Weight Lifting Belts: How They Work & When to Wear One

Weight Lifting Belts: How They Work & When to Wear One

It's difficult to tell the difference between legitimate weightlifting equipment and junk science gadgets and supplements. There's too much noise coming from all directions, to the point where tried-and-true equipment doesn't always seem necessary. Weight lifting belts are increasingly a part of this confusing conversation.

Do weight training belts really help? Can they actually do more harm than good? Frankly, fitness belts have long since proven their utility, if used properly and as a part of the right training program. Read on to find out what they do, how they work, and when using one can truly help super charge your undoubtedly ferocious weight training program. 

What Does a Weightlifting Belt Do?

Let's get right to the point: exercise belts are meant to stabilize your spine by tightening your diaphragm. There's more nuance to it than that, which we'll cover later on. But, for those who have never owned a weight training belt before, this is the crucial concept to keep in mind.

There are countless designs, materials, and applications for this category of weight training assistive belts. Each serves somewhat different purposes, from the iconic old-school reliable leather belts, to the less restrictive and narrower nylon belts. But the basic principle above applies to all of them.

What is the Purpose of a Weightlifting Belt?

Do you want to push it a bit harder during your weightlifting routine? A high quality weightlifting belt will give you that extra edge in a safe way, as long as it is worn and used properly. The following are some of the things that weight belts can assist with:

  • Get to the sticking point of your squat quickly
  • Increase your average bar speed
  • Leverage extra power from your quads during squats
  • Get more support from your hamstrings during lifts
  • Lift more safely while stabilizing the spine

A weight lifting belt is going to boost your lifting routine in useful, direct ways. You'll instantly feel the difference.

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How Do Weightlifting Belts Work?

Ideally, a properly-fitted weight belt increases intra-abdominal pressure. This creates stability in your core while you lift, allowing you to push a demanding lift a little further. This boost in strength is already in your body -- you're just balancing your weight loads more efficiently.

Literally, more of your muscle fibers are working at once. This can help mitigate injuries by distributing weight more broadly. And the increased spinal stability is associated with lower rates of common injuries like slipped discs, although this has not been backed up by a direct medical study.

How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt

Man wearing a Beast Gear weight lifting belt while doing heavy squats.

Some people instinctively doubt the effectiveness of these belts because they haven't been taught how to wear them properly. Without the right adjustments, the diaphragm-tightening properties won't materialize. You'll simply be doing your normal weightlifting program while wearing an eye-catching fashion accessory.

You can do better than that for yourself, and it's not hard to get it right. Simply:

  • Put the belt on just above your hip bone
  • If you're squatting, angle the belt a bit higher towards the belly button
  • For deadlifts, angle the belt upwards for fuller range of motion
  • Use the tightest notch that allows you to still take a full breath

That last tip is the most important part of using a training belt. As any experience lifter knows, you'll need all the oxygen you can get throughout your sessions. It defeats the purpose of the belt entirely if your strength and endurance are affected by a lack of oxygen. So remember: tighten the belt, but always make sure you can take a full breath.

Weightlifting Belt FAQs

The above guide covers the basics. But every lifter knows that things get way more complex in practice. So let's break down some of the most common questions surrounding weight belts, and hopefully answer any concerns you might have.

Who should wear a weight belt?

Anybody who is lifting regularly should consider a weight belt. It helps escalate your weight and speed capabilities in a safe, guided manner. The simple protection it provides to the spine can help all types of lifters increase their longevity. In short, if you're lifting, you can benefit from a belt.

But, as the answer to the next question points out, there are exceptions to this rule. If you're in a multifaceted training program that involves lighter weights, or exercises completely removed from lifting weights at all, there are other considerations to keep in mind.

Should you wear a belt when lifting weights?

For heavy weights, absolutely. There's nothing to lose from gaining better use of your muscles and added protecting to your spine. But for many exercises, there's a grand total of nothing to be gained from wearing a belt.

