Why do i need a weightlifting belt?

Training With a Belt

Every gym has that guy who keeps his belt on for the entire workout. He says it’s for back support, but it’s really to hold in his beer belly while he’s going for a rep max on bicep curls. I shouldn’t have to say it, but that’s not what belts are for.

So let’s actually discuss the merits of heavy lifting with and without a belt, and the real purpose of a belt other than holding in that beer gut. 

Purpose

Belts act as a tool to increase intra-abdominal pressure by giving your core muscles something to brace against as the abdominal wall expands. The stability belts provide explains why most lifters can lift more with one than without.

Watch Coach Bustamante Deadlift 748 pounds
Watch Coach Bustamante Deadlift 748 pounds

When to Wear a Weight Belt

They’re primarily used for the squat, deadlift, and overhead lifts where athletes draw deep breaths for stronger bracing. However, belts also make it easier to keep the spine in a neutral position.

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How to Wear a Weight Belt

Honestly, it comes down to personal preference. Make sure the belt is positioned with your belly button in the center (or just about), and you’re pretty much good to go. How tight you cinch it is up to you.

Benefits

Wearing a belt is like a football player wearing pads. Sure, a wide receiver in the offseason runs no-contact drills without pads, but when the season’s about to start? The pads come on. Why is that?

Since pads are used in the game, it’s important to get used to wearing them. 

In powerlifting, we’re allowed to wear belts at official meets, so when nearing meet-day levels of intensity, it’s time to put on the belt.

Things to Consider

First, a belt alone won’t protect your back, despite what your high school P.E. teacher may have told you. First, you need to know how to create a proper brace

Second, you need a proper belt. If you want one you can bring to a powerlifting meet, you’ll need a leather one about 10mm or 13mm thick. But I’d recommend these for general use too. 

Get yourself a real belt from a powerlifting company such as SBD, Inzer, or A7. These companies specialize in durable gear that will last a lifetime, so make the investment now and thank me later.

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When don’t you need a weightlifting belt

As far as gaining strength and performance in the gym are concerned, it’s hard to argue against wearing a belt, but there are a few big waving red flags here. You probably want to avoid using a belt if:

  • You have high blood pressure or certain medical conditions: If you have health conditions like uncontrolled high-blood pressure or conditions that can be exacerbated by intra-abdominal pressure (like a hernia), you should not be wearing a belt (or even using the Valsalva), period. We’ve discussed this in our breathing article as well, but this warning goes double in this instance since a belt will raise both intra-abdominal pressure and blood pressure further. Pregnancy is another time you should avoid intra-abdominal pressure, even while you can still fit into your belt.
  • You can’t lift heavy weight with good technique, or you don’t know how to stabilize your body without a belt: Belts don’t magically undo poor form. Without bracing your core, there’s a good chance you’re not properly stabilizing your body for heavy loads. The belt doesn’t brace for you, it just helps you get more pressure when you do. That said, feeling your core muscles push into the belt can provide some feedback to help you learn how to brace better.
  • You don’t squat, deadlift, or do much overhead pressing: No, you don’t need to wear a belt for bicep curls.

If you do heavy squats, deadlifts, and presses, and you intend to keep doing them, it’s never too early to get a belt, as long as you begin by learning how to use it, rather than expecting it to solve problems for you. We have a guide here on how to choose your first weightlifting or powerlifting belt.

How To Wear A Weightlifting Belt

There are 2 main considerations when it comes to wearing a weight belt: how tight to wear the belt and where on your waist to position it.

Let’s quickly go through both of these factors to ensure that you’re using your weightlifting belt properly.

How Tight Should Your Weightlifting Belt Be?

It should be pretty tight, but not so tight that you can’t breath, that it restricts your setup or range of motion, or that it makes you feel like you might pass out during a set!

Some people tend to suck in excessively, or use the rack to try to tighten the belt, but this often results in the belt being too tight.

Alternatively, if the belt isn’t tight enough, then it can slip during the exercise, not effectively provide a feedback mechanism for your abs, or allow you to generate sufficient intra-abdominal pressure.

I personally like to have my weightlifting belt tight enough that I can just barely stick my fingers between the belt and my abdomen.

Where Should You Position Your Weightlifting Belt?

This can vary somewhat based on the specific exercise, the width of the belt, and the length of your torso.

In general, though, you want to have the belt positioned where you can generate the most force against it using your abs.

For squats, I like to have the belt centered across my belly button, whereas for deadlifts I like it to sit slightly higher – between my belly button and my rib cage – since that is more comfortable while setting up.

Also, people with longer torsos may find it more comfortable to wear the belt higher up than those with shorter torsos.

Again, this part is largely personal, so just experiment with the position that you feel balances comfort and your ability to generate maximal force with your abs.

Supplemental Breathing and Bracing Exercises

Below are five supplemental breathing and bracing exercises lifters and coaches can use to establish proper pelvic alignment and bracing strategies to help support healthier, stronger positioning both with and without a weightlifting belt.

