There is so much confusion about when to use weight belts. When should you use them? Do they make your waist bigger? Do they make your waist smaller? Do they help make your core strong? Weak?
Lets try to get to the bottom of this shall we? Roll up your sleeves, this is going to get messy.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
Weight belts are used for all types of things by all types of people, most people don’t really need to be using one. Often they are given to manual laborers in a hope that they protect the lower back. The belief is they provide support. That the company they work for will avoid workman comp cases if they require employees to wear weight belts. So the question is how does it protect the lower back? To examine this lets look at the weight belts origins…
In the Beginning
ok, not that far back, but back when olympic lifting was all the rage, before bodybuilding and powerlifting we had weight belts. When an olympic level athlete was flinging huge amounts of weight from the ground to over their head with ballistic speed for one rep thats when weight belts were called for. Thats the same thing as moving 30 pound boxes all day right? No, no it isn’t.
Is there any science to back this up? Kind of. It has been determined through scientific research two things: the belt when tight increases intra abdominal pressure, this pushes on the spine from the inside. This in theory stabilizes it. It also activates the lower back muscles more, but doesn’t activate the other abdominal muscles. This will be relevant later. So the theory is that if you have the belt on then you’re stronger and safer.
The counter argument is that since you’re relying on the belt then the core gets weaker over time.
The consensus among experts is for powerlifting and olympic lifting you only wear your belt tight on sets where you’re using 90% of your 1 rep max or more. now bodybuilding is a different story…
Belts for Bodybuilding
In bodybuilding the goal used to be to look like a god. To have mass and conditioning for the purpose of enhancing symmetry and thus aesthetics. The key to symmetry and aesthetics is the X frame. The key to the X frame is a narrow waist. So whats the key to a narrow wasit? I was at the arnold and talked to a few legends about it. I asked Charles Glass (who trained Flex wheeler, Chris Cormier, Kai Green and a plethora of others), Dennis James (Trainer of Dennis Wolf, and Big Ramy), And Neil Hill (trainer of Flex Lewis) about what they thought about decreasing waist size.
Charles Glass and Dennis James felt wearing a belt was critical for keeping the waist from getting bigger, but that it may not decrease the waist size, only fat loss is guaranteed to do that.
Neil Hill had a more detailed answer. We actually spoke for 45 minutes about arm training, Flex’s dry out for the Arnold classic, and their strategy how Flex would pose down against David Henry. Most of this was based on one major difference: David has one of the best midsections in bodybuilding, better than any mens physique athlete. While Flex has a wider waist. Neil’s expert opinion was that this is do to their frames. Flex has a wider frame and thus can hold more mass, hence why he is so much bigger than David Henry. Neil said that its mostly genetics and you really cant decrease waist size except through dieting. But that wearing a belt was critical for safety on heavier lifts. To corroborate the scientific evidence, Neil attested to something I noticed; that lower backs seem to get more of a pump WITH a belt. The scientific data showed through electromyogram that the lumbar muscles activate more with a belt.
Here Is My Conclusion
From my scholarly searches and interviewing some of the worlds greatest trainers. The arnold classic used to be called the “Pro World Championship” so the trainers of the winners would by definition be the worlds greatest trainers, and Flex and Dennis won.
Wear a belt for your heavy set. Leg and back exercises can increase your waist size if the weight is so heavy you can’t get 8 reps. For example If I deadlift sets of 6 from the floor its my obliques and lower back that are sore. This means I’m growing them. Thats bad. Same goes for deep squatting. If you have to do that, go so heavy you cant get 10 reps, wear a belt to force you to engage your transverse abdominus muscle. that way your waist will be less likely to get bigger. Wearing a belt throughout your workout helps you keep your trans abs contracted for an extended period of time. Normally one would let them go because its uncomfortable to keep them tight if you’re not used to it. but with a tight belt its MORE uncomfortable to relax them because the leather digs into your skin. Like a pincer collar for a dog. Many of the top bikini coaches have their women wearing squeems. Squeems and weight belts are similar to girdles/corsets in the idea they force the trans abs to stay tight.
I’ve done it both ways and this is my secret I used for the North American to make my waist as small as possible: I used a squeem, then put the belt over it at the navel level and wore that under my clothes for 3 months, every day for hours. each month I drilled a new set of holes into the belt to make it tighter. Both work, and together work even better.