For readers who are highly interested in forming an educated opinion on the topic of wearing weight belts during lifting, I encourage the reading of several pieces of excellent work on the topic:
- Paul Chek’s 3-part series on TNation titled How to be Back Strong and Beltless (Click HERE for part I, HERE for part II, and HERE for part III)
- Dr. Mel Siff’s response to Paul Chek’s articles (Click HERE for his response to part I, HERE for his response to part II)
- Dr. Stu McGill’s invited review for the NSCA titled On the Use of Weight Belts (Click HERE to read it)
Having read each of these documents, examined a handful of the studies referenced in these documents, and perhaps of most importance, experimented thoroughly with weight belts during squatting, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Mel Siff:
…if you are going to use a belt or straps, then just do so intelligently and selectively! Note that I am not stating that one cannot lift successfully and safely without a belt or that one cannot develop a very strong trunk without using a belt – I am simply stressing that sometimes it may be appropriate or useful to astutely use a belt in a given situation. What I oppose is any blanket or “allness” statement which creates another item of dogma in the strength training world.
I believe that powerlifters should learn how to push their abs out against the belt when squatting a la Louie Simmons, that belts should only be used for top sets, and that raw beltless strength should be prioritized throughout dedicated portions of training throughout the year. Belts should not be used for entire workouts or for all exercises that involve bending.
The effects of belts is highly dependent on the individual – some lifters rely more on them for back stability and confidence than others, whereas some lifters find that they don’t help much. Some lifters gain 50+ pounds on their squats when wearing them, and there are some who are unfamiliar with using belts who get nothing out of them.
Many lifters find belts to interfere with deadlifting mechanics and should therefore avoid their use in this situation. Finally, belt-wearing should be incorporated for those who prioritize powerlifting strength over everything. A majority of general athletes and commercial gym-goers should avoid wearing them as this population is typically more concerned with developing power and hypertrophy, respectively. HERE is an article on how to wear the belt.