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 Strength Training: The Purpose and Appropriateness of Weightlifting Belts  
 
Gregory Welch L. MS, ATC ©

Potential Hazards of Improper Usage
The use of both weightlifting belts and immobilizing lumbar braces must be observed in terms of their appropriateness. The fact that there are benefits to wearing these devices tends to create the perception that they should be worn at all times, during any lifting activity. This is a myth that will only lead to decreased performance and potential injury.

For instance, the significant increase in IAP and thus the resulting benefit, has been shown to be with heavier lifts of the 90% maximum (1RM) condition. (12) Although during a set of higher repetitions (10 RM) it is reported that while only 61% of the 1 RM is utilized (22) , a possible significant effect of increasing IAP may be considered a cumulative benefit if the last few repetitions are close to failure. (13,17) It would be easy to surmise from this information that wearing the weight belt at all times would be the best insurance policy.

However, electromyographic activity of the stabilizing musculature is reduced when a weight belt is worn which could lead to atrophy of the postural muscle groups. (12,16,23) Injury potential is obviously higher in muscle tissue that is devoid of the optimal training stimulus.

Furthermore, lumbar support devices that increase IAP must be tightened to be effective. High IAP, however, may impede blood flow back to the heart (12) as well as significantly raise blood pressure. (24) Wearing a weight belt at all times would certainly appear contraindicated when all the criteria are examined.

Recomendations
There has been a great deal of information cited above regarding lumbar support devices. From these references the appropriate use of a weight belt or back brace should first be determined based on the person's objective. The corset-style back brace is commonly used for immobilization due to an injury. These are not directly associated with the concept of stabilization by increasing IAP and therefore could possibly be worn for an extended period. Anyone wishing, however, to use a brace of this type should consult their physician for specific direction. Individuals who are free from acute or chronic lower back pain may choose a lumbar support device in order to prevent injury as well as assist their own musculature for maximal strength enhancement. In the gym environment the weightlifting belt should not be worn at all times. The belt should only be utilized for exercises that involve the spinal erectors against high resistance i.e. squat and deadlift. (21) The belt should be loosened after every set and the individual should breathe between every repetition.

With proper training progression a person should eventually wean themselves off of the weight belt (21) and utilize the support device when intensities reach 80% of the person's 1 RM unless a set of multiple repetitions is performed to failure. (12) It is imperative, however, that training at lower intensities continue without the weightbelt. This will help ensure the natural stabilization and production of IAP (11).

In the industrial setting, the use of lumbar devices is controversial. Requiring a lumbar support device to be worn while on the job can actually be more of a hindrance than a help unless a training program be included. The training program should include proper technique as well as an exercise prescription for conditioning the body's natural stabilization mechanism.

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