When I hear people hurt their back while lifting weights or working out, often that can be chalked up to you working hard and the body is telling you to back off before you push again. This give and take with your body is how you make gains in you weightlifting or fitness training. You essentially break the body down, then feed it the right nutrients to recover, and it grows stronger and you can handle heavier loads and/ or more volume. The key is learning how to PROPERLY do the movements.
However, when I hear of chronic back injuries, even from people that have good form, I immediately think of mid-line stability issues, core strength issues,……whatever you want to call it. Some people put on a weight belt, thinking it will help. But that does not fix the issue, UNLESS you learn to use the weight belt properly.
Too often, people try to create a strong tight core by taking a huge breath, which raises the chest, and sucks in the gut. This causes the midsection to actually become smaller, exposes the spine in the lower back, and makes you more susceptible to injury.
Look a the picture below. Phillip, who usually has a pretty flat stomach, was caught on camera using his weight belt in proper manner. He is trying to create as much mass as possible in his core and push against the weight belt:
You must learn to fill your stomach with a ton of air while pushing your abs OUT, expanding them against your belt. This is a “gut breath” (as opposed to a “chest breath”). Do NOT pull your belly button inward! The cue we like to use at The Compound is to inhale and “create a belly after a Thanksgiving feast” before descending into the squat. You are acting as if you’re trying to break your belt with your stomach. Then, you want to hold your air during the entire rep, exhaling slightly only if you have to. This technique will not only stabilize your spine by increasing the intra-abdominal pressure, it will enable you to lift more weight and feel more stable.
How to Wear The Belt
The belt should fit around the small of your back, with the buckle covering your lower abdominals. It should be worn fairly low, but should not get jammed in the crease of your hip when squatting or deadlifting. Because you’ll be expanding your abs into the belt during the lift, you’ll want to wear it one notch looser than all the way tight. It’s really important to push your abs out to get the pressure, not tighten the belt as much as possible.
You will want to practice this. Start by trying to take that “gut breath” at the top of a squat rep. Try to accentuate it by attempting to press you belling into your thighs at the bottom of the squat as well. Don’t take another breath to to this, just try to maintain the expansion. This can be done on ever squat you do, including the Air Squats you do in your warm up.
After that, it can be added to any lift you do; Deadlifts, Cleans and Snatches, expanding the belly on the floor. Shoulder, Push, Bench Presses, etc, etc, etc. And when you get the breathing down,, it can still be done to protect your back and increase stability without the weight belt.