Answered by on Monday, October 5, 2009
While many serious lifters use weight belts because they increase intra-thoracic (also known as intra-abdominal) pressure and therefore allow them to lift more weight, certain experts believe that prêt-à-porter weight belts right off the rack do little to bolster your back. "The only way for the belts to work—mechanically speaking—would be if they were very stiff and custom-made and essentially covered the entire area from the pelvis to the ribs," says John Chaffin, Ph.D., professor of ergonomics at the Center for Ergonomics at the University of Michigan. "It's a great leap of faith to believe that the soft, pliable belts currently on the market will do much to reduce back stress." Lyn Jones, national coaching director for USA Weightlifting at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, calls the belts "essentially cosmetic" and recommends instead that you develop your own musculature around the waist. That means: If you have a superstiff, customized weight belt, use it for heavy lifting, like squats, power cleans and dead lifts—and not for the lighter part of your weight routine. "When you wear a belt during exercises like lat pull-downs, chest presses, and leg curls, you're safeguarding your lumbar spine musculature and your abdominal wall from stresses," says Mark Occipinti, president of American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA). "Without the stress, these muscles actually weaken, thereby increasing your risk for injury when you're not at the gym." To build more muscle stability in your lower back, do exercises such as bent-over rows; for abdominal strength, do crunches.