One piece of lifting gear that can be easily misused is the weightlifting belt. It's like a support wall for your abs and torso, but how tight should a lifting belt be? Your belt should be snug around your waist, offering core support while allowing comfortable breathing. If you can take a deep belly breath and brace your core without your shoulders lifting, you're on the right track. In this article, we'll explore what influences belt tightness, how to find your ideal fit, common mistakes to avoid, and exercise-specific guidelines.
What Affects Lifting Belt Tightness?
The tightness of a weightlifting belt varies depending on its type, material, closure style, and thickness. These factors play a role in how tight it feels along with its range of motion and security.
When it comes to lifting belts, you'll find two main contenders: leather and nylon. Leather belts are heavyweights, offering thickness and rigidity for solid torso support. They excel in durability, handling high pressure and resistance like a champ. On the flip side, nylon belts are thinner and more flexible, giving you a broader range of motion during your lifts If you need flexibility for exercises involving bending and twisting, nylon is the way to go. If you’re handling heavy weight and need maximum core stability, then use a leather lifting belt.
Lifting belts vary in thickness, each serving a distinct purpose. Thicker belts, like 13mm-wide and 4-inch-wide lever or prong belts, provide maximum rigidity and spine support, ideal for heavy, static lifts such as squats and deadlifts. In contrast, thinner belts (think 10mm belts) work best for dynamic movements like snatches and clean & jerks due to their less restrictive nature. When selecting a belt, consider the thickness that aligns with your workout needs. 10mm and 13mm belts are typically the most popular, but we recommend doing a full comparison of10mm vs. 13mm belts before making a decision.
Your buckle type choice plays a significant role in determining how snugly your lifting belt fits. Generally, there are two main types: prong and lever buckles.
Prong buckles are the more traditional option, while lever buckles represent a newer closure style. Both buckles offer excellent support, but lever belts provide a tighter fit compared to prong buckles. Additionally, lever buckles are easier to put on and take off, simplifying your pre-lift preparations.
How Tight Should Your Lifting Belt Be?
To determine the ideal belt tightness, start by learning the correct way to put on a lifting belt and practice bracing with it. Place the belt between your ribs and hip bones, take a deep breath, and fasten it, leaving enough room for one finger's width. Ensure the belt doesn't hinder your breathing when you exhale and test your core bracing about five times to find the right balance between support and comfort.
Keep in mind that the right belt tightness can vary depending on the exercise you're performing. Let’s take a look at how tight your lifting belt should be for squats, bench presses, deadlifts, snatches, and clean & jerks.
The mainpurpose of a lifting belt is to keep your spine and back stable. This especially matters for squats and for this exercise particularly, people tend to keep their lifting belts tight. Of course, this varies from person to person. A key thing here is where you position the belt–most prefer it lower, near the hip bones instead of up near the ribs. When you're down in the squat, pay attention to how your belly expands. If the belt's too tight, it could mess with your stability as your belly pushes out.
For Bench Press
Using a belt while bench pressing isn't widespread in powerlifting due to its potential restrictions when creating an arch. However, some lifters still choose to wear one. When it comes to benching, you can go fairly tight with the belt since there's no folding or bending of the torso involved in this exercise.
When you're doing deadlifts, it's a good idea to go for a slightly looser fit with your lifting belt. If it's too tight, it can mess with your breathing and make it hard to brace properly. You’re also using a wider range of motion than squats or bench presses. A tight lifting belt could hinder your movement, preventing you from doing the full lift and potentially causing unwanted injuries.
Snatching entails significant and dynamic movements. This wide range of motion makes a looser lifting belt ideal. This provides ample room for breathing and adapting your position throughout the lift. To enhance flexibility during this highly dynamic exercise, it's wise to opt for a more flexible belt material, such as nylon.
For Clean & Jerk
The clean and jerk is a dynamic lift, much like the snatch. It involves front squatting the weight up and places more direct stress on the spine compared to the snatch. So, generally, you might want to cinch the belt a bit tighter for a clean and jerk than for a squat, though this can differ from person to person. Just be mindful not to overdo it, as excessive tightness can limit your movement and make it challenging to catch a breath before the overhead jerk.
