Trunk Training: Is it time to put the belt away?
The human body moves through an array of movement planes and patterns; the dominant three being frontal, sagittal and transverse. In short, these planes of movement allow us to hinge, squat, pull, push, lunge and rotate. A simple day to day activity such as walking up stairs through to an intense resistance training regime places consistent stress on our overall trunk and midline stability. Training our trunk has thus become so vital to the world of fitness and there continues to be an ongoing debate over the additional use of weightlifting belts within a training programme.
The use of belts is commonplace worldwide and their benefits are utilised amongst many gym goers. When advertised, many lifting belt brands claim to enable people to ‘lift more’ and in a ‘safer manner’. Whilst many argue this is true, it is crucial to understand how this is the case and the mechanisms at play during belted training.
Why do people use belts?
A stable core or the term intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) has been coined to define the rigidity and pressure generated within our trunk column that is formed through the combination of diaphragmatic breathing and intra-muscular pressure exerted by the erector spinae as well as other deeper abdominal muscles. Overall torso, pelvic and trunk stability is effectively attained through the intricate relationship of all these various mechanisms within the abdominal cavity.
By wearing a belt, we can attain higher levels of IAP whilst performing movements such as deadlifts or squats, which in turn can increase our loads as well as significantly reduce spinal loading. This increase in IAP is ultimately caused by a moment generated by the belt rather than by the factors mentioned in the previous paragraph.
With this in mind, why should we be wary of using a belt when it has been proven to improve such mechanisms?
If we look at the novice lifter, there are an endless amount of training stimuli introduced when they first begin lifting weights. The ability to maintain a neutral pelvic and spine position ensures the novice lifter trains themselves in such a way that promotes transferrable skills and movement patterns into their daily life. This training stimulus is vital for weaker abdominal muscles to attain so that just like any other muscle, they strengthen and become conditioned to manage load.
The immediate use of a belt in training may inhibit this crucial stage of motor learning and interrupt the correct recruitment patterns necessary for lifting with a safe posture. If you have achieved these things, then a belt is without a doubt one of the most useful tools that allows an individual to lift heavier and for more reps without compromising one’s ability to achieve a stable core before putting more weight onto a bar.
Another debate that has arisen with the use of belts is wearing one consistently throughout an entire gym session as a means of ‘training’ our abs by keeping them ‘tight’ or ‘contracted’. To put this debate to bed, yes, contracting your abdominals in the same way that you would contract your bicep can produce a greater looking mid-section.
However, some of the greatest physique athletes have shown that in order to truly develop your mid-section, diaphragm and abdominal control is what defines your ‘look’. Your diaphragm is meant to contract as this produces distension of the midsection. The diaphragm is also meant to stretch, often referred to as a ‘vacuum’ of the midsection.
Wearing a belt for an entire hour inhibits the diaphragms contractile strength and range as well as the ability of the deep core muscles to also contract and relax. Whilst reducing range or performing partial-reps is often utilised in gym routines, when it comes to the abdominals, it is far more productive to allow the diaphragm and deeper muscles to fully stretch and contract.
With all the above in mind, wearing a belt is down to you.
It is important to understand why they were first introduced and the mechanism by which it achieves greater stability but can in the same vein reduce it longer term. We strongly promote for our clients, whichever side of the fence you are on, to implement some basic trunk training into your daily gym sessions.
Next time you have 5 minutes to spare, try to complete the following trunk training exercises at the end of your gym session:
30s for each exercise, cycle through one after the other and repeat 2-3 times:
- Loaded front plank
- Side plank lateral flexion
- Supine hollow hold
- Loaded goblet carry
Happy lifting, and stay tuned for more exercises and routines that we will be releasing to truly bulletproof your core.