When, Why, and How You Should Wear a Weightlifting Belt

Weightlifting belts are a common practice across most strength, power, and functional fitness sports. Whether in competition and/or training, lifters are seen belting up while squatting, cleaning, deadlifting, carrying, and sometimes even snatching.

In this article, we will cover a great deal of information regarding weightlifting belts and how to start incorporating them into your training:

  • Why You Should Master Beltless Training Before Wearing a Belt?
  • Why Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
  • How to Choose a Weightlifitng Belt Based on Your Goals
  • Why Weightlifting Belt Thickness Matters
  • How Tight Should Your Weightlifting Belt Be?
  • How Do You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
  • Proper Breathing and Bracing Technique

Why You Should Learn to Lift Beltless Before Wearing a Belt

Personally, I feel many lifters rely too much on belts in their training, neglecting their bodies natural ability to create and harness intra-abdominal pressure (I have been guilty of this too). However, in the event a lifter is competing, such as in powerlifting or weightlifting (clean and jerk, as many coaches and athletes do not prefer snatching in belts), the implementation of a weightlifting belt can significantly increase one’s performance provided they have taken the time to develop sound bracing and breathing mechanics while training beltless.

Additionally, if a lifter is concerned about the spinal integrity of a lift due to previous injury, a belt may be a good option, however one could also question why they are training with a load in which they are not fully confident in their abilities in the first place (let’s save this one for another day…).

That said, for normal training days with loads under 85% of RM or so, I often recommend training belt-less so that the bracing and breathing capacities can be developed and strengthened. Lifting belt-less will also demand athletes to become more aware of creating maximal tension in their setups and execution of a lift. Generally speaking, I recommend using a belt when maximal strength, power, and/or loading above 85% of RM is the primary focus.

How to Brace While Wearing a Belt

Whether a lifter chooses to use a belt or not, they need to learn to develop proper bracing and breathing mechanics for submaximal and maximal lifting attempts. Without proper bracing and breathing abilities, a belt will serve only as a band-aid rather than an effective supplemental training tool. In the video below, Chris Duffin discusses the finer points of abdominal bracing and breathing.

Why Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt? 

A weightlifting belt can be used as a tool to increase intra-abdominal pressure and to aid a lifter in stabilizing the spine during lifts (1). Much like a lifter bracing correctly, a lifting belt can add additional support in such events that require maximal rigidity and tension in the torso. It is important to note that a weightlifting belt does not replace or protect against poor technique and improper bracing during a lift, and each of those should be at the foundation of both beltless and with a belt training.

Choosing the Right Weightlifting Belt for Your Goals?

Choosing the right weightlifting belt for you based on your goals, sport-specific movements, and regulations (for some organizations and sports, see below) is important, as lifting in a weightlifting belt that is too rigid, too thick, or not a sanctioned belt can make a significant impact on maximal strength and power performance. Below we have listed various types of strength and power athletes who would benefit from using weightlifting belts at various times of the training cycle, with additional general weightlifting belt recommendations for each type of athlete as well.

Strongman 

Strongman athletes often may vary weightlifting belts based on the specific event/movements performed. The sport of strongman requires an athlete to not only be strong, such as in the deadlift or overhead pressing events, but also to be strong while moving, such as in events like carries, stone lifts, and throws. For events that require less movement, some athletes may opt for a belt that is thicker, less pliable, and can offer slightly more support. For more strength and movement-based events, some lifters may want a more pliable yet still supportive weightlifting belt option.

Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a sport in which maximal strength is tested using the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Unlike Olympic weightlifting and Strongman, the need for a more pliable weightlifting belt is decreased as the ranges of motion are often less. Due to that distinct difference of the sporting movements (squat, bench, and deadlift vs snatch and clean and jerk), weightlifting belts used in powerlifting tend to be thicker, sometimes wider, and more rigid.

Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifters need a combination of both a strong and rigid belt to aid in heavy lifts, but also belts that are more pliable and less thick than those found in powerlifting. Due to the increased ranges of hip flexion and mobility needed in the snatch and clean, some lifters may want to opt for a more supportive nylon belt. Some lifters who prefer a more rigid leather belt, which can provide some added rigidity and movement can find leather belts with a more tapered belt design.

