A Beginner’s Guide to Lifting Belts

Powerlifting Belt

Lifting belts are a great tool for many strength sports such as Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Bodybuilding, and CrossFit.

Lifting belts can aid with intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and increased lumbar spine stabilization, which can ultimately lead to a slight increase in lifting capacity as well as injury mitigation.

In other words, lifting belts, whether they be Powerlifting belts, Weightlifting belts, or any other variation of lifting belt, are something anyone serious about their strength training should consider!

In this article, I will answer many of the most common questions about Weightlifting belts and Powerlifting belts to help you decide whether a lifting belt is right for you.

What Does a Lifting Belt Do?

Simply put, a lifting belt, when used correctly, gives your trunk something to brace against when you are lifting.

By bracing your trunk against a lifting belt, this increases the pressure around your lumbar spine and ultimately stiffens up this section of your body.

Think of a balloon. It’s usually quite easy to squeeze a deflated balloon because there’s nothing inside it to resist us. But if we blow it up, the air inside creates internal pressure and pushes back against our squeezing, which is now more difficult.

We can think of our trunk in the same way. When we take a big belly breath and inflate our stomach, we’re increasing the pressure inside our trunk in the same way that air in a balloon does.

This makes our trunk a lot stiffer and ultimately more resistant to external stressors, such as heavy weights on our back!

Now if we were to restrict the expansion of the balloon by wrapping something around it, like tape, for example, the same amount of air inside it occupies a smaller space, which increases the pressure in the balloon and makes it more resistant to squeezing.

This is somewhat similar to the effect adding a lifting belt has on our trunk.

When we take the same belly breath as before, that same volume of air is squeezed into a tighter space as our stomach is slightly restricted by the belt.

This, in turn, increases the pressure in our trunk, known as intra-abdominal pressure, and allows us to lift heavier and safer by the increased rigidity and strength we now have.

Are Lifting Belts Necessary?

Lifting belts are not necessary at all. There’s absolutely nothing stopping you from training effectively without a lifting belt and building some serious strength.

Don’t believe me, check out the video below of Russian Powerlifter, Yuri Belkin lifting an astounding 970lbs (440kg) without a lifting belt of any kind!

If an elite level Powerlifter can lift without a lifting belt, you definitely can too!

Are Lifting Belts Worth It?

Having said that lifting belts aren’t necessary, I do still recommend them as they offer a lot of fantastic benefits.

Want to increase your squat and deadlift by about 5-15%, there’s a very high chance a lifting belt can help with that!

Of course, this isn’t guaranteed for everyone. But I would say around 90% should see an increase in the amount of weight they can lift with a lifting belt, than without one.

When I first used a lifting belt, I was able to increase my squat by 9% and my deadlift by 12%, so I believe they are definitely worth it for this alone.

Perhaps more importantly though, a lifting belt can help with injury mitigation or, in other words, they can help reduce your risk of back injuries.

I previously mentioned that a lifting belt, when used correctly, can increase Intra-abdominal pressure. In an article by Greg Nuckols, he states that intra-abdominal pressure increases by around 15% in the deadlift and 30-40% in the squat.

This increase in intra-abdominal pressure adds further protection to our spine from shearing stresses. So the more protection from injury we have, the more we can lift without risking injury!

When to Use A Lifting Belt

A lifting belt can be worn whenever you feel you will benefit from it, however, I would only recommend using one during compound lifts that require spinal stability.

This includes lifts such as the deadlift and the squat in Powerlifting and the clean and jerk or snatch in Olympic Weightlifting.

Many find wearing a lifting belt during the bench press and the shoulder/military press to be beneficial too.

Personally, I find wearing a lifting belt during the bench press to be more uncomfortable than beneficial so tend not to wear one during this lift. The key is to experiment and find what works for you, keep it for your big lifts though and you should be good.

You can wear a lifting belt through your entire workout if you really want to, however, my recommendation would be to mix up wearing a belt with beltless training to ensure you are getting the best of both worlds and not treating your belt as a crutch.

This could mean warming up without the belt and then adding it for your working sets or top sets, for example.

Or maybe you could train one day with a lifting belt and then beltless the next.

