When you look for waist trainers in the market, a majority of the merchants propagate the products’ ability to burn tummy fat. That is why they are also called waist slimmers. However, this claim is totally without scientific support. In fact, it is a false claim. The most ridiculous comment I’ve seen goes “since it does not breathe, the heat is trapped in between the belt and your waist which makes your fat melt in the form of sweat”. What?? You can melt down the fat by wearing some fabric around the area, like melting a cube of butter, and the fat will somehow transform into sweat? Like magic? If things are that easy, why do people bother suffering the pain and risk to do liposuction? If you still wonder why it doesn’t work like that, this article will be helpful.
So, what exactly are these waist trainers used for? How to use them correctly? This article will address these questions. Also, for the sake of clarity, from now on, we will change the term from waist trainer to gym belt, waistband, workout belt, weight belt, weightlifting belt, lifting belt, deadlift belt or something along the line.
What Exactly do Gym Belts Do?
Although opinions on the effect of gym belts vary, those who argue that wearing gym belts is beneficial state that wearing one increases rectus abdominis activity, intra-abdominal pressure during lifting, especially when breath is held, i.e. Valsalva maneuver (check out how to breath during different types of exercise), torso stability and improves lifting safety. That is, gym belts help stabilize the torso and improve lifting safety INDIRECTLY.
Isometric Chest Press
To better understand this, imagine doing an isometric chest press. You will find the muscles on your right arm engage more when the left arm pushes harder. Your right arm does so in order to counterbalance the left arm. While wearing a belt when weightlifting, the abdominal muscles acts as the right arm, and the gym belt acts as the left arm. During weightlifting, especially squats, deadlift and heavy rows, we want to always keep our back straight. The problem is, the heavier the weights, the more difficult to keep our torso in a neutral position. Hyperextension of the lower back may occur if the abs are not contracting enough, which in turn may exert more compression on the spine and discs. Wearing a gym belt in this case provides a supporting point for engaging abdominal muscles to contract more, prevents back hyperextension, thus maintains the neutral position of the torso during heavy lifting.
Another study found that lumbar belts may also help a gradual re-exposure to physical work activities by reducing phycological effects like pain and fear of pain in subjects with low back pain.
However, gym belts as assistive items should never replace proper lifting technique. If your lifting technique is incorrect, and your muscles are not strong enough to hold the weights, using a gym belt won’t help you anyway.
When to Wear a Gym Belt?
Since gyms belts stabilize the torso and improve lifting safety by doing the tricks mentioned above, it is suggested that they are used only in certain occasions. These include heavy weightlifting when the core plays the main role in supporting and stabilizing the body, like squats, deadlift, heavy rows etc. Industrial use has also been suggested.
How to define “heavy”? One article recommends using a belt once you can squat your body weight and deadlift 1.5 times your body weight, while one study used weight as little as 40% maximum. Although there are different opinions on when to use a gym belt, agreement is easier to be reached on when NOT to wear one. You don’t need to wear a gym belt when you are doing yoga, cycling or dancing. You also don’t need one when you just start the weightlifting regimen, in which learning how to activate and engage the core muscles is the priority, not loading a lot of weight.
Wearing a weightlifting belt outside of weightlifting can result in stomach issues. One study shows that waist belt compression increased acid reflux following a meal in patients with esophagitis or Barrett’s esophagus.
How Long Should One Wear a Gym Belt?
Based on what we’ve discussed earlier, one should not wear a gym belt for too long. Take it off when its job is done, i.e. when you finish lifting heavy weights. Definitely not wear one for an extended period. Wear waist trainer to bed? DO NOT DO IT!
Which Type of Belts Should I Use?
Although there are a lot of choices in the market, in this article we are going to categorize them into two types: elastic and leather belt.
Personally, I prefer the elastic belts, and here are the reasons why I won’t choose leather belts:
- If you are a vegetarian or vegan, leather belts probably won’t be the choice.
- Leather belts are hard and heavy, which can provide stronger support, yet dig into the skin easily and limit mobility, while elastic belts won’t dig in, allow more range of motion and even provide cushioning.
- Leather belts although may last longer, require more maintenance work, while elastic belts can be hand washed or machine washed.
- Leather belts tend to be more expensive.
- Based on what is listed above, leather belts may be overkill for recreational weightlifters.
In addition, one study showed that elastic belts reduced torso movements and spinal load.
So, there you go, gym belts don’t burn fat like melting a cube of butter. ( Want to get Halle Berry's "Ripped Abs"? Check this out! ) A gym belt can stabilize your torso and improve lifting safety indirectly by engaging and activating more of your abs, which may as well have a minor effect in toning and slimming your core muscles, but it’s not a quick fix for sure. The golden rule for having a beautiful body shape is to have a healthy diet and keep exercising. Wearing a gym belt during cardio is unnecessary and definitely don’t wear one to bed!
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 Brett, “Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt When You Lift?”, Art of Manliness.com, June 16, 2017 Last updated: June 15, 2019.
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