In this article I will aim to answer from my own experience questions such as ‘what are the benefits of using a weightlifting belt?’ and ‘how tight should a weightlifting belt be?‘
Weightlifting belts have been a source of hot debate in the strength training world for many years. Some swear by them and will never lift without one, while others believe that they inhibit the body’s ability to produce intra-abdominal pressure (IAP).
I’ve always been on the fence when it comes to belts because I feel like there’s not much scientific evidence to support that they actually help. However, this debate has largely been one-sided and, as such, I’ve seen people using belts incorrectly and I feel like it’s important for coaches and athletes alike to understand the pros and cons of weightlifting belts so we can use them effectively.
What is a Weightlifting Belt?
A weightlifting belt is a wide strap of material that wraps around the front of a lifter’s abdominals and lower back. It provides support for those areas during heavy lifts, which can help prevent injuries from occurring as well as make those big lifts feel easier. Many belts are made from leather or canvas, though some manufacturers have begun to create belts made from Kevlar and other synthetic materials.
A Brief History:
Weightlifting belts date back to at least the early 1900s and were used by both lifters and non-lifters alike. Back then, they were more commonly called weight lifting braces, powerlifting belts, or abdominal guards, but nowadays most people just refer to them as weightlifting belts.
What’s the Difference Between Lifting Belts?
Weightlifting belts are all designed to provide the same general benefits—they offer support for your lower back and abdominals so you can lift heavier weights, thus making you stronger in the process. However, it’s important to understand that not all belts are created equal. For example, belts that are 4″ wide provide more back support than a 2″ belt does, but they also require you to lift with “flatter” hips in order to utilize the full surface area of the belt.
How do Weightlifting Belts Work?
Belts work by increasing intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which, scientifically speaking, is just the amount of air you have in your lungs and the space within your torso. The idea behind a belt is that it pushes out on your belly/lower back to create a pressure around those areas that helps stabilize the spine and increase its ability to transfer force from the hips through to the upper body.
How to Use a Weightlifting Belt:
The most important thing to remember when using a belt is that it should ONLY be used on heavy sets (sets of 4-6 reps or heavier). This means that you shouldn’t wear your belt while doing exercises like overhead presses, push-ups, bicep curls, and other assistance work. Doing this can actually negate many of the benefits offered by a belt and it may lead to over-reliance on the belt later on down the road.
How Tight Should A Weightlifting Belt Be?
When you’re ready to use your belt, put it on and tighten it so there’s about an inch between the buckle and your belly button. That will give you a nice tight fit so you can take advantage of the increased pressure it provides. It should feel pretty similar to the tightness of a good pair of shoes.
What are the Benefits of Weightlifting Belts?
There are 3 main benefits that come from using a weightlifting belt:
- 1. Helps prevent spine injuries – When combined with proper technique and good form, belts help to decrease stress on your lower back and spine during big lifts like squats, deadlifts, and overhead/military pressing. This is particularly useful for individuals with pre-existing injuries or those that are prone to them (myself included).
- Increases performance – Nothing makes a heavy lift feel quite like having an extra 20-30 pounds strapped around your waist! Belts allow a lifter to produce more force by providing support for the abs and lower back. They can also help a lifter maintain better form due to the increased pressure around their midsection, which is particularly helpful during heavy sets of squats or deadlifts when there’s a tendency to want to “bounce” out of the bottom position.
- Increases safety – As a big strong guy, I can personally attest to the fact that using a belt saves my ass more times than I can count. It’s not uncommon for me to want to go extra heavy with something like squats and end up thinking, “I’m sure as hell not going try this without my belt today.”
Who Can Use Weightlifting Belts?
Pretty much anybody can use a weightlifting belt, but it’s important that you understand when to use one and when not to. In the end, that decision will be up to you and your discretion, but here are some general guidelines:
- Beginners – If you’re just starting out with lifting weights, you may want to hold off on using a belt until you get the hang of things and know what it feels like to perform your exercises with proper form.
- Intermediates – Once you’ve been lifting weights for a while and have built up some strength and experience, start experimenting with belts in your workouts. Don’t just wear one when you’re going heavy though – you want to hone the skill of using a belt on every set, not just the heavy ones.