I tend to train as far as I can beltless and then wear it to get through those last few sets and reps or I’ll exclusively wear my lifting belt when I’m testing my 1 rep max.

It’s really up to you but as a general recommendation, wear it when you’re lifting heavy and require that extra pressure and stabilization of your trunk or core.

How to Use A Lifting Belt

One of the key mistakes people make when wearing a lifting belt is assuming that just by wearing one, it will improve their lifts and protect their back from injury. Basically, they think that its the belt that does the work.

This is an incorrect and potentially dangerous mindset and will at best, waste their money and at worst, almost certainly lead to injury.

Breathing and Bracing

If we don’t know how to breathe and brace correctly, a lifting belt will be next to useless.

Remember, its the intra-abdominal pressure that is creating the benefits to our lifts, not the belt itself. The belt is just a means for us to increase our intra-abdominal pressure.

So, if we don’t know how to breathe and brace correctly, we generate no intra-abdominal pressure and the belt is nothing more than a fashion accessory!

I’m not going to go into the full details of this, but the key is to take in a full, deep breath into your belly. Your chest and shoulders should not rise as you do this.

Once your belly is full of air, you want to bear down to create the required pressure. Imagine someone is about to punch your stomach, you would likely tense up your muscles as you brace for the punch. It’s that same feeling you’re going for here.

You can even use your lifting belt as a tool to practice this technique. Stand normally with your belt on loose enough that you can fit a couple of fingers between your torso and the belt. Now practice the breathing and bracing technique.

If you’re doing it right, you should feel the resistance of the belt against your torso.

Brian Alsruhe of Neversate.com has made an excellent in-depth tutorial on this technique, which I have linked to below. This video should walk you through everything you will need to know about breathing and bracing correctly, whether you intend to wear a lifting belt or not.

How to Wear A Lifting Belt

A lifting belt should be placed so that your belly button sits around the center of the belt.

This will vary from lifter to lifter though so some experimentation will be required.

There are also benefits to shifting the belt above your belly button for certain lifts such as the deadlift, so again, experimentation is key.

Alan Thrall covers this topic well in the below video:

How Tight Should a Lifting Belt Be?

The tightness of a lifting belt will largely come down to personal preference, however, there are a couple of things to watch out for.

The belt should never be so tight that you cannot get a full breath in. If you can’t get a full breath in then you’re not creating the required amount of pressure to stabilize and support your trunk.

A lifting belt is going to do more harm than good if you tighten it to this degree.

Conversely, if your belt is too loose, then you’re not getting the added support from it when you brace. This should be obvious because you won’t feel the resistance of the belt against your stomach.

As a good rule of thumb, I like to wear my belt loose enough that I can still walk around, breathe and talk naturally when I’m not bracing. In this state, you should be able to stick a finger or two between your stomach and the belt.

This will be enough that when you do breathe and brace, you fill that space and can no longer fit a finger between the belt and your stomach.

This is the tightness you are going for, it will provide enough resistance to increase the intra-abdominal pressure in your trunk, but not be so tight that it restricts your breath.

What Lifting Belt Should I Get?

There are several different kinds of lifting belts available, each with their pros and cons.

There are also lifting belts out there that, in my opinion, you should absolutely steer clear from. Your choice of lifting belt should therefore boil down to one of two types:

  • Weightlifting Belts
  • Powerlifting Belts

What is the Difference Between a Weightlifting Belt and a Powerlifting Belt?

A lot of people use the terms weightlifting belt and powerlifting belt interchangeably, and many use the term weightlifting belt as a catch-all for any type of belt that can be worn in strength training.

This is fine, but for the avoidance of any doubt, I would define a weightlifting belt as a belt predominantly designed for lifts such as the clean and jerk and the snatch.

A weightlifting belt will therefore largely benefit Olympic Weightlifters and CrossFit athletes.

A powerlifting belt, on the other hand, is more suited to lifts such as the squat and deadlift. If you’re a Powerlifter, this is the belt for you (who knew?).

Weightlifting Belts

Weightlifting belts tend to be smaller and lighter than powerlifting belts.

