Bodybuilders wear weightlifting belts when lifting insane amounts of weight over their heads. But young athletes who emulate these macho men and women risk injury. Wearing a weightlifting belt increases the risk because trunk muscles become disproportionally underdeveloped. Training without a weightlifting belt is the way to properly train core muscles for strength, stability and power.
Bodybuilders wear belts to provide extra stabilization for their cores and ensure proper form while they perform amazing feats of strength. A young athlete seeing this might naturally think he or she should also wear a belt during workouts. In reality, Olympic weightlifters are training for a one-rep max, while most young athletes are training to compete in sports that require sustained athleticism [strength, speed, endurance] over an entire game. An athlete who wears a weightlifting belt is transferring part of the workload to the belt—work that should be done by the core.
The core muscles—rectus abdominis, internal/external obliques, transverse abdominis, etc.—form the epicenter of all movement and power transfers from the lower body to the upper body. Training those muscles improves an athlete’s ability to perform amazing feats on the court or field.
Allowing your core muscles to remain dormant during a workout puts you at risk of injury. Training the core not only improves performance, it also decreases the risk of injury to the trunk. It’s essential for athletes to use their natural “weightlifting belts”—their cores—when performing multi-joint exercises like the Deadlift and Clean & Jerk, so improvements in the weight room will be transferred to performance gains on the field or court.
If you’re experiencing difficulty lifting weight during a workout, don’t strap on a belt. Instead, lower the weight, engage your core and use proper form. Wait until you can comfortably complete three to four sets of six to 10 reps before gradually increasing the weight. Training this way will allow you to properly develop your core muscles instead of injuring yourself trying to be a superhero.