I walked into a gym today and saw a really big fat guy with a huge gut put on a weight belt to do bicep curls and bench presses. I’m sure he thinks he’s helping keep himself, and unless he’s had serious back surgery he’s dead wrong. I’m here to tell you that weight belts are a waste of time and are probably doing you far more harm than good.
Weight Belts – Years ago, I almost bought a weight belt because my back would hurt while doing squats (even though I was probably only lifting a hundred pounds). Turns out, unless you’ve had a serious back injury, your lower back should only ‘hurt’ while doing squats if you do them wrong! If you do them correctly, you’ll be working the hell out of your legs and your lower back all at the same time. While wearing a weight belt, you’re depriving your body of using all of those tiny stabilizer muscles to keep the weight steady while raising it and lowering it. Sure, you might be able to lift more, but your lower back will have the strength of a 10 year-old girl. Not an ideal situation, especially if you have a 10 year old daughter for reference.
Now, when you lift weights without a belt, you have to recruit extra muscle fibers just to keep the weight steady. This is also why I’ll only recommend free weights instead of machines. Machines only let you lift in two directions, while free weights will use far more muscles to keep the weight steady. Stick with free weights, and no belt! Don’t believe me?
Stuart McGill, who has his PHD in back studies and back exercises, had this to say when it comes to weight belts:
- People without back problems don’t get any protective benefit from wearing a belt.
- If you’re injured while wearing one, your injury could be far more severe.
- Belts increase your blood pressure if they’re worn properly. Suck!
- Belts change your lifting styles, often screwing up your form in order to lift the weight. Not cool.
If you have lower back problems on squats, then your lower back isn’t strong enough to support the weight, even if your legs are. My recommendation? Decrease the weight, and really concentrate on strengthening your core before building up the weight on your squats. Instead of spending money on a weight belt, spend money on a single personal training session and make sure you’re performing all exercises with PERFECT FORM and you’ll be far better off in the long run.
Now, if you HAVE had lower back problems/surgery, I highly recommend getting a doctor recommendation and exercising with a trainer after getting better to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Gloves – People wear gloves to get a better grip on the weight bar, or because they don’t want calluses on their hands. Personally, I think calluses make you feel more like a bad ass, and I’m guessing the guys at “the Art of Manliness” would agree with me.
When you pick up a bar without gloves and you feel your grip start to slip (not from sweat, but from your strength going), it’s because you haven’t developed your hands and forearms enough. As you lift heavier weights and work out the rest of your body, your hands and forearms will develop right along with them. Here’s a great article about gloves and their ‘need.’
I’m a big advocate of keeping things as natural in the gym as possible. Stay away from machines, don’t add accessories to help you unless you absolutely need them. Stay away from weight belts, and wear gloves if you feel like you need them. You can get by without using either.