Spinal Stability and Belts

Bumping for Belts

            As a coach and personal trainer, I always get asked if a belt is beneficial. “Aren’t they going to hurt their back?” It’s a valid question. However, there are so many other factors to take into consideration when you ask if someone should be wearing a belt.

            First and foremost, we must understand what the core is, what it does, and how a belt enhances this effect. I like to think of the core musculature as an apple. In this case, the core of the apple is the spinal column (thoracic and lumbar), the stem is the cervical spine, and all the good part that we eat is the musculature of the human core. This musculature surrounds and protects the spinal column. While the cervical spine moves about freely unprotected by the core. When we actively brace/activate all of this musculature, we tighten around the spinal column. This tightening of the musculature stabilizes the spine allowing us to move freely while not allowing for any shearing forces on the spinal column. Using a belt allows us to push against an external force, which in turns activates more of said musculature leading to a more stabilized spinal column.           

Secondly, the leading cause of injury is poor lifting technique. You can’t slap a belt on someone that deadlifts with a flexed lumbar spine and say it’s all safe now because they have a belt on. Unless their lumbar spinal flexion is a result of inactivated core musculature that is somehow reawakened by the use of a belt. If you’re worried about injury, take a look at the lifters’ technique, then you can be worried about injury. You can’t sugar coat a turd and call it candy.

            Third, we have to look at goals. What does the client wish to achieve by performing this movement? If it is to put as much weight on the bar as we possibly can, and a belt makes us feel stronger, then put a damn belt on and let that be that. But if the goal is to just feel good, be better at a certain sport, or increase their unenhanced core strength, then most likely a belt is not necessary or even beneficial.

            The best example I have of clients that should not use a belt, unless they are attempting a max effort lift, are professional wrestlers. Working with professional wrestlers, I get a lot of responses like “I need to save my back” and “My back takes enough beating in the ring”. Clearly they are arguing in favor of using a belt. However I always respond with, “ will you be wearing your belt when you’re taking bumps?” The answer is always no. So, I always explain that perhaps it is best to train without the belt and learn how to properly recruit your core musculature without the belt. If you can learn to recruit your core musculature all on your own, and then strengthen it through core movements, doesn’t it just make sense that you will better be able to brace for bumps? You will have so much more spinal stability that it drastically takes away the chance of a back injury from standard bumps.

How do we do this? It is actually very easy. We go over a few breathing techniques (diaphragmatic breathing) and they learn how to use this as their own personal belt.  From there on out their wrestling and lifting careers will forever be the better.

Andrew Shoemaker