Weightlifting belts are essential tools for lifting heavy weights safely and effectively. They provide support to your core and lower back, helping you maintain proper form and reduce the risk of injuries. However, to reap the full benefits of a lifting belt, you must wear it correctly. In this step-by-step guide, we'll walk you through the process of how to wear a lifting belt properly and use it to enhance your lifting performance.
How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt
If you’re wearing a belt for deadlifts, squats, etc., then you’ll want to wear it correctly to get any use out of the equipment. Here’s how to wear a lifting belt in three easy steps.
Step 1: Position Your Lifting Belt Around the Waist
Before you put on the lifting belt, ensure you have the right size that fits comfortably around your waist. The belt should sit above your hip bones and below your ribcage. Position it on your lower back where you'll need the most support during your lifts.
To see if you’re in the right position, feel for any pinching or restrictive areas. This usually means that your belt is positioned incorrectly or you’re using the wrong thickness. For example, there are many differences between a 10mm belt and a 13mm belt, but the main difference is in how compact the weight belt is.
Step 2: Inhale & Secure the Belt
Once the belt is positioned correctly, take a deep breath, and expand your diaphragm. As you lift, make sure to tighten the belt to a snug fit, but not too tight that it restricts your breathing or movement. The goal is to create intra-abdominal pressure, which stabilizes your spine, while also leaving enough room to allow you to brace.
For reference, you should only be able to stick your index finger down the back of your weight belt. Anything less than this means the belt is too tight and anything more means the belt is too loose or not in the right area.
It’s also important to remember that lifting belts use a variety of tightening mechanisms. The most common are velcro, prongs, or levers, with lever belts being the easiest to secure. Since lever belts usually come in fixed sizes, all you need to do is pull the lever towards your body and the belt will snugly fit around your waist.
Prong and velcro belts require more experimentation, but they’re more customizable to your preferences. Prong belts have a similar locking mechanism to a belt while velcro belts are pretty explanatory on how they tighten around the waist.
If you don’t know how to secure the prong belt around your waist, here are the steps:
- Begin by positioning the lifting belt around your waist, ideally just above hip level
- Bring one end of the prong belt around the side of your waist and connect it through the buckle
- Tighten the weight belt by pulling across your body until you’re satisfied with the fit
- Once you’ve reached your ideal lifting belt tightness, attach both ends together by guiding the prong through the nearest hole in the belt
Now, your prong weightlifting belt should be ready to go. Do the fit test to make sure that you’ll have enough space to brace.
Step 3: Breathe & Expand Your Core
The purpose of a lifting belt is to stabilize your back. Weightlifting belts do this by allowing you to brace your core muscles as hard as you’d like. Since your core is the first muscle group to hold off a weak back, you’ll need to be able to brace as much as you can.
To do so, start with the belt secure so you can maintain the intra-abdominal pressure by keeping your core engaged throughout the lift. Continue to breathe deeply and push your abs against the belt as you lift the weight. Hold this position and contain the feeling as you complete the entire lift.
You need to remember that a lifting belt is not a solution to all your problems. If you can’t brace correctly or exhibit poor breathing patterns, you won’t do the lift correctly. Weight belts merely help you get more out of your lift and to do so, you’ll need to get the fundamentals down.
How to Use Your Lifting Belt
Now that you know how to wear your lifting belt, it’s now time to learn how to use it. Bracing is the number one thing you need to learn if you want to wear a weight belt. Without proper bracing technique, your lifting belt is only a band-aid and can revert any progress you’ve made.
How to Brace While Wearing a Belt
There are multiple components you need to get down when bracing: breathing and holding. Start by taking a deep breath and feel the air fill your lungs. Hold your breath and flex your abs and lower back as you go through the movement.
To master bracing, don’t visualize the technique as sucking in your stomach. Instead, imagine your torso expanding on all sides, with your stomach and rib cage all pushing out against the belt. Here are some other tips we recommend:
- Flex Your Obliques:The obliques keep you stable and minimize any rotational forces hitting your hips and spine. More importantly, though, they create intra-abdominal pressure, which is critical for maintaining the support you need.
- Imagine Getting Punched in the Stomach: Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you, but getting punched in the stomach targets all the core muscles you use when bracing. Start by stabilizing your back. Then, imagine someone sending a blow straight to your stomach.
- Breath Inwards:When taking your breath, imagine breathing into the stomach. This helps develop the tension that you feel as you begin the lift. A great way to visualize this is by imagining your ribcage and pelvis being sucked into your body as your torso expands outwards.