If you're sitting, as you would when on a machine, the diaphragm-tightening won't be effective. The belt is simply limiting your range of mobility. Even bench pressing isn't exactly a weight lifting belt kind of situation, although some lifters wear one anyway because it helps them stick to their breathing routine from other types of lifting. 

When should you start wearing a weight belt?

Exercise belts are best used after figuring out where you are physically and mentally without them, first. Generally, you'll want to figure out what your one-rep maximum is. Then, once you hit about 60% of that benchmark, that's when you'll actually start to benefit from wearing a belt.

Are weight belts worth it?

They're worth it for anybody dedicated to lifting. Once your program escalates, any help with meeting greater challenges is going to feel welcome. For your heaviest reps, you'll feel grateful for the belt.

But what about those who aren't interested in lifting weights as part of their workout? It's preferable for them to do what little lifting they do without the assistance of the belt. In those cases, the exercises are more targeted, and the benefit of reducing range of motion with a belt is insufficient.

Will a weight belt help with lower back pain?

This is a complex topic, and one that is best handled by consulting your doctor directly. In the most basic sense, there are two angles to approach this question from. But again: speak with a physician before following any advice on managing back pain from this article, or anywhere else.

If you have acute back pain, an exercise belt won't help in a significant way. In fact, your doctor will probably tell you not to lift at all. Back pain only gets worse with a sedentary lifestyle, but actively lifting can easily worsen the situation.

If your don't have chronic issues, but are simply looking to mitigate the normal soreness that comes with heavy lifting, a weight belt can help. It stabilizes the spine. That stabilized core invites more muscle fibers to participate in each rep. These are great conditions to lessen centralized soreness. But this shouldn't be the primary reason to use a belt.

Is it better to squat without a belt?

Belts provide the same benefits for squats as they do for deadlifts. Range of motion is the real issue, depending on the size of the belt and the person using it. For front squatting, belts should be considered optional. Otherwise, it shouldn't be obstructive if the appropriate belt is worn properly.

How much does a belt add to your squat?

Your one-rep max for your squat could possibly increased by up to 25 pounds. This varies heavily based on several factors:

  • Your age
  • Your size and body type
  • Your injury history
  • Your lifting experience

The final point is crucial. In terms of increasing your upper limit, you have to find that upper limit in the first place. Belts can help stabilize your core to achieve higher levels than previously possible. Without experience, and muscle fibers that are already being pushed to the limit, it's harder to gain a large margin of extra weight.

Does a weightlifting belt weaken your core?

This is one of the most common criticisms of assistive weightlifting gear like belts. And it makes a lot of intuitive sense, frankly! If the belt helps spread out the weight, could it be that certain crucial muscle groups are actually losing out on some of the benefits of lifting?

In terms of pure core strength, there is no evidence supporting this assumption. The belt only pushes one's body to use their core strength in a more distributed fashion. There may be other, highly specific exercise routines that benefit more from hyper-targeting how muscle fibers are broadly used. But for general lifting, the belt simply helps you use what is already there, better.

How to Pick the Right Weightlifting Belt For You

If you're lifting regularly, sticking to the plan, and looking to push your limits, it's time to see how much further a weight lifting belt can help you push it. But where to start? There are nylon and leather belts, there are different thickness and widths, so how do you figure it all out?

The easiest way is to narrow it down to what works the best for most people. The standard, most reliable type of weight lifting belt is:

  • Made of real leather, so it breaks in properly while still retaining its restraining abilities
  • At or near 10mm thick
  • Has a double-prong roller buckle
  • Has screw-in rivets
  • Is the same length all around, rather than having a protruding back support section

You don't want those belts that look more like back braces, because they don't provide the same core-stabilizing properties. You don't want a nylon belt, simply because it won't last as long as a proper leather one. While you may drift away from this exact prescription with experience, these are the makings of the ideal weight lifting belt.

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