Yesterday, we began a series on the benefits/drawbacks of using various pieces of lifting gear in CrossFit and briefly discussed the pros/cons of wearing Oly shoes in both strength and MetCon workouts. Today's focus: weightlifting belts. Many of you have experience using weight belts for heavier squats or in last week's 1rm deadlift workout and found it to be helpful in terms of the amount or ease with which you are able to move. However, like our discussion of Oly shoes and chalk before it, excessive use of weightlifting belts during strength or MetCon workouts can act as a crutch to your development of abdominal strength. At its core, the purpose of a weightlifting belt is to provide a ring of resistance against which your abdominals brace themselves during a movement. While it is true that the tighter the belt is fastened, the greater the intraabdominal pressure, weightlifting belts should actually be set one notch below as tight as possible so the athlete's core strength is not entirely reliant on the belt. Over the long run, however, if a weightlifting belt is constantly used whenever squats, deadlifts, or other movements arise, you abdominal and/or low back strength can resultingly lag behind your other muscle groups.
One way to assess the strength differential afforded by the weightlifting belt is to compare your 1, 3, or 5rm of a given movement with and without a weight belt. For my own part, I relied heavily on the weight belt to help me achieve many of my PRs for a number of years. However, I eventually came to the determination that I was more interested in knowing what my body and my body alone was capable of, rather than the work of the piece of leather around my waist. This is not at all to say that the weight belt doesn't play a role, especially for those of you with low back issues. But maybe, just maybe, there is sometimes more to gain from going without.