The topic of weight belts and lifting shoes is a popular one at CrossFit Elevation. I had my own opinion on weight belts until I started digging up some information. Weight belts, when worn correctly improve intra abdominal pressure by increasing the contractile force of your abdominal muscles. When you are about to perform a squat, for instance, the first thing we teach our athletes is known as the Valsalva maneuver. This is the name for the practice of holding the breath against a closed glottis while pressure is applied to the abdominal and thoracic muscles. The Valsalva maneuver is not necessarily hard to learn. We are hard wired to do it naturally. Think about our ancestors millions of years ago. They had to push and pull very heavy objects as part of their daily routine. In doing so, they taught our central nervous system how to breathe under a load. Understanding the use of intra abdominal pressure, we can see how squatting heavy weight is not just about the legs. We need a stable platform for the weight to rest on, and therefore be acted upon with the force we produce with our legs. Sure the legs are the prime movers, but everything from the waist up is just as important.
It is this principle that makes the belt increase abdominal muscular strength. This is where my lack of understanding has changed. I felt that chronically lifting with a belt would create a "crutch" and hinder the development of core muscles, when in fact it is quite the opposite.
A properly designed belt is the same width, usually 4 inches, all the way around. Belts that taper in the front and are much wider in the back, are missing the point. There must be equal reinforcement for the abdominals as there is for the back. The size of the belt depends on the person. A person with a short torso might need a smaller belt to fit between their ribs and hips.
Using a belt correctly takes practice. The belt should be placed around your natural waist, a little higher than where your pants sit. The right amount of tension is a matter of preference. This does not mean to tighten it as much as you possibly can. It is possible to tighten it too much and impede your own muscular contraction. After some time of using a belt you will know what works for you.
Personally, I am going to start using a belt much more than I have. I used to save it for one rep maxes and days I felt off. I will not use it for the entire lifting process. I will go without during the warm up sets and put it on when I get close to the working weight. This will enable me to get a feel of the lift, and then I can have one set with the belt, and start my working sets fully aware of what to expect.
After everything I have written, I will say that wearing a weight belt is a preference. There are plenty of people who have moved serious weight with one. However, as your strength improves and the weight increases it might be a safe decision.
For a much more detailed write up on weight belts, Justin Lascek from 70's Big does a real nice job.
Tabata Handstand Hold
10 min AMRAP
*EMOM 1 Wall Walk
ps. I'll discuss shoes tomorrow