I'm often asked about when and how to use belts and wraps. While there are different schools of thought on the benefits of supportive gear, let's attack the subject from a fresh perspective. First off, I've seen people walking into the gym with their belts already fastened tight, as if they're about to get under the bar for their second attempt at their all-time best squat. But if they weren't outside lifting cars, then the belt should be in the bag. On the flip side, I also see guys who aren't using belts at all, due to either pride or a simple lack of knowledge, when it's clearly necessary for their safety to be wearing one (like on their second attempt at their personal best).
So where's the balance? When should you really use belts and wraps?
A False Positive
>> If you're a beginner, keep the belt and wraps in your gym bag, at least for a while. It's more important to focus on strengthening the target muscle as well as your abs, core, joints, ligaments and tendons. Not only that, but you need to strengthen your confidence, which is often clouded by the need to have a belt on or your knees wrapped before you think your body can handle the weight. The more you use supportive equipment when lifting submaximal weights, the more dependent on such gear youÂll become, ultimately weakening your overall progress.
>> If you're an advanced lifter who's guilty of overusing belts and wraps, the first thing you should do (after losing the gear) is to decrease the amount of weight you're lifting by about 20%. In other words, if you normally deadlift 350 pounds with a belt and wraps for 10 reps, then reduce that weight by 70 pounds and train without the support. If you fail to get 10 reps or you feel vulnerable without the tools, reduce the weight even more. In fact, 20% won't be enough of a drop for some of you since you begin your entire workout all wrapped up.
For both the beginner who's new to bodybuilding and the advanced lifter who's trying to retrain his body, focus on this one basic aspect: proper technique with a full range of motion. You must get your body used to going through each lift without a crutch so you can strengthen your joints and overall musculature.
In other words, you want to train your body to be able to handle as much as it safely can before needing the next level of support. Then, at the appropriate time, just when your natural protective abilities would fall short, you use a belt and wraps to protect what's already strong. Trust me, it won't be long till you're doing reps with weight you couldn't, or rather wouldn't, touch without a belt or wraps.
With All That Said
Don't burn your belt just yet, because there is a time to use supportive equipment. When our bodies are incapable of providing the necessary support structure or system, such as the intra-abdominal pressure necessary for, say, a 1RM squat, then it's absolutely recommended and necessary to wear a belt. Why is it okay to use gear with super-heavy weight? Because doing so is imperative for safety and success on the lift, and using it in this instance won't cause you to depend on it when you're lifting submaximal weight.