How to Accessorize with a Belt. For Lifting Heavy Weights.
There is a little mystique and tribal knowledge regarding using a belt with respect to lifting weights. Most often, it’s improperly used. Don’t be that guy/gal. Read this.
First, a weightlifting belt does not hold your back straight or in place. At least not without your help. I’m using the generic term weightlifting belt, which can apply to any belt placed across the abdominals to provide back support.
Before we dig in to how it works, we need a primer on the relevant anatomy. If you’re not a nerd like me, just skip to the recommendations:
The spinal region between the bottom of your rib cage and hip bone is called the lumbar spine. Unlike the upper back (thoracic/ribcage region), the lumbar does not do well with flexion (curling forward), especially under load. When someone ‘throws a disc’, it’s generally the lumbar spine or the sacral-lumbar joint. The small muscles along the spine, known generically as back extensors, aid in holding the 'neutral' position. Note, these extensors do not do well moving the back into neutral position, they primarily work to hold it in that position. This is why it is important to lock them down before you add the load. In addition, there are a network of intertwined abdominal muscles that wrap the soft fleshy bits of your stomach and intestines. When the muscles are constricted, this force acts as both a platform for the upper body (think of your ribcage sitting on a flattened steel coil) and re-acts force back to the lumbar vertebrae.
So now that we know we need tension in the middle (intra-abdominal pressure), how do we get it?
You can create intra-abdominal pressure without a belt. It involves proper breathing and bracing or flexing the right muscles. The technique is called the Valsalva maneuver. Before we get in to that, it’s important to note that a prerequisite to lifting anything heavy, is the ability to take a deep diaphragmatic breath. I repeat, this is a prerequisite to lifting anything. How do you know if you’re doing it correctly?
1. Lay on your back, knees bent and everything relaxed. Place one hand on your stomach, and one on your rib cage.
2. Take a deep breath through your nose (through the nose is important).
3. When relaxed, you should feel your stomach rise naturally. It’s not a forced movement (pushing abs out).
4. The stomach should crank down as you exhale forcefully. Exhale through your mouth as if you were blowing up a balloon.
That is a diaphragmatic breath. If you can’t do that, as some people can’t, go see your local yogi or PT.
Now that we’ve meet the minimum requirement, we need to learn how to create pressure in that region around the lumbar spine (instra-abdominal pressure). My favorite drill as of late is the 90-90 breathing drill. There are tons of videos out there, but here is my favorite. A couple of things to note:
1. The abs are not relaxed. On your exhale, you tighten them as if you’re doing a hollow rock. Your next belly breath is against these tight abs. If you do it right, the abs will rise slightly and you’ll feel the muscles in your back “fill with air”. It’s strange, but you should feel it.
2. When you tilt the hips slightly (tucking your tail), you’ll notice you can take a much deeper breath. This is because your pelvic floor and diaphragm are lined up.
3. Your rib cage should dip slightly on your exhale (think hollow). If you’re doing this right, on your next deep breath, you should feel your chest rise slightly. This is because your abs are cranked, the air pushes up and fills the lungs.
Ok enough science. Here are some recommendations.
* Practice deep breathing through the nose. With all your big lifts, you should be breathing through your nose. You can do this at home so people don’t make fun of you.
* Use a thin jump stretch band tied around your stomach. Just under your rib cage. Set up for your lifts (deadlift, press, squat, etc) by taking those deep diaphragmatic breaths. You should feel slight pressure as your abs push in to the belt. You should feel pressure all around your core if you’re doing it right.
* Use the band for all lighter lifts until you don’t need to think about breathing anymore.
* Use a weightlifting belt for weights above 90% 1RM. Most people will tend to reach for it earlier, but we need to learn to brace and strengthen the core before we test it with maximal loads. If you need a belt to maintain a natural position at 80%, it’s not going to do much at 100% 1RM.
* Tighten the belt, but don’t crank it down. Remember, it’s only acting as a brace for your breath, not as a cast for your core. When you set up, take the same deep breath. This should feel like someone is giving you a bear hug around the mid-section. Only then, are you ready to lift.
Post by Coach Marcos U.
5x5x5x5x5 (add weight or use the smallest band to make these the most challenging)
25 Air Squats (FB 20 Pistols - 10 each leg)
Hollow Rocks (Mx 10, Rx 15, FB 20)
10 Hang Power Cleans (Mx 115/75, Rx 135/95, FB 165/115)