NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Is Your Weight Belt Really Helping You?

GettyImages-993462726If you are like most people who enjoy lifting weights, you probably have worn a weight belt or own a cool one that helped you get that new squat max deadlift PR, But did you really NEED it? Most of the time we follow what we see others do, which is fine, but remember: everyone is different, and you could be slowing down your own progress by cinching that belt on extra tight every time you feel the need to go heavy.

What Exactly Is That Weight Belt for, Anyway?

A weightlifting belt serves to assist in creating more intra-abdominal pressure. The belt provides the lifter reinforcement when they breathe-brace or create pressure in the torso by exhaling and contracting the abdominal wall before externally loading the spine (picking up the weight). However, if the lifter does not breathe-brace, and instead tries to create pressure by tightening the belt too much and or bulges the abdominal wall out to touch the inner ring of the belt to feel secure, the abdominal pressure is significantly less, stability of the truck and spine is decreased, and now that weight belt is more of corset (a fashion statement) than a lifting tool.

Am I Saying You Should Stop Using a Weight Belt?

No. If you do not have trouble bracing and lifting without a belt up to 80 percent of your 1-rep max, you can stop reading. However, try testing your ability to breathe-brace first, before you determine your need for a weight belt. You can even put this breathe-brace activity into your warm-up to make sure everything is good to go.

The Breathe-Brace Test

Supine

  1. Lay flat on your back with legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your belly, and the other on your chest. Take about four deep breaths. The air can be inhaled through the nose and exhaled through the nose, or in through the nose and out the mouth through pursed lips. On each inhale, use your belly to make the hand on it rise as high as you can (hopefully higher than the hand on your chest). When you exhale, blow out as much air as you can while pulling your belly in tight (the belly hand should sink toward the floor).
  2. Once you have done four deep breaths, take one more, and this time when you exhale, as you blow the air out and the belly hand sinks toward the floor, contract your abdominals (you may even notice a tilting of your rib cage down toward your belly button) as you use your belly to push the air out. If you can stiffen your abs without bulging your belly out, you’ve got it!

Prone

  1. Lay flat on your belly with legs straight. You will need something soft to place under your belly (an ABMAT or folded towel) because it will replace your hand in this method.
  2. You can place your hands down at your sides, long above your head, or use them as a rest for your forehead.
  3. Similar to the supine method, take about four deep breaths. While inhaling, push your belly out to feel the mat underneath you. When you exhale, blow as much air out as you can by pulling your belly in tight away from the floor.
  4. Finally, take one more breath in. This time, as you blow out and pull your belly away from the mat, contract your abs. You may again notice your rib cage tilting down slightly toward your belly button.

This breathing method is encouraged by yoga enthusiasts, but is very effective in the weightlifting realm as well.

Once you have mastered the method on the ground, try doing it while standing. Then take it to the lifting platform or rack. You will notice over time you have more stability, and less spinal flexion and extension throughout heavy lifting, and you are now strengthening the muscles you need to brace and stabilize your spine before using a weight belt. Mastering your breathing and core control will make it easier to find the correct tightness on your weight belt when the time comes.

Don’t Use a Belt to Work Around a Problem

Lastly, we all should have the goal to move without assistance from any sort of crutch or brace, and a weight belt should not be used to work around a problem simply to lift heavy. Work on your breathe-brace skill, and you may only need your weight belt for those big-time lifts, and of course to show off occasionally!

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This blog was written by Keith Hopkins, MS, MA, CSCS, USAW. To read more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: equipment weight lifting weightlifting breathing heavy lifting

Get the Perfect Deadlift Setup Every Time

GettyImages-579405946With the sport of powerlifting taking off in the last couple of years, more and more people are taking up the sport as a hobby and to improve their overall fitness levels. Training to improve strength in the squat, bench, and deadlift is a great way to improve total body strength and improve body composition.

Some may argue that lifting heavy is unsafe and should be saved for the athletes. The common myth is that lifting heavy may lead to injuries. The movement most argued against is the deadlift. When performed too heavy with poor form, this may be true. However, when performed with the proper progressions, and the proper technique, the deadlift is the best total-body movement to improve strength, power, and body composition.

Why the Deadlift?

There are three main benefits to performing the barbell deadlift:

  • First off, it is a whole-body movement. The deadlift works multiple muscle groups at the same time, offering more bang for your buck compared to isolation exercises.
  • Secondly, the deadlift improves strength and stability. Because it is a compound exercise, working more than one joint, this lift can be performed with heavier loads, leading to greater increases in strength.
  • Lastly, deadlifts can help improve posture. The muscles used while maintaining a flat back in the deadlift are the same muscles that help with sitting and standing up straight. The deadlift strengthens these muscles, leading to improved posture over time.

Now that we have gone over the benefits, let’s talk technique.

The Deadlift Setup

Follow these steps:

  1. Foot position: With your feet hip-width apart, the barbell should be placed over the center of your foot. An easy way to get the best foot placement is to look down, and move forward and backward until your shoelaces are directly under the bar.
  2. Grip: Without bending your knees or moving the barbell, bend over and grip the bar right outside of your legs. It is important that you do not move the barbell.
  3. Shins to the bar: Once you have your grip established, bend your knees and bring your shins to the bar. Do not over-bend them and push the bar away from you.
  4. Chest up and back flat: Without dropping your hips any further, puff up your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together. By doing this, you will naturally flatten out your back.
  5. Drag: Take a big belly breath, hold it, and drag the bar up your shins. Keep your back muscles engaged and keep the bar close to your body the entire movement. When you let the bar get away from you, you have to compensate with your lower back, and this can lead to injury.

Keys to Success

Now that you have a safe setup, here are a couple of things to think about while performing the movement.

  1. On the last step of your setup, look out ahead of you. You do not want to overextend your neck, and you also do not want to be staring at the ground the entire time. Keeping your head in line with your spine will allow you to keep a neutral spine throughout the whole movement.
  2. When standing up with the barbell, your hips and shoulders should rise at the same time. If you allow your hips to come up first, the bar will get out in front of you, and like I mentioned earlier, you will have to compensate by pulling with your low back.
  3. Lastly, take a deep belly breath. A belly breath does not mean air all the way in your stomach, but what it does mean is filling your lungs all the way to the bottom to pressurize your core. A pressurized core equals engaged abdominals. When performing any lift, you want to create a solid core to help stay upright.
Watch the video below for the proper deadlift technique in action.

Screen Shot 2021-01-19 at 11.23.53 AMIf you are new to lifting and don’t know where to get started, come visit us at the Track Desk in the Fitness Center.

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This blog was written by Evan James, NIFS Exercise Physiologist EP-C, Health Fitness Instructor, and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: NIFS injury prevention weight lifting strength powerlifting deadlift total-body workouts heavy lifting