110618 The lifting belt part 4

110618 The lifting belt part 4

By Danny M. O’Dell, M.A., CSCS

Given the modern day propensity of wearing a lifting belt and its appearance on those who are exercising in the gyms and on FitTV, one would think that everyone should wear a belt at all times while participating in physical fitness activities. Those who began lifting in the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s would be hard pressed NOT to espouse their use because that is what they were led to believe. If by chance you started back in the 50’s, 60’s and late 90’s to present then the belt is a non issue and almost a totally unnecessary piece of gear. Some swear by it and others swear at it.

Counter considerations of belt use include the fact that people change their motor patterns when using a belt. These changes elevate the risk of injury in an athlete who is used to wearing one when NOT using a belt in training. The injury is generally more severe in these situations if a belt is worn.

Evidence suggests belts are adopted for use for one of the following three reasons:

  1. Peer pressure. They have seen others using them and assume that is the thing to do.
  2.  Their backs are getting sore and they believe a belt will alleviate the pain.
  3.  They desire to lift more weight and think the belt will add these additional pounds to their total.

Not one of these reasons is valid or consistent with the objective of better health. If a person wants to groove better lifting motor patterns that require a stable torso then it is better not to wear a belt. The answer in this case is to train the core musculature.

Curl ups, birddogs, arm and leg extensions, bridges in the supine, prone and side positions and back extensions provide sufficient muscle and motor pattern stress to accomplish this strengthening process in a safe and effective manner.

Additional information concerning belt use in athletes.

Biomechanical studies delving into spinal forces, load, range of motion and the purported Intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) have revealed that under repetitive motion lifting the lifting belt can increase the margin of safety. It was hypothesized that IAP was the protective mechanism at play. However there are other studies that have questioned the role that increased IAP has in the stabilization of and reduction in the low back load during such lifting.

An increase in the IAP required an additional activation of the abdominal wall musculature which resulted in an increase in the compressive load and not a decrease in the reduction of the load on the back. Even using the Valsalva maneuver increased the low back compressive load forces. The conclusions to these studies were the increase in the IAP from the lifting belt use showed either no effect or a larger impact of load on the spine.

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