Weightlifting belts, more commonly referred to as lifting belts, are supportive pieces of strength equipment. Lifting belts are designed to support lifters and athletes that are training with high intensities.
A big part of my job as a coach is to educate my clients and lifters on when to use certain types of gear. For example, explaining contexts where knee sleeves make sense and when it’s a good idea to belt up.
In this article, I’ll discuss what lifting belts do, when to wear them, and some benefits of wearing a lifting belt in certain contexts.
A lifting belt can be a great tool for providing the torso with an external cueing mechanism to brace into. This can help increase intra-abdominal pressure which can lead to better torso rigidity while lifting.
Every coach and athlete tends to have their own opinions and system on when to wear a belt. As you read this content, please keep in mind that this is my take and I’d suggest learning from other coaches to blend and build your system.
There is no definitive “right” and “wrong” time when to wear a lifting belt. Lifting belt usage should always be individual and contextual and there’s no realistic bar to entry when using a belt.
Every athlete and lifter can technically benefit from using a lifting belt depending on their context. A lifting belt is not a piece of equipment just limited to “serious” and “advanced” lifters.
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What Does a Lifting Belt Do?
In simple terms, a lifting belt will work to help increase the rigidity of the torso when working out with heavier weights. It can work as a cueing mechanism in the context of creating a stronger brace by bracing into the belt.
For example, when a belt is around the torso, oftentimes, our body will naturally brace into it because of the proprioceptive feel it gives us. In the context of proprioceptive cues, a lifting belt is somewhat similar to how a knee sleeve can create an external cue to increase stability.
In the literature, a lifting belt has been suggested to help increase and improve intra-abdominal pressure also referred to as IAP. (1) Intra-abdominal pressure is the act of maintaining a steady state of pressure that’s contained in the abdominal cavity.
This steady-state pressure can be important for lifting because as weights get heavier in certain exercises we need to maintain certain levels of rigidity to be proficient with our form and lifting mechanics.
For example, if you’re doing a heavy deadlift or squat, then you’ll want to maintain an amount of pressure in the abdominal region that matches the weight and task at hand. By doing so, you’ll be able to move better while better leveraging the muscles needed for these exercises.
Another interesting thing about lifting belts that I and my clients both experience is that often times we’ll execute reps faster when wearing a belt, especially with heavier intensities, and science has suggested this, too. (2)
This likely has to do with how a belt influences confidence and rigidity when lifting which can translate to faster and smoother mechanics especially when torso rigidity is a major player in an exercise’s execution.
The last thing to note about what belts do is that a lifting belt can be somewhat useful in the context of injury prevention when working with heavier intensities due to its cueing mechanism. It’s not an “end-all-be-all” for injury prevention, but it can serve as a preventative tool in certain contexts.
How To Wear a Lifting Belt
If you’re new to lifting belts, then you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing one correctly. This can not only lead to better outcomes regarding the belt’s purpose but it can increase the comfort of the belt on your torso.
Establish a good snugness
The first step to wearing a lifting belt is to establish how snug you want it on your torso. You don’t want your lifting belt to be so tight that you can’t breathe and to the point in which it’s incredibly uncomfortable.
If you’re using a lever belt, then I’d suggest setting your lever to a point in which you can place your hand under the belt when the lever is attached but not cranked tight.
Generally speaking, this will be a good milestone to use to make sure your belt will be snug but not too snug to wear it’s impossible to close the lever and wear.
If you’re using a velcro belt, then it’s a little easier to gauge how much tightness you need because you can micro-adjust this type of belt easier.
Position the belt and brace
When it comes to the position of the belt on the torso, this is where individuality comes into play. You’ll want to play with different spots to see what feels best.
Generally, you’ll gravitate toward one belt position over the others after enough sessions training with a belt so don’t overthink this right out of the gate. Some lifters like their belt high while others like theirs lower.
For lever belts, I often suggest a tightness that allows you to get two fingers under the belt when you’re braced and pressing against it.
For single-prong, double-prong, and velcro belts I also suggest using the fingertip method to check the tightness of the belt.
I’ll typically have clients brace into a belt and breathe to check and see that the belt isn’t too tight to where it’s limiting their ability to breathe or too loose to where the belt slides when they’re not fully bracing.
What’s most important is that you’re finding a consistent placement with your belt with a tightness that makes sense for your preferences and lifting needs. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment with your belt.
