Back in 2006, when I was still a sprinter, I was diagnosed with inguinal hernia. A long 2 months waiting to be operated and another 3 months of rehab, without being able to run or lift. I had never been forced to stay away from training for so long. Thus those 5 months were easily one of the worst periods of my life. I was told it was a birth defect aggravated by my training, but I could not determine whether it was the sprinting or weightlifting which caused the rupture.
Since then, as a measure of precaution, wearing a training belt while lifting has been part and parcel of my gym sessions, on every set and every repetition, without fail. I have been literally scared to train without it as I had subconsciously convinced myself that lifting without a belt would lead to a relapse, something which I certainly didn’t want to go through again.
10 years later, a few chronic pains in my lower body (particularly around the front hips and hamstring tendons) led to figuring out that even though I have solid and visible abs, my core (the deep invisible front and side abdominal and lower back muscles) was weak in comparison. This was also confirmed through a postural assessment as part of my studies. While lifting, my abs were predominantly going overtime while the core was remaining idle, rather than taking the majority of the load. This is wrong.
Lack of core training was definitely not the cause of my problem. I regularly included core training in my program. Hence, by elimination I concluded that constantly training with a belt had made my core lazy. Once this became clear, I somehow built up courage and took a leap of faith, deciding to ditch the belt I have used religiously for so long. The first week I slightly dropped the weight load, in order to have more control and better listen to the inguinal (groin) area while lifting belt-less
It’s now been a good few weeks lifting without my belt and I can feel that core stability is on the mend. Furthermore, hip and hamstring pain have also diminished substantially. I actually still can’t believe I managed to get over the fear of lifting without it. In saying so, I will still use it whenever I go for very heavy lifts, say in the 1-5 maximum repetition region, which doesn’t happen too often.
In concluding this post my suggestion would be to limit training belt usage unless your sport or particular session requires lifting very heavy. Core strength is critical in injury prevention so do not let it become weak or lazy.
Furthermore, a friend of mine who has been powerlifting for many years suggested that when using a training belt in line with my recommendation above, you should leave a gap big enough that your hand easily fits between belt and stomach, which gap should be then filled by flexing your core entirely upon lifting. He further added that using the belt this way actually increases the efficiency of your core strength by providing a wall to push against. Too tight a belt means you no longer need to push as the belt will be doing the “work”. On the other hand, when you allow a bit of space that is then filled by expanding your entire core you not only get an incredible core workout but also greatly stabilise the spine.
To fitness with love,