Should You Use a Belt for Weightlifting? Is it Necessary?

How Weightlifting Belts