Many weightlifters prefer their belt to be less bulky. This is because a belt can interfere with the bar path during Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk or snatch.

as a result of this need, weightlifting belts are often tapered down at the front (2″ wide) while being wider at the back (4″ wide).

This style of weightlifting belt is usually made from leather and has a traditional single prong belt buckle.

Alternatively, weightlifting belts can be made from nylon and feature a velcro strap.

These are a lot easier to work with due to having a lot more flexibility than the leather weightlifting belts, which usually require a break-in period.

They are also more easily adjustable thanks to the velcro strap and tend not to get in the way as much as a leather weightlifting belt, making them a lot more suitable for beginners.

As a consequence of this light, flexible design, they don’t provide as much support as their leather counterparts so intra-abdominal pressure is reduced.

Powerlifting Belts

Powerlifting belts are quite similar in design and construction to leather weightlifting belts, however with some key distinctions.

Powerlifting belts are significantly more bulky than their weightlifting counterparts. This is due to being the same width across its entire length (usually 4″) and being thicker overall. Expect a good powerlifting belt to be either 10mm or 13mm in thickness.

There are a few options when it comes to how the belt is tightened and the best choice will come down to personal preference.

Lifters can choose from a single prong, a double prong, or a lever belt.

The single prong is the most easily adjustable of the three and changing tightness is a simple affair.

I wouldn’t bother with the double prong buckle as this can be quite awkward to fasten and unfasten. The idea is that it is supposed to offer more support than the single prong, but there is no real evidence to support this.

If a prong style buckle is for you, just get a single prong powerlifting belt.

The last buckle type is the lever belt and my personal favorite.

The lever belt makes tightening and untightening as simple as flipping a lever. No more messing around with your belt to get it off after a heavy max effort! Just flip the lever open and you’re done.

The only downside to this system is that if you want to adjust the level of tightness mid-set, you have to whip out a screwdriver and spend a good minute repositioning the lever.

However, if you only need to use one notch then I highly recommend a lever belt.

Best Lifting Belt

So you’ve read this article and you’ve decided you want to invest in a good quality lifting belt.

Here are my recommendations, both for weightlifting belts and for powerlifting belts.

Best Weightlifting Belt

If you’re looking to compete in Olympic Weightlifting, I would recommend the Rogue Oly Ohio Weightlifting Belt.

This weightlifting belt is a traditional tapered weightlifting belt and its leather construction will provide good support to brace against.

If you’re not interested in competing, just want a belt for general strength training, or would rather something cheaper, the Schiek 2004 Lifting Belt is a great choice.

If you’re looking for something cheaper still, the Rogue 4″ Nylon Weightlifting Belt is a great budget option.

Best Powerlifting Belt

If a prong buckle style powerlifting belt is for you, the Rogue 13mm Powerlifting Belt is a great choice and is IPF approved.

If you’re on a budget, Hawk Sports do a 10mm Powerlifting Belt for a fraction of the price of most other powerlifting belts. You can check it out on Amazon.

Given the massive price difference though, I can’t vouch for the quality of this one. But if money is tight, it may well be worth a shot!

When it comes to lever belts, SBD is the number one choice. Expect to pay a lot for the privilege of owning one though!

The Rogue Lever Belt is solid second and significantly cheaper. This powerlifting belt, although marketed under the Rogue name is actually manufactured by Pioneer.

If you’ve never heard of Pioneer, they are one of the top leather belt manufacturers around, if you see their name you know you’re getting great quality and craftsmanship.

Speaking of Pioneer, no matter what type of lifting belt you are interested in, if you want a personal touch, Pioneer can manufacture custom made belts.

Well worth the additional cost if that’s your thing!

In Conclusion

If you’ve made it to the end, firstly thank you! Secondly, congratulations, you should now know everything you will need to know about lifting belts!

You should now have a solid understanding of what a lifting belt does and how it benefits your lifts as well as how to wear a lifting belt correctly and effective technique to fully utilize its benefits.

Alongside this, you should also know which type of lifting belt is most suited to each type of lift and sport and some of the best options to buy for your needs.

So get out there and start lifting heavy!

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