Weightlifting belts have been around for a long time, but they have seemed to gain in popularity since more gyms are incorporating heavier lifting and CrossFit-style training into their models.
The purpose of using a belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure during heavy lifting to create stability in your core and help you increase power.
Sounds great, right?!
Well, it is until it isn’t. There is a time and a place for using a belt, and pregnancy, early postpartum, and if experiencing symptoms, it is not appropriate to use one.
During pregnancy, your core system is compromised from a tiny human growing inside of you- stretching and moving things around, along with the additional hormones result in changes in your posture, increased pressure on the core and pelvic floor, and more.
And postpartum, your body is trying to heal from some pretty drastic changes. If you feel like you need additional support to help stabilize your core, that should be a sign that your core system needs some love and you need to build a good foundation to really be able to improve your strength, BEFORE putting on a belt.
These are not times in your athleticism that you should create even more pressure on an already vulnerable system.
If experiencing any symptoms like incontinence (leaking), pelvic pain or discomfort, vaginal heaviness or a bulging feeling (i.e. prolapse), weak abdominals/diastasis recti, etc. that are not well-managed, I don’t recommend jumping into using a belt. As noted above, a belt is meant to increase intra-abdominal pressure which will add more stress to these already stressed areas.
Take the time to build a solid foundation first and progress strength GRADUALLY, without the help of any external tools or excess pressure (belts, breath holding, etc.).
Even if you “feel fine”, there are so many things going on internally that you can’t see or feel. And if you only go by feel or by “listening to your body,'' you could be putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
To progress back into using a belt:
Learn how to manage symptoms FIRST.
Master the basics and strategies that work for you.
Build up a solid foundation of strength.
Practice breath holding (without a belt first) with varying loads (starting with lighter loads).
THEN add in tools like belts and breath holds when progressing from lighter into heavier loads.
*If at any point you begin experiencing, or cannot manage symptoms well, slow down and take a step back.
Belts can offer good feedback for where you are distributing your breath. Think about trying to distribute your breath/pressure throughout your whole core rather than just down or forward. The breath doesn’t have to be a huge breath, it should just be well-balanced throughout the core.
Weightlifting belts are a tool. They are not an end all, be all piece of equipment, so they should only be used when necessary and when appropriate.
All of this takes time. A lot of time. And occasionally (okay, almost always), this progression will not be completely linear. There will likely be ups and downs, but that’s just part of the process. Trust the process and it will set you up so much better for long term function, strength, and performance.
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