Athletes who regularly wear a belt will cite that its helps them lift with better technique and keep their back safe. Does a belt really provide that much additional help when performing squats? And if so, does it need to be used all the time or just with maximum attempts?
A weightlifting belt provides additional stability (creating stability in your lower back is all about breathing and bracing) for your lower back. It does so by aiding your midline muscles.
When we attempt to squat or lift a heavy barbell, we need to take a big breath and brace our trunk muscles so that the weight on the bar does not bend us in two. Doing so amplifies the pressure inside our abdominal cavity. If you breathe correctly during a heavy squat you will feel your stomach pull in and push out rather than your chest rise and fall.
Think of your abdominal cavity like a balloon. As you blow air into the balloon, it expands. If you place some light stretchy tape around the balloon and try to blow air into it again, it won’t expand as much. The tape acts like the muscles that surround our core. Because the balloon can no longer expand in size, the pressure inside the balloon goes up.
However, what if you now place some hard duct tape around the balloon and try to blow air into it again. By restricting the expansion of the balloon to a greater degree than with the stretchy tape alone, the pressure inside the balloon rises even more! This is what happens when we wear a belt.
In order to properly use a belt, you must breathe “into the belt”. If you only wear it tightly around your waist, you miss out on the potential of the brace. Always think about expanding your abdominals into the belt and then bracing against it.
That being said, by using a belt ALL the time, the body can start to rely on the passive support the belt supplies. You’re essentially weakening your core by relying on the belt as a crutch. Therefore, learning how to brace and create stability on your own with lighter weight should be the first priority of all lifters.
Original article courtesy of Squat University