Are you in the market for a weightlifting belt? Make sure you read on the pros and cons, as well as how to use them.

  • A belt supports your core during compound movements, such as squats or deadlifts 
  • Don’t always train with a belt. If you are just starting out, try to lift without a belt. This allows you to focus on technique and form, as well as bracing your core. 
  • Don’t do all of your warming up sets with a belt. Rather, start using it at the last set. 
  • Belts cause a strength increase of 5-15% during movements such as squats and deadlifts. If you notice a larger increase, you will want to strengthen your core muscles more often. 
  • Using a belt takes a bit of practice. Scroll down to make sure that you’re using yours correctly. 
  • Don’t use a belt during isolation exercises. It’s not necessary.

 

What is a Weightlifting Belt and What is its Purpose?

As the name suggests, a weightlifting belt is a tool that can be useful for strength training. They are often used by intermediate to advanced weightlifters during heavy compound movements, such as the squat and deadlift.

Working out with a belt increases stability of the core muscles. This in turn aids you in maintaining proper form during your exercises. This does not apply to everyone, although most lifters do experience the benefits of a weightlifting belt.

It is estimated that wearing a weightlifting belt can cause an increase in performance between 5 and 15%. There are however a lot of different weightlifting belts. You don’t just want to purchase a belt because of looks and pricing. There will be more information about which belt might fit your needs near the end of this article.

 

A Belt Does Not Replace Bad Technique

Wearing a belt will not suddenly make your form perfect. The technique of an exercise is something that you need to teach yourself, as is maintaining proper form. A weightlifting belt is simply a tool, rather than just a way to protect your back because your form is lackluster.

 

How Tight Should a Weightlifting Belt Be?

The belt’s main purpose is to support you. If it’s too tight, you will not be able to move all that well, which can lead to painful experiences. In case the belt is too loose, it will not give you all that much support, therefore limiting the efficacy of your exercises.

As a general rule, it is better to have a tight belt, rather than too loose. However, being able to breathe should always be a priority.

If you can slide a hand between your stomach and the belt (albeit with great difficulty), you’re good.

 

How do You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

You will want your belly button to be covered by the belt. During a squat, you may want to wear it slightly lower, as it may otherwise hit your ribs. During a deadlift though, a lot of people tend to wear them a bit higher.

Basically, you will want to do whatever feels good to you. It’s personal preference.

 

When Should You Start Wearing a Weightlifting Belt?

If you are able to perform your exercises while using proper form and technique, it might be time to think about purchasing a weightlifting belt. Next, you will want to increase your loads through progressive overload.

If you feel that you are becoming more experienced with these movements, purchasing a belt as extra support becomes an option.

 

Should You Always Use a Belt?

Personally, I would not recommend using a belt every single time. Try to perform your heavy compound movements without the use of a belt every once in a while. This way, you might notice weaknesses, allowing you to work on them.

 

Why Are You Stronger With a Weightlifting Belt?

Before answering this question, it may be important to first learn what a weightlifting belt truly does to your body.

Your abs and obliques receive a lot of pressure from the belt, causing the pressure in your abdominal cavity to increase. This is also known as an increased intraabdominal pressure. This causes you to experience more stability, which translates to more strength and stability during exercises like squats and deadlifts.

Back and Intraabdominal Pressure

Weightlifting belts cause the intraabdominal pressure to increase up to 15% during heavy squats, and 30-40% during heavy deadlifts [1]. This has both pros and cons.

  • A pro would be that the intraabdominal shear stress counteracts on your backbone.
  • A negative of this, would be an increase in blood pressure during heavy lifting.

Therefore, people that are affected by high blood pressure are not recommended using a weightlifting belt.

 

Is Using a Weightlifting Belt Dangerous?

In theory, lifting weights with a belt causes less pressure on the lower back muscles, as well as the spine. A lot of research has been done on the effects of belts in work related situations. However, not as much research exists on the topic of athletes.

First of all, one study concludes that there is no reason to believe that weightlifting belts are dangerous for posture, neither does it cause an increase in the amount of injuries [2].

The researchers claim that 5 out of 8 studies about the usage of weightlifting belts. Moreover, using said belts could even have certain benefits [3].

These benefits include:

  • Decrease in pressure on the spine
  • Better stability of the lower back
  • Increased mobilization of motor units, causing more muscle strength
  • Faster explosive muscle movements

Mixed results are shown by 2 in 8 studies [4], and the last study shows no positive effects of weightlifting belts [5]. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether intraabdominal pressure causes decreased pressure on the spine.

It was thought that weightlifting belts would relief pressure on the lower back muscles. However, new studies have shown this to not be the case [6].

All in all, all of these studies show something else, making it difficult to draw one conclusion. Therefore, more research is needed in order to determine whether weightlifting belts offer any additional protection to the lower back.

Note that weightlifting belts only provide support for your stance. You will still need to maintain proper technique during your exercises, so don’t lift with your ego!