Isometric Dead Bug

The isometric dead bug is a personal favorite of mine because you can really ramp up the intensity and make this a suitable bracing exercise for a beginner and world-class strength athlete. Start by lying on your back with the knees bent at 90 degrees and place a foam roller across the legs horizontally. With your forearms, pressing into the foam roller and meet that resistance with your thighs pushing into the foam roller. This should create immense amounts of tension in the lower abs, obliques, and lats (focus on scapular depression as well. Try doing this for 20-30 seconds as you learn to increase intensity while still breathing into the core.

Suitcase Carry

Suitcase carries are a great way to increase lateral compression of the core and reinforce proper oblique firing strategies. This helps establish proprioception of the spine to non-compressive and rotation forces, further enhancing a lifter’s awareness of proper positioning.

Weighted Side Plank

The weighted side plank (which can also be done without weight) is another way to increase lateral compression (stability), yet done so in a more static environment (as opposed to the suitcase carry). Place a dumbbell on the lateral aspect of the hip, lift upwards, and think about contracting the oblique facing the floor so that the iliac crest moves toward the armpit.

Lying Pelvic Tilt

This is a foundational exercise that many individuals mess up. When done properly, it can be a basis for more advanced progressions and even max effort isometrics. By lying on the floor, you offer immediate feedback to the lifter, who needs to focus on pushing their lower backs down into the floor, assuming a neutral pelvic positioning. You can do this with the knees bent, legs straight, or legs lifted.

Hip Raise with Neutral Pelvic Tilt

Once the lifter has established knowledge on how to brace the core and stabilize the pelvis properly, they can begin to allow movement at the hip joint via hip extension using the glutes. Most individuals who have lower back pain fail to maintain rigidity in the core and lose their bracing strength as they try to lift the hips. By placing a foam roller between the thighs and locking down the pelvic region (lying pelvic drills), lifters can then work on lifting the hips while not allowing the pelvis to anteriorly or posteriorly tilt through the hip.

The Pros Of Using A Weightlifting Belt

Let’s first run through some of the potential advantages of using a weightlifting belt for certain exercises.

Increases Intra-Abdominal Pressure

This is the primary benefit of wearing a weightlifting belt.

As I’ve discussed before, when you’re doing any core-intensive exercise – like a squat or a deadlift – maintaining sufficient intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) is incredibly important. This is what will help to keep your core rock solid (and safe) when you are lifting heavy weights.

When you do one of these exercises without a belt, you should still be breathing in and tensing your abs to increase intra-abdominal pressure; however, the amount of IAP is significantly increased by having a belt to press your abs firmly against.

Reduces Lower Back Strain And Likelihood Of Injury

I know that I’ve said before that a weightlifting belt isn’t a back brace, and shouldn’t be worn as one, but if you are using your belt properly it can help to reduce lower back strain during heavy compound exercises.

This is directly tied to the above point about intra-abdominal pressure. You see, if you are maintaining a high level of IAP, and thus keeping your core strong and tight, then you’ll end up putting far less strain on your lower back, reducing the chance that you’ll hurt it.

Serves As A Reminder To Lift With Proper Form

We all know that we should pay attention to form when lifting heavy weights, but that can be easier said than done sometimes.

There can be a lot of little points or cues to remember, especially for multi-joint, compound exercises.

I find that wearing a weight lifting belt can help with this when doing squats or deadlifts, since the tactile feedback from the belt will remind you to really press out with your abs when preparing to do each rep.

Allows You To Lift More Weight

Then, of course, there is the big benefit of using a weight belt: it allows you to lift more weight than you would be able to without one.

In fact, on average, most people are able to lift 10-15% more instantly on certain exercises just by wearing a belt and using it properly!

All things being equal, this will translate into faster progress, allowing you to get bigger and stronger more quickly than you would just lifting beltless.

How to Buy the Perfect Weight Lifting Belt

There are various types of weight lifting belts available in the market. Before you go out searching for the perfect belt, let me help you out with the types of belts available and what the perfect belt will look like.

1. Power Lifting Belt for Weight Lifting

Powerlifting belts are meant to be a little rigid

Powerlifting belts are meant to be a little rigid and tough and have a constant width. Using 4-inch wide and 10mm thick belts will give you the best support and comfort when exercising. They have a double prong with multiple adjustment holes for achieving the perfect fit. 

These belts give a lot of internal pressure, giving you the added stability so you can lift heavier weights without damaging your spine. Furthermore, the heavy-duty stitching on the belt and the genuine leather guarantees durability, making them the perfect life-long investment.

10 MM Powerlifting Belt for Weightlifting If you want to take up heavy weightlifting this season, our powerlifting belt is for you! Ea… SHOP NOW

Wrapping It Up

At the end of the day, using a weight lifting belt can both help and hinder progress. It should NOT be used as a Band-Aid for a previous injury or low back pain. It can throw off the movement patterns and muscular balance that are necessary for everyday tasks, so use caution before using one to try to improve core strength.

For those with the goal of raw strength training like a powerlift, a belt should only be used for the heaviest lifts and NOT all the time. As a general rule of thumb, a beginner can use a belt when lifting over 85% of his 1RM and someone with a little more experience under their belt (pun intended) can get away with only using it at or above 90% of their 1RM.

Happy lifting!

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