Weight belts are a pretty common gym accessory, especially among the young male crowd. Used mainly for movements that involve bending over (which, technically, should be a hinge, anyway…), their purpose—as touted in the magazines and by the conventional wisdom—is to help you “lift more weight.” And...yeah, that's kind of true.
I have two main issues with weight belts: first and foremost, they are often a misguided “trick” to get you lifting more weight; second (kind of piggybacking off the first), they shift the goal from “what can I make my body do?” to “what can I do with this weight in my hands?”
To say that belts help you lift more weight is misleading. What they technically do is create a tight band around your midsection (a la a corset and just as tight) to stabilize your lower back and protect your spine. They do not allow you to lift more weight by way of making you stronger; they do so by creating strength and stability in a place you cannot create it on your own.
This mechanical protection allows you to lift more weight more times without the muscles of your lower back being the limiting factor.
But...is it worth it?
In the context of lifting for sport or purely to up your 1RM (1 Rep Max), the answer is yeah, for sure. But in the context of a strength training program geared at building muscle, losing fat, and increasing overall health and functionality, I’d argue that the answer is not at all.
When you move against some form of resistance, your body adapts to the stress in order to make sure the same task repeated isn’t as difficult (meaning you get stronger). But if you rely on a piece of equipment to help you move through certain exercises, the strength gains you’ll elicit will be disproportionate to each other. Why’s that an issue? Well, when you have to apply that strength in another context, of course.
Even if you only wear a belt to continue on after the muscles of the lower back have fatigued and not necessarily the whole time, you are still setting yourself up for some disproportionate strength gains (not to mention possibly grooving some atrocious movement patterns).
The Altered Goal
Remember: the point of lifting weights is not to move a weight from point A to point B; the point is to move your body through a specific range of motion. But when you start adding things like weight belts into the mix, the goal automatically becomes moving the weight (because why else would you do it?). In no other context will the skills you learn by using a weight belt apply.
In the case of weight belts, the goal makes the issue. If your goal is to become a stronger, more capable person, they really have no place in your workouts. There is no judgment here, more just a heads up before you decide to use (or continue to use) a weight belt. Think about your context, think about your goals. Will a weight belt really help you? Like...really?