Why I wear a weight belt
I often wear a weightlifting belt in the gym for my heavy sets people often ask me what it is for. Sometimes I get them to try and guess the purpose of the thick piece of leather wrapped around my torso. Believe it or not, a lot of them think I have some sort of injury and it is to support it while some others think it is just to look cool. This is not the case. Infact far from it.
The reason I wear a belt is to improve the stability of my torso, specifically my back and therefore increase the amount that I can lift. For many people this is does not make sense at all so I have to explain to them. There is a bit of science behind the scenes.
Image putting weights on top of an empty cardboard box. You continue to place weights on the box until if collapsed. Next you put an inflated balloon inside the box and perform the same test. What happens? The box can take a lot more weight before collapsing. This is similar to the body. The balloon represents something called intra-abdominal pressure which is what a belt helps to build up.
By wearing a belt, powerlifter has something to push their abs against. At the same time they close their airways thus increasing pressure within the body like a balloon the previous example. With this metaphorical balloon inside the body, the torso is much more robust and stables. Force is transferred more effectively through the body and so more weight can be moved.
The process of holding the breath and pushing against the belt is called the Valsalva Manoeuvre. You can see professional powerlifters doing this when doing heavy lifts as they hold their breath and push against a closed airway.
There are a wide variety of weight lifting belts on the market and picking the right one means that it should last you at least of few years of abuse in the gym. Powerliftingbelts.org provides reviews of belts and important advice on selecting the right one.