I know you’ve been to a big-box store or a grocery store where you have seen an employee wearing a back brace. You know the one; it is strapped across the low back, it might have suspenders, it’s marketed as lumbar support. These back braces are worn to provide compression and support on a (probably) already painful low back. …it looks something like this:
This big-box employee wears his brace because he HAS to work, but is in terrible pain on the regular. He hauls boxes, picks things up, puts things on shelves, pushes carts, and mops floors with horrible mechanics (and to be fair, no one ever taught this poor guy how to actually MOVE or stand.) Perhaps his back feels better now, as he’s applying pressure to the area that is painful (his lumbar spine), but he isn’t addressing his underlying problems. He isn’t doing anything to strengthen his back, reclaim good range of motion or improve his mechanics (but that’s a post for another day…) He probably is just relaxing on into that belt, day-in, day-out and relying on that pressure.
So, back to you and your new box-stalker-rogue-PR-I-gotta-have-it weight belt.
It is NOT a back brace, nor should it be worn as one.
Why do we wear weight belts?
When you prepare for a big lift and you take that big deep breath, you expand your lungs and diaphragm and can essentially brace against your rib cage. Since your abdomen is just squishy (read: there is nothing structurally to “press out against”, tightening a thick belt around that area provides a kind of “rib cage” for your abdomen. You can brace AGAINST your belt. This is an ACTIVE process, where you are using the belt as an aid, not relying on it solely. With a belt we can create a rigid torso and a strong platform from which to squat or deadlift from.
Where should I wear my weight belt?
Your weight belt should be worn in the space between the bottom of your rib cage, and the top of your hips. Your weight belt should cut your belly in half. Your belt should not be sitting on your sacrum, or slung low across your hips.
How tight should my weight belt be?
Almost uncomfortable tight. You should not be able to wear it around the gym ALL class at the tension you use when you deadlift or squat. Sure, you can keep it on your body, but you should be in the habit of tightening your belt right before a lift and immediately loosening it after the lift. You should want to loosen it right after your lift.
When should I use my weight belt?
As a general rule, a weight belt should come into play around 80% of your max. If you are going for a max, a weight belt is generally a good idea. If you’re working at low percentages or doing a metcon with light barbell work, you probably don’t need it. Back to the idea of a back brace; we shouldn’t wear our belts all day, e’ry day cause we can actually rely on them TOO much and be worse-off for it. You need to learn to develop the ability to brace your torso without an external aid. Come see me if you want to learn!
Will I look attractive and slim in my weight belt?
I know what you’re thinking…but don’t worry. It’s ok. Everyone looks like that in their belt.
Hit big weights. Take it off right away.
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— Coach Laura