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 offer a lifter some key pointers on how to select, wear, and use weightlifting belts throughout their training. Additionally, we will discuss why a lifter will benefit from training beltless prior to using a belt, and why neglecting one’s beltless abilities could result in a weaken training effect while using a weightlifting belt.
Why You Should Learn to Lift Beltless
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.
Why Use 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. 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 Thickness
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 It 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.
Determine the Positioning on the Torso
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. 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.
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.
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.
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