Could you provide me with the pros and cons of weight belts?
Without digging into the research (just yet), intuitively ponder upon the following questions:
- Why were weight belts invented and for whom were they invented?
- Did you ever see a great power-lifter use a weight belt on light sets?
- Are you a power lifter? Is your client a power lifter?
- Should we rely on outside assistance, seeing as it is not always there in every day life?
- What happens to our postural stabilizers if we fail to use them?
- Are we training for function when we use an artificial means of stability (weight belts)?
- Could weight belts create DYSFUNCTION in the deep abdominal wall?
- Why are many Home Depot employees injuring their backs at home? Why at home and not on the job? Could it be that they are forced to wear belts while on the job?
To understand the pros and cons of weight belts, some background is needed on the area in which the belt is applied: the abdomen. The abdomen is virtually incompressible. When the trunk muscles in the region activate, primarily the transversus abdominis, pressure is generated within the abdominal cavity, which pushes the viscera up, down and back toward the spine. This force helps to maintain the relationships between the thorax, abdomen and pelvis. This pressure also increases the tension in the thoracodorsal fascia, which tightens the fascia in a belt-like fashion. Recent research has shown the transversus abdominis to be a primary stabilizer of the lumbar spine. This "column" of myofascial support is much more substantial than what the spine alone can offer.
You'll note that the increased stability in the trunk is created via human musculature, not by an artificial weight belt. It is true that weight training belts have been shown to increase intra-abdominal pressure by giving the abdominal muscles something to push up against. However, such pressure can also be increased without a weight training belt, just by utilizing your own muscles to create stability. It is logical to refer to a weight belt as an external force that assists the human weight belt (your muscles!) in stabilization. If you rely on the belt's force during lifting, you will end up causing muscle deficits. If you don’t use it, you lose it!
If your client is accustomed to wearing a weight belt and has relied on the belt's external support, the abdominal muscles that produce intra-abdominal pressure most likely have not received adequate stimulus for optimum development. Therefore, it is risky to immediately perform loaded movements without proper progression due to possible weak links in the abdominal musculature. Thus, slowly wean your client off of using the belt while improving core strength. Eventually, the body will learn to function as a whole.
Belt-less sets allow your own internal weight belt to receive sufficient stimulus during a properly executed exercise. This training should come first and foremost with all individuals. Understand that a belt is NOT necessary for safe performance. In fact, it was never designed for that purpose. If anyone tells you otherwise, he probably lacks an understanding of functional anatomy (not to be confused with topographical anatomy) and/or does not understand what functional training really is! Therefore, the only pro to wearing a weight belt is if you are a power-lifter in need of additional intra-abdominal pressure to off set the extreme load, which is being introduced into the body. The cons... they seem to be quite apparent!