscle mass is to increase the intensity of your workouts. This can be done in many ways, by adding weight, increasing the number of repetitions, reducing the rest time between sets, improving your form, performing paused or controlled repetitions and the list can continue. If we take a look at the first two (adding weight and repetitions), we can see the impact a belt has regarding hypertrophy.
Just by being able to lift more weight, or add a couple more repetitions per set because you are using a belt, the intensity of the workout is automatically increased. Over time, this whole process will lead to more muscle mass. You can find a lot of interesting studies regarding this topic in Greg Nucklos’s article, called The Belt Bible.