We all know we’re supposed to lift with our legs and not our backs, but sometimes it just can’t be helped. And all it takes is just one back injury to have you praying to whatever higher power there may be to take the pain away. No wonder so many guys are quick to buy back braces or weight lifting belts following an injury. And to some extent, you’re being appropriately cautious. Back braces and belts do indeed offer additional support for back muscles and help lessen the chance of a sudden pull or strain. However, in the quest of easy prevention, that same safety gear may actually be setting you up for future injuries.
The more work a brace does, the less work your body is doing. It’s a good thing if you’re moving refrigerators on a daily basis, but a bad thing if you can’t dead lift 40 pounds without a belt. Over time, your back, abs, obliques (a.k.a. your core) begin to rely on the brace or belt instead of your own strength to stabilize your body and the weight you’re trying to lift, hold or carry. The best long-term solution is to engage in routine core strength workouts that include both your back and your abs (hint: they work together to prevent injury). When you do lift an object, engage your strongest, most stable muscle groups first then work to include others only as needed. So, that means, make sure you have a strong, steady grip; then crouch in a squatting or single-knee kneeling position and stand up slowly while holding the object you need to lift. Stretch often to maintain flexibility. And if you have doubts about your ability to lift a certain weight or object, always err on the side of caution and ask for help, a dolly, or a spot. The exceptions, of course, are those situations in which you will be doing a great deal of heavy lifting in a short period of time or you will be lifting or moving objects far heavier than you normally do. In these cases, braces and belts are recommended to prevent overstrain and prevent damage that can occur when muscles become overworked or overtired.