When to Wear a Looser Weightlifting Belt
Here are three scenarios where it’s better to go for a looser belt:
- Dynamic Exercises: A looser belt is beneficial for exercises that involve heavier breathing or more movement. Dynamic exercises, such as the snatch and clean & jerk, fall into this category. If you're transitioning quickly between exercises, a looser fit offers greater comfort and extended wear.
- Exercises Involving Bending Over: Competitive powerlifters often prefer a looser belt during deadlifts to facilitate a wider range of motion and allow for full abdomen expansion. Similarly, exercises that require you to hold a bent-over position, like barbell bent-over rows, typically warrant a looser fit to ensure comfortable breathing under load.
- Evening Workouts and Post-Meals: Keep in mind that the body's dimensions can change throughout the day. So, for evening workouts or after consuming larger meals, you might find a slightly looser fit more comfortable. This doesn't mean the belt should be loose; rather, it might be adjusted 1-2 holes looser in the evening compared to the morning, while still feeling snug around your waist.
When to Wear a Tighter Weightlifting Belt
There are also times when you’ll need to wear a tighter lifting belt. Here are three scenarios where it’s better to go for a tighter belt.
- Static Exercises: Static exercises benefit from the extra stability provided by a tighter belt, minimizing unwanted torso movement. These exercises involve limited motion, like bench pressing, where a tighter belt allows for better bracing and increased stability. Since static exercises don't cause heavy breathing like dynamic ones, a tighter fit is suitable, but ensure you leave enough room to breathe comfortably
- Exercises Without Bending Over: For exercises that don't require bending at the waist, a tighter belt provides maximum support without limiting your range of motion. Unless your exercise requires torso bending or heavy breathing, a tighter fit is typically preferred.
- Lifts with Spinal Loading: Tightening the belt during exercises that load weight onto the spine–such as squats or deadlifts–enhances core support and back protection. Most competitive lifters favor a tight belt for these movements.
Lifting Belt Tightness: Mistakes to Avoid
Wearing a lifting belt is pretty simple, but if you want to lift your top weight, you’ll need to be disciplined. To maximize the benefits of your lifting belt, steer clear of these common mistakes:
Wearing the Belt-Like Clothes
Remember, a lifting belt isn't meant to be worn like regular clothing or a belt to hold up your pants. When your belt can be easily worn buckled between sets, it’s probably because you're not taking a deep breath in when tightening the belt, but rather just measuring it based on your waist circumference at rest. Always ensure you take a big breath every time you put on the belt to achieve the right fit for optimal support.
Not Leaving Room to Breathe
When putting on your belt, make sure you have enough room for both bracing and breathing. The best approach is to fasten the belt while taking a deep inhale, allowing your abdomen to protrude outward. This method minimizes the risk of cinching the belt too tightly.
On the other hand, securing the belt as you exhale can result in it being overly tight, leaving insufficient room for generating tension and, more importantly, breathing.
It’s crucial to stay realistic and acknowledge that our waist size can change significantly in a single day. If you're using prong or velcro belts, it's best to adjust the setting according to your actual size on that specific day, rather than relying on your "usual" spot. For those with lever belts, adjusting on the spot might not be an option unless you have the right tools. To manage this, try to maintain consistency by going to the gym at the same time of day and eating similar foods before training to minimize fluctuations.
Related:20 Questions About Lever Belts
Ignoring Digestive Issues
If you're not feeling your best, it's important to check for any digestive problems. Wearing a belt that's too tight can potentially aggravate indigestion or heartburn.
While we all aim for peak workout performance, it's entirely reasonable to think about slightly loosening the belt, especially if it can prevent worsening any existing digestive discomfort.
The ideal tightness of weightlifting belts varies from person to person and even between different exercises. Your belt should strike a balance: it should be comfortable enough for breathing and bracing but not so much so that you would wear it while resting. While a weightlifting belt is designed to offer sturdy support and shouldn't be worn casually, make sure it isn’t negatively impacting your body in any way