 

The Use of Other Muscles

As of right now there is still a lot unclear about the effect of weightlifting belts on muscular activation. Some studies suggest that the use of a belt reliefs the back muscles. However, several EMG-studies show that the legs and arms are activated more than normal [7]. This may explain why certain exercises, like the squat, can be performed at a faster pace.

The technique that you’re using to perform an exercise may differ, depending on whether you are using a belt or not. This may result differences in muscle loading.

Always remember that when you’re not training with a belt, you are missing a support tool. Therefore, you should pay close attention to how you’re performing your exercises.

 

The Psychology of Weightlifting Belts

A braced core is important for lifting heavy weights. If you are able to contract the core muscles right, you will be able to lift more weight. A belt seems to complement this, as you gain more momentum and therefore you’re able to lift more weight with less effort.

Two studies show that picking up a weight while using a belt can be done faster than without the use of a belt. Some athletes are able to lift up to 19% more weight. One of the explanations may be that the use of a belt gives a feeling of safety.

 

Pros of Training Without a Belt

You will automatically train with lower amounts of weight. Therefore, the knees and hips will not be loaded as heavy as they possibly could.

If your arms or legs have been injured, it may be best to train without a belt until you have fully recovered. This is because you’re not putting the highest amounts of pressure on these muscles without a belt.

 

My Advice

If you are training close to your 1RM, a weightlifting belt may be the perfect tool that can help you progress. Just make sure that you are not using a belt every single workout, as your core will not get as developed as it could be.

 

Different Kinds of Weightlifting Belts

If you have made the decision that you want to use a belt, you’ve come to the right place. There are a lot of weightlifting belts, each having their own purpose. But what is the difference between all of them?

Well, these belts can be divided into two categories:

  • Powerlifting belts, used for powerlifting
  • Weightlifting belts, often used for Olympic lifting

The difference between these two categories, mainly shows in the front of the belts. A weightlifting belt can be recognized by a more narrow front. This allows for more flexibility and mobility, which is ideal for Olympic lifting.

A powerlifting belts on the other hand, is as wide on the front as it is on the back, causing it to feel much more rigid than a weightlifting belt. The reason for this, is because a powerlifting belt must give as much support as possible, causing flexibility to diminish.

A belt that is suitable for CrossFit should give a lot of flexibility during weightlifting exercises. Most of the times, either a weightlifting belt or a nylon belt is used for CrossFit.

So, before you decide to blindly make a purchase, it would be smart to first decide what kind of belt fits your needs. Do you want more flexibility or would you rather have more support?

 

Things to Keep in Mind Before Purchasing

If you have chosen what kind of belt is best for you, them you’ve already come a long way. However, there are some more aspects that need to be looked at.

Measurements

First of all, you will need to hold the measurements into account. In general, a wider and thicker belt offers more support. However, official powerlifting competitions will only allow belts that are up to 4 inches (10 cm) wide and 13 mm thick.

If you want a maximum amount of support while still being able to compete, you might want to go for a belt that is close to 4 inches wide and 10-13 mm thick. The downside of these measurements would be that they can be difficult to take off.

For this very reason, there are slimmer variants available that have a thickness of 10 mm. In this case, it is recommended to make sure that it is also 4 inches (10 cm) wide. It feels a lot more flexible and comfortable. This is the reason why this kind of belt is so popular.

Always make sure that the length of your belt is appropriate. When measuring your waist, make sure that it is relaxed.

Material

Most lifting belts are made from either real leather or artificial leather. Real leather can them be divided into grain leather and split leather. In general, grain leather is very strong but also quite rigid. Split leather, as well as artificial leather, is a lot more flexible.

It is up to you what kind of material you want your belt to be. All of these materials have a high quality and you should be able to use such a belt for years.

Buckle

An important aspect of a fitness belt, is the buckle. There are quite a few options available, each with their own pros and cons.

  • Single pin buckle
  • Double pin buckle
  • Clipped buckle
Single Pin Buckle

This is the most common one. The downside is that the buckle can be difficult to operate. However, it is very easy to adjust, depending on what situation you’re in. As far as pricing goes, this is the cheapest one.

Pros:

  • Easy to adjust
  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to operate
Double Pin Buckle

In theory, this buckle is able to distribute the amount of force that it will receive during exercises more effectively. A downside would be that it is more difficult to use than a single pin buckle.

Pros:

  • Better distribution of force
  • Easy to adjust

Cons:

  • Can be very difficult to operate
Clipped Buckle

The third one is the clipped buckle. It is basically a lever of sorts that makes it very easy to use. You can just start with your workout without having to struggle with your belt. A downside would be that they sometimes require a screwdriver to adjust. However, once you’ve set it up right, you will not have to struggle with it anymore for a long time. Furthermore, these belts tend to be a bit more expensive.

Pros:

  • Very easy to use

Cons:

  • Can be difficult to adjust
  • More expensive

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