Why Belt Sizing Matters
Lifting belts are not one-size-fits-all. In fact, there are three things you should consider when buying a belt: length, width, and thickness. Unless all three factors meet your build, your weight belt is not going to work for you.
Let’s start with length. First, you’ll need to find the perfect belt size so measure the circumference around your belly button. Use your measurement as a reference to the brand you’re buying's sizing chart to find which belt fits you best. This is important: DO NOT USE YOUR PANT SIZE AS A REFERENCE TO ORDER YOUR BELT.
If you find your measurement works for two different sizes, the best bet is to always go with the smaller size.
In terms of width, you’ll need to experiment a little bit. Most belts have a width between 3” and 5” but the most common width is 4”. We recommend trying different belts out to find the width that works best for you because this can be subjective.
Lastly, lifting belts have a thickness ranging between 5mm and 13mm. To choose the right belt thickness for you, figure out what you want to get out of your lifts. Thicker belts provide better support and stability, but they’re more rigid. Thinner belts have more functional use since they’re flexible, but this means you won’t be able to carry as much weight.
We recommend testing out the 10mm belts since these are a popular choice, but don’t be afraid to try other options too. Read our comparison on 10mm belts vs 13mm belts to get a better idea of what lifting belts will help you achieve your weightlifting goals.
Benefits of Wearing a Lifting Belt
If you’re still looking for reasons to buy a weight belt, take a look at some of the benefits below. However, you’ll only see these benefits if you have the proper mechanics down. That’s when the belt really starts to shine.
Minimized Lumbar Extension
A lifting belt restricts excessive lumbar extension during heavy lifts, reducing the risk of lower back injuries. It encourages proper lifting mechanics, making sure your spine stays in a safe position.
By providing additional support to your core, a lifting belt enhances spinal stability, especially when performing compound movements like squats, deadlifts or rack pulls. This allows you to maintain tension in the torso so that you can keep your neutral stance.
Assists Your Bracing
When you brace your core against the belt, it reinforces the abdominal wall, helping you maintain a strong and stable core throughout your lifts. For those still learning to brace, having a belt wrapped around you can give you an idea of body positioning.
The belt gives you immediate feedback on how your core and lower back respond to your bracing mechanics which tells you if you’re expanding correctly.
Increased Lifting Power
With better spinal alignment and enhanced core stability, you can generate more power during your lifts, leading to improved performance. Of course, as we’ve said a thousand times now, this benefit only comes with proper bracing technique.
Improved Muscle Endurance
Wearing a lifting belt can reduce the stress on your lower back and allow your muscles to work more efficiently. This allows your body to recover quickly and ensures that no other muscle groups are overcompensating in the event that your body can’t handle the weight.
How Tight Should Your Weightlifting Belt Be?
We’ve said that your weightlifting belt should be tight, but how tight should your lifting belt be? Generally, your belt should be tight enough to keep your lower back upright and stable but not so tight that you can’t breathe properly at every angle.
As a general guideline, you should be able to breathe across your entire waist, from your back and obliques to your abs. Test your weight belt’s tightness by slipping a finger between your belt and your body. If you can reach all the way without having to suck in, your belt is at the proper tightness level.
How to Break in Your Lifting Belt
When you first get a new lifting belt, it might feel stiff and uncomfortable. Luckily, you can break it in pretty quickly if you follow the steps below:
- Start by rolling your belt in every direction. This will help loosen up the material and give the weight belt a more flexible feel. After 10-15 minutes of rolling, you should notice a difference.
- Twist and fold your belt in different directions. This provides similar benefits to the step above. If you’re having trouble following this step, imagine folding a regular belt in on itself multiple times over–only you won’t be able to actually fold a lifting belt, but it will help get rid of the stiffness
- Once you’ve rolled, twisted, and folded the weight belt, make sure to wear it frequently to start out. Leather has a memory, meaning that once the material is flexed a certain way, it will keep that shape unless the belt stops being worn. After wearing your lifting belt for a certain number of days, it will adjust to your body shape and feel more comfortable to wear.
Before breaking in your lifting belt, make sure you have the right fit and tightness. Use our sizing test as mentioned above so that you don’t have to return your belt because you bought the wrong size.
Training Without a Belt
So far, we’ve talked about how to wear a lifting belt, training with one, and how to get properly fitted. But, what about training without a belt? You should absolutely train without a belt, regardless of if you’re a powerlifter, strongman, or general gym-goer.