General Fitness and Weight Training

For general weight training and fitness, belt training may actually not be necessary unless you are experimenting with more maximal effort training. Too often beginners and intermediate lifters use weightlifting belts as a crutch, developing poor bracing and breathing techniques under load and creating a dependency on a belt. This can result in a false sense of rigidity and support which could leave a less experience lifter (meaning they do not know how to properly brace and breathe) push themselves towards potential injury.

To reiterate the importance of NOT wearing weightlifting belts for general training, one study concluded that a large majority of the study’s articipants who wore belts did so for the protective purposes, rather than to increase performance (2). This is a critical as they also concluded that many of the individuals wearing belts (aged 20-72 in this study, which surveyed 300+ members at a health and fitness center) wore weightlifter belts at times when they should not have been (meaning, they should have learned how to lift, breathe, and brace properly).

If you are someone, however, who has mastered breathing and bracing without a belt, has spent a good amount of time lifting with heavier loads beltless (read more about the benefits of beltless training), but is looking for a good “starter” weightlifting belt (without breaking the bank), check out the Harbinger 4″ Nylon weightlifting Belt.

Why Weightlifting Belt Thickness Matters

Weightlifting belts come in all shapes and sizes, materials, and thicknesses. Two main aspects when looking at thickness of a weightlifting belt is to determine the correct amount of belt needed and/or allowed by your governing body in your respective sport. Thickness of a belt refers to how thick the belt is from the aerial view, while the width refers to how “tall” the belt is on your torso.

Often, a thicker belt will offer more rigidity of the spine, which could be beneficial for heavier, less dynamic lifts, such as squats and deadlifts. In turn, a very thick and rigid belt may interfere with more dynamic lifts like the clean and jerk. The width of a belt should be fit to an individual’s torso, with it resting over the abdominals and lower back, still allowing movement of the upper torso. If the belt is too wide or too skinny, a lifter may get pinching and/or rubbing of the skin, which can affect maximal comfortable during a lift. Coaches and athletes should experiment with a wide array of weightlifting belts to determine what width and thickness is ideal for their situation.

How Tight Should Your Weightlifting Belt Be?

Generally speaking, a lifter should tighten the belt so that they are not able to stick their hand between the belt and the skin, yet loose enough to allow for abdominal bracing and expansion. In the event a lifter wears the belt too tight, it may impede their ability to brace their abdominals and limit breathing, which can weaken the training effect of a belt. Conversely, if worn too loose, the belt may move around and/or off not enough support, negating why it was used in the first place.

How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt

Positioning of the belt can be a highly personal subject. Generally speaking, a lifter should place the belt so that is covers the majority of the abdominals and erectors, typically an inch or two above the pelvis, to allow for maximal intra-abdominal pressure, which is the key benefit of wearing a weightlifting belt (3). If worn too low, the belt may cause discomfort while rubbing on the iliac crest (top of the pelvis), and if too high can create pinching and pressure in the lower abdomen. The key is to be able to fully contract and expand the abdominals, obliques, and erectors as if pushing out against the belt in order to create maximal intra-abdominal pressure and support.

Final Words

Lifting belts can be an effective training tool for powerlifters, weightlifters, and fitness athletes if and only if beltless bracing and breathing abilities have been developed. Coaches and athletes should build a stronger core stability base, confidence, and perfect movement without the usage of belts in training so that when a lifter does use a belt during near-maximal or maximal lift attempts he/she will be able to harness the true potential of training with a belt, rather than over-relying on a belt for rigidity and support.

References

  1. Miyamoto, K., Iinuma, N., Maeda, M., Wada, E., & Shimizu, K. (1999). Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intramuscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Clinical Biomechanics, 14(2), 79-87. doi:10.1016/s0268-0033(98)00070-9
  2. Finnie, S. B., Wheeldon, T. J., Hensrud, D. D., Dahm, D. L., & Smith, J. (2003). Weight Lifting Belt Use Patterns Among a Population of Health Club Members. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 17(3), 498-502. doi:10.1519/00124278-200308000-00012
  3. Lander, J., Simonton, R., & Giacobbe, J. (1990). The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 22(1), 117-126. Retrieved October 18, 2018.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.