Belts have been used in weightlifting, construction, military, and even by the local stock boy. In all but the weightlifting, belts are used to take pressure off the lower back and allow a person to relieve tension in their lower back. The weightlifting belt however, is used to create intra-abdominal pressure allowing the lifter to life more. Intra-abdominal pressure is created using your diaphragm to inflate/tense so your diaphragm expands and creates tension within your core i.e. transverse abdominis and the lower back. It is a skill that can be taught as seen within the martial arts utilizing the same skill to create tension.
All strength and power comes from the core as it is the center of mass of your body and attaches all your limbs together physically as well as neurologically. Tension is created by the neurological system by signaling the muscle fibers to activate. The more fibers that are activated, the more tension/strength that is produced. Which means you can pick up heavier stuff.
The belt helps teach this skill of forming the intra-abdominal pressure by giving your body a reactionary force for feedback. To learn, we have a stimulus and response. The longer for the response to happen there is more static thus making it harder for our brains and bodies to learn. Without a belt, the response for setting an intra-abdominal breathe is all intrinsic and takes a lot of self-awareness to feel. With the belt, you get an immediate feedback as the belt presses back into your core. You’re going to learn faster because it is immediate feedback. Just as when you were a kid putting your hand on a hot stove. You get instant feedback that it is hot and you learn not to do that again
Olympians, powerlifters, and strongmen utilise this technique during lifts to create more tension in their core which radiates through their body, making them stronger. Another advantage it give them is it stabilises the spine and for many of the exercises they are doing, puts them at a mechanical advantage during that lift. Even though the technique of intra-abdominal pressure can and should be used on all lifts, the belt and technique help most with hip hinge movements like cleans, snatches, and deadlifts and squat movements.
Belts, although a great teaching tool, should be used with caution. Becoming too reliant on the tool will make it become a crutch. Once it has taught you the skill of intra-abdominal pressure, it should be used sparingly for heavy attempts and max efforts. Don’t get caught in the web of using it make it through a workout. Use it as a tool that can improve performance and not a fix all like duct tape. Train without it so that you can use lighter weight to hone your movements and techniques. Then when you are ready to compete allow the belt to enhance your perfected movements and techniques.
When choosing a belt, it should be leather. Leather allows for fine adjustments with a powerful buckle that won’t come undone during a lift. The material creates a powerful counter-force to the force pressing against it. Velcro is a no go because they allow too much adjustment that, more often than not, will be tightened too tight. It is better to have space that you have to fill versus making the belt tighter. They also have the possibility of coming undone because of the attachment site of Velcro is not as strong as a buckle. The Harbringer Padded Leather Belt is an excellent leather belt with two varieties, the 4 and 6 inch, depending on the coverage on the lower back. It is dependent on how big you are to determine which one but it should cover the majority of the lower back and be able to fit comfortably. They can be found on wickedfitness.com.au.
Remember to always use proper form when conducting any lift and allow the belt to enhance your performance. Don’t use it to just move heavier weight than your body is ready for. Learn proper techniques and have optimal movement before using a belt to improve your capabilities in a lift.