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Weight Belts Fit Few Strength Exercises

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It's the accessory that continues to be popular among those who strength-train at health clubs.

But typical exercisers may be using a weight-training belt at times when they don't need one, according to a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

In a survey of 352 people at a fitness facility in Rochester, Minn., Mayo Clinic researchers observed how people used weight-training belts and why they used them.

The researchers found that most people who wore a weight-training belt did so believing the accessory would prevent injuries, including hernia. About 22 percent wore a belt because they believed it would help them lift more weight.

There are few studies that show that weight-training belts may make it safer to lift heavy loads, the researchers pointed out. But there aren't enough studies to justify recommending belts for lifting weight below a person's maximum load.

Weight-training belt users said they used them most frequently for exercises such as squats, dead lifts, shoulder presses, bent-over rows and bench presses. The belt's use for the first four exercises is understandable because people assume that those exercises stress the trunk.

But a belt isn't necessary for a bench press. Nor is it necessary for biceps curls, dumbbell flies and leg presses.

Still, 32 percent of belt users said they used them for all free weight and machine exercises, no matter how much weight they were lifting.

One person used the belt during cardio exercise.

It was apparent to the researchers that some people used a weight-training belt even when they didn't really need it.

So when is it appropriate to wear a belt? The National Strength and Conditioning Association, or NSCA, recommends wearing a belt only when you're lifting a load close to or at your maximum.

What's more important than wearing a belt is understanding proper form and knowing your limits. When using a belt, never assume that the belt will keep you from getting injured if you lift a much heavier weight.

It's essential to learn proper form, and you can't get that just from watching others or asking another exerciser for instruction.

To learn proper form, hire a personal fitness trainer certified by a reputable organization such as the NSCA, American Council on Exercise or American College of Sports Medicine, to teach you the basics for several sessions. If you prefer to learn on your own, there are a number of decent books on the topic. One is "The Men's Health Home Workout Bible," by Lou Schuler and Michael Mejia (Rodale, $19.95).

As for the weight-training belt, it sometimes seems less a fitness device and more the modern-day equivalent of the centuries-old corset. The wide belts are especially effective at cinching the waist and hiding a few of the belly's extra pounds, giving the illusion of a better physique.


(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to


(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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