For additional questions about how to wear a lifting belt, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally on Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend) and I can send you some video feedback based on your asks.
When To Wear Lifting Belts
The “when” of lifting belts is a highly opinionated and individual topic, so keep in mind that this section requires nuance and context. When you should wear a lifting belt should always be specific with an intent.
Below I’ll cover some basic scenarios where I think most coaches, lifters, and athletes would agree that a lifting belt can make sense.
1. You’re Working With Top-End Strength Numbers
The first context is when you’re working with top-end strength numbers. If your goal is moving the most weight possible whether that’s for your own personal endeavors or for strength sports reasons, a lifting belt can make sense.
In this scenario, a lifting belt will be a tool to promote stronger form to accomplish the goal at hand which is moving the most weight possible. Not wearing a belt for this type of strength work would be like a professional soccer player not wearing cleats.
Sure, the pro soccer player be able to play and you’ll be able to move heavy weight, but without wearing a belt in this context you’re capping your potential without using the right supportive strength gear.
Note, there’s a difference between purposely training 1, 2, and 3-RMs without a belt versus going for a maximal weight. Beltless top-end numbers will be different than belted numbers.
2. You’re Wanting To Use It for Cueing/Teaching
Another scenario wear a lifting belt can make sense is for the lifter that has form breaking down regarding their torso position. Once again, a lifting belt can do a phenomenal job to cue you to brace harder when training.
If I have a lifter that keeps folding at the torso during back squats even when the strength is there I’ll have them wear a belt because it can help cue them to achieve the rigidity and torso position we’re after.
For scenarios where you notice your torso is getting a little lax, I’d suggest trying out a belt as a cueing mechanism. You can even leave it lighter to continue working the torso muscles if that’s your goal and still achieve a nice cue benefit here.
3. You’re Doing a Long Metcon Or High-Volume Set
If you’re tackling a long CrossFit metcon where you’re doing a lot of torso flexion and extension work or doing high-volume sets then a belt can be useful to help you perform your best.
Oftentimes, we think of lifting belts as only being useful for maxing out or hitting top-end strength numbers. While that’s true, it’s not the only scenario where a lifting belt can make a lot of sense.
In this scenario, a belt is essentially prolonging how long we can perform at a higher threshold. For example, if we can limit how fast how torso gets tired then we can allow our legs, arms, and other body parts to continue working hard uninterrupted.
For example, in a 10-rep squat set with a moderate load. You may find that your torso starts losing rigidity around rep 6-7 which can then cause you to expend additional effort to mitigate this, and this can then take away from what your legs are doing AKA what you’re trying to train.
Should Beginners Wear Lifting Belts?
The concept of beginners wearing lifting belts is a highly debated topic. While there’s no “bar to entry” regarding belt usage when it comes to numbers and weight on the bar, I do think beginners should give lifting belts some thought before wearing them.
More specifically, in my coaching opinion, I think most beginners will be better off spending time building their foundation of muscle and strength before moving straight to a belt.
By focusing on building a foundation of strength and working on being proficient with your lifts you’ll have a better idea of where your form starts to break down at certain thresholds.
A great example here is the lifter that trains without a belt for 6 months to a year and then realizes that their deadlift form starts to break down at a specific point when using a certain weight.
In this context, using a lifting belt can be a better means of promoting stronger performance because this lifter has more data and a more fine-tuned reason for using a belt.
Compare this to the beginner that wears a lifting belt right away that hasn’t perfected their form, it can be a lot harder for this lifter to figure out where their shortcomings may be because a belt can mask things like inefficient bracing and torso mechanics.
Again, though, this topic is super individual. If you’re a beginner reading this and you want a little help as to when you start wearing a lifting belt always feel free to reach out and we can flesh out some thoughts.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q:What does a weightlifting belt do?
Q:Who should wear lifting belts?
Q:How tight should my lifting belt be?
Lifting belts can be awesome tools in the gym for supporting stronger performance. When using a lifting belt it’s important to understand the “why” behind its usage.
Once you understand what a belt then you can start to build your processes and systems for wearing a lifting belt strategically in your workout programs.
If you have additional questions about when to wear lifting belts, drop a comment below or reach out to me on Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).
1. RL;, L. J. J. (n.d.). The effectiveness of weight-belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1533266/
2. Fong SSM;Chung LMY;Gao Y;Lee JCW;Chang TC;Ma AWW; (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35363215/