Weightlifting Belts

Daniel Siegel
4 min read
May 6, 2022

Weightlifting belts, fashion statement or important tool... and at what point should you think about reaching for one?

Weightlifting belts are used to aid the stabilisation of the spine during lifts such as the squat, deadlift or heavy clean & jerks. We won’t go into the sports science details here, since there are plenty of good articles out there by far more knowledgeable people. So, to keep things short, sweet and simple, picture a balloon for the next paragraph.

How a Belt works

Your core is (a bit) like a balloon. As you brace for a lift, you breath into it and tense up so that everything remains rigid under the load of the lift you’re performing. This increased pressure is referred to as “intra-abdominal pressure”. However inflated balloons flop around and can pop. Or in your case you may lose your stability and buckle under heavy weights. A balloon inflated inside of a box on the other hand, will work together with the box to create a solid, unpoppable balloon (if its getting far fetched don't worry, we'll be back to normal sentences soon).

In essence, a belt provides you with this box. But it won’t be any good to you if you don’t know how to inflate the balloon in the first place.

How to wear a Belt

When used correctly, the weightlifting belt can allow you to lift far greater weights than you would without. However you can't just slap on a belt and expect your PB's to shit themselves.

The belt should sit above your hip bones and be in contact all the way around your midriff. Too high or too low and it will be uncomfortable - as well as pointless - so make sure you get it right. Tighten the belt by breathing in slightly and adjusting as tightly as possible (within reason). You should still be able to stick a finger down the back of the belt.

Using a belt

If you've done these two steps correctly you will notice that as you breathe and brace your core into the belt, you can do so more aggressively, with a more solid core as a result. Remember the key is to not use the belt as duct tape to hold yourself together, but to use it as a tool in which you can brace and create tension which supports your core and spine during those heavy attempts.

The effect created by the belt will feel fantastic and you will probably feel twice as strong, but it should not be relied upon.

A good ‘rule of thumb’ would be to only wear your belt at weights above 80% of your maximum effort lift. Building a strong foundation of core strength prior to using a belt will prevent injuries, improve technique and improve your maximal strength in the long run. If you neglect these aspects, it probably won’t do much at all. If you're a beginner starting out your journey, I would recommend moving this item down your list of priorities.

What belt should you use?

Traditional weightlifting belts are typically made of leather measuring around 10cm wide at the back, tapering to 5cm on the sides and front. This classic design is still the most popular amongst weightlifters due to its durability, support and comfort once worn in.

Whilst the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) permits any belt up to 120mm in width, powerlifting belts are often much thicker than weightlifting belts and the lack of taper may leave you compromised when catching a clean. Some variants also have large buckles or levers which could, or lets be honest - should - interfere with the bar path. Whilst they can be used, powerlifting belts are not usually recommended for the classic lifts.

Another belt variation gaining a lot of popularity is the Velcro style belt. Although these are also not tapered, their synthetic material is relatively thin and flexible allowing lifts to be executed with minimal interference. This style of belt might not achieve the same levels of ‘tightness’ or support the classic weightlifting belts offer, but they can provide a nice even support around the core.

Velcro belts also provide far more ‘adjustability’ than leather belts with set tightness intervals do. If you find yourself bouncing between weight classes (or perpetually bulking and cutting), these belts might be the perfect choice for you.

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