- Advanced – by this point, most lifters will wear their belts on every working set and only take them off for assistance work or when they know they won’t need one (like during band-assisted exercises). If you’re an advanced lifter and you’re not using a belt, you’re probably just being stubborn.
Who Shouldn’t Use Weightlifting Belts?
I wouldn’t recommend that anybody use a weightlifting belt unless they’ve been specifically instructed to do so by their doctor or physical therapist. Using one if you don’t need it places additional stress on your spine, which can lead to injury. Nobody wants that!
It’s not uncommon for new lifters to think that using a belt will “make them look cool” or give them some sort of unfair advantage over the guy next to them in the gym, but neither of those things is true. Sure you might get an ego boost from using it when you’re a beginner, but the only people that will look at you twice are other beginners who don’t know any better.
Does a weightlifting belt help with back pain?
Using a weightlifting belt can help to decrease stress on your lower back and spine during heavy lifts like squats and deadlifts. I’d recommend trying one out for yourself to see how much of a difference it makes (if any) before making up your mind about them.
What Kinds of Belts Are There and What Is the Best Type?
There’s quite a wide variety of belts available to weightlifters these days, ranging from $20 no-name belts found in Wal-Mart to $200+ belts from companies like Inzer, Titan, and Eleiko.
When choosing a belt it’s important to keep 3 things in mind:
- Purpose – Some belts are designed for Olympic weightlifting/powerlifting while others are good for general everyday use.
- Material – The most common types of materials are leather, suede, and canvas.
- Price – Overkill is never a bad thing when it comes to fitness equipment, so don’t be afraid to spend more than you were planning on if that’s what it takes to find the belt that best suits your needs!
My Personal Picks?
For most people, I’d recommend starting out with a small weightlifting belt like the $55 Rogue Ohio Lifting Belt. It’s high quality and will most likely handle anything you can dish out, so if you happen to compete in powerlifting or weightlifting at some point it shouldn’t be a problem.
If that doesn’t fit your budget, there are plenty of similar alternatives to be found, such as the $30 Harbinger Polypropylene Weightlifting Belt . This is a perfectly acceptable belt for most lifters provided you’re not going to be having it loaded down with thousands of pounds on a regular basis.
As far as competition belts go, if I was buying one today I’d probably get something like this $160 Titan Men’s Powerlifting Competition Belt . It has great reviews and is the right size for the average person.
If you’re looking for something to wear during everyday use, I’d look into getting a belt like this $50 Rip Toned Weight Lifting Belt – 4 inch wide – 10 mm Thick – Suede Leather – Built in Metal Roller Buckle . This belt is designed to take the pressure off of your lower back during squats, deadlifts, etc. while still giving you support when you need it.
If you’re looking for other opinions on belts or want to know more about what’s out there or how to use a belt in a workout program, check out these links:
How To Use A Weightlifting Belt – This is an article that I wrote for my old website. It’s a bit more “old school” than the stuff I normally write about, so it might be worth checking out if you’re looking for some opinions of weightlifting belts from people who’ve been training longer than me.
Does a weightlifting belt weaken your core? –
Using a belt doesn’t do anything negative to your core except give you something stable to push against.
Of course, it’s not a substitute for training your abs with slow and correct form, but you don’t have to worry about using one as a beginner.
As you get more advanced, however, it’s something that you can play around with to see how much belt usage helps your lifts.
You can’t go wrong using a belt for heavy squats and deadlifts, but you might find that it’s of no benefit during some other exercises.
Conclusion – Do I need to wear a weightlifting belt?
There is nothing inherently harmful about not wearing a belt, so if you don’t want to use one at first but think you’ll be ready for one, later on, don’t feel like you’re missing out.
You should also keep in mind that some people get really wrapped up in belt usage these days to the point where they simply rely on their belt for every exercise they do (not just Squats and Deadlifts).
There are lots of exercises out there that can be improved with the use of a belt, but there are plenty that don’t require one.
Belts can be useful tools for strength training, but they’re not magic and will not make everything perfect.
Everything has its place; be sure you understand how to use one appropriately before relying on it too much.