There are definitely benefits to using a weightlifting belt:
- Increased awareness or proprioception of the core by having something to press against
- Can help to increase the pressure in the abdomen to support the spine during maximally loaded movements
- Even the psychological benefit of the feeling of something supporting you
In this way, the belt can be used as a great tool.
The trouble comes when we start "needing" and create dependency on the belt to complete sub-maximal movements in strength training, or to use the belt to mask weakness, discomfort or pain.
If this is you, but you love lifting weights so much and putting on a belt takes the pain away and "allows you" to workout, I think you'll love lifting weights a whole lot more when you can trust your body to support itself and you can more pain-free. A weightlifting belt should not be doing the bracing work for you. This is a vicious cycle that is very hard to get out of, unless we put the belt away for a little while.
The recovery process begins with awareness. Can you differential bringing a breath into your upper lungs to raise your chest, or to your lower lungs to fill your belly? What does it feel like to "brace", or create tension in the muscles of the abdomen (including the diaphragm and pelvic floor)? Can you create an active brace while having a conversation or going for a walk? We need to be able to brace our abdomens without load before we can expect it to create support with load.
It's not sexy. It's not exciting or entertaining. But being able to harness the natural strength and support of your core to perform all of your movements in the gym, your body will show you strength and capacity you've never seen before.
Use your belt as a tool, not a crutch. Stay tuned for Part 2! Happy moving :).