For competitive weightlifters, beltless training will help you develop your squat and deadlift at a quicker rate than with a belt. It also helps you focus on bracing and breathing techniques.
It’s also worth mentioning that developing your deadlift with only a weight belt will be incredibly difficult because your core won’t be able to handle what your leg and back muscles can do. Try to stay away from your lifting belt when training below 80-85% of your 1RM. Use this training as a way to find your limits, focus on form, and breathing.
Once you’re focusing on competition lifts or testing your maximum capacity, that’s when it’s a good idea to pull the weight belt out.
Who Should Wear a Weight Belt?
Lifting belts aren't for everyone, so who should wear one. Generally, you should wear a weight belt if you're a powerlifter, strongman/strongwoman, bodybuilder, or Olympic weightlifter. Below, we highlight how you should wear your lifting belt if you fall under one of the categories above.
Powerlifting revolves around three primary lifts: squat, bench press, and deadlift. These exercises require a tremendous amount of core stability and intra-abdominal pressure to execute efficiently–which is where weightlifting belts come in.
Because it can be difficult to maintain a neutral stance when performing one of the three lifts, Powerlifters often utilize weight belts during their heaviest reps. These belts are particularly useful when attempting one-rep maxes or during competitive events. By providing a secure base, powerlifters can push their limits while minimizing the risk of injury.
Bodybuilders focus on muscle hypertrophy and aesthetics, often incorporating a wide range of exercises to target different muscle groups. While lifting belts might not be as essential as in powerlifting, they can still be advantageous during certain exercises. Lifting belts can help bodybuilders maintain proper posture and prevent excessive stress on the lower back during heavy compound movements.
You’ll find that bodybuilders tend to use lifting belts more selectively. Most bodybuilders commonly use belts during exercises that place a significant load on the lower back, such as squats and bent-over rows. For isolation exercises, belts might not be as necessary, as core engagement is not the primary focus.
Olympic weightlifters can wear belts, but it’s not necessary. In powerlifting, you wear the belt because it helps you increase your lifting capacity for the specific exercises that powerlifters do. In Olympic weightlifting, wearing a belt can sometimes interfere with your lift.
For example, you can wear a lifting belt for a hang clean or power clean, but it’s not recommended for exercises like the snatch since a belt can interfere with body position.
Regardless, many Olympic weightlifters will wear weightlifting belts to assist with their strength training. The best belts for Olympic weightlifters tend to be products made with strong yet pliable material. This helps accommodate for the increased range of motion needed in your hips and back when performing lifts like hang cleans.
Strongmen and strongwomen engage in a wide array of activities, including lifting odd objects, carrying heavy loads, and performing incredible feats of strength. Lifting belts provide indispensable support by stabilizing the core and preventing potential injuries during these unconventional and physically demanding tasks.
Strongmen and strongwomen wear lifting belts for a range of activities, from lifting Atlas stones to executing log presses. The type of lifting belt worn depends on the task at hand. For example, a competitor might prefer a thicker belt for an event with minimal mobility since this will allow them to maximize their support.
Even for individuals who are not competitive athletes, lifting belts can be a valuable tool. They can enhance safety during compound lifts, especially for those new to weightlifting. Lifting belts can help novices maintain proper form, reduce the risk of injury, and gradually increase their lifting capacity.
General gym-goers should use lifting belts cautiously and primarily during heavy lifts. Overreliance on a belt can lead to a weaker core over time. It's important to strike a balance between using the belt as a safety net and developing natural core strength.
Use Your Lifting Belt Today!
Wearing a lifting belt can significantly benefit your weightlifting performance and reduce the risk of freak injuries. However, you’ll need to remember to position the belt properly, create intra-abdominal pressure, and maintain core engagement during lifts.
Proper belt sizing and bracing also play a key role. With consistent practice and technique, your weight belt can become a useful accessory that you can use alongside other equipment like lifting straps and wrist wraps.
Are lifting belts good for you?
Yes, lifting belts are good for you. Lifting belts can provide support and stability during heavy weightlifting, helping reduce the risk of lower back injuries and improve lifting performance. However, they are not necessary for everyone and should be used selectively, particularly for lifting near your maximum capacity.
At what point is a lifting belt necessary?
A lifting belt is necessary when lifting near your maximum capacity or during exercises that place significant stress on the lower back, like heavy squats and deadlifts. It provides extra support and can help reduce the risk of injury. However, for most everyday weightlifting, a lifting belt is not necessary and can potentially limit core strength development.