The weightlifting belt is a commonly used device at the gym; but are you using it properly?
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the best reason to use a weightlifting belt is to increase intra-abdominal pressure and encourage muscle activation to improve lumbar spine stability during heavy weightlifting.
The belt should act as an external support for your own natural core, rather than replace it. This is why the belief of using the belt for preventing hernias and other injuries, or to magically make you lift more weight are actually just myths!
When you squat the trunk should work as a hard and stable bridge that should not collapse in the force transmission from your legs to your arms. To achieve that stability you need to hold your breath and tighten/contract the muscles in your core; This will increase the intra-abdominal pressure and create a close rigid and stable box that will hold your spine safely. This is commonly known as bracing!
The use of the weightlifting belt enhances the natural bracing, giving more proprioception (stimulus) to contract the core muscles, because it will never replace it. Most people incorrectly over tighten the weightlifting belt to feel “supported”, however leaving the belt a bit looser will allow the lifter to inhale a full breath, and from there be able to push with their abs and ribs, feeling the pressure in the front, sides and back of the belt.
Also, you should really be using a belt during heavy power lifting at or above 80 percent of your one-repetition maximum. There’s really no need to use it otherwise, and you are better off engaging your muscles more naturally without the belt, at a lower and more manageable weight.
As I mentioned before, the weightlifting belt will not prevent injuries and the over-reliance on lifting belts can weaken the core musculature by replacing their role during heavy lifting.
Work on your core strengthening, improve your technique and just use the belt for the heaviest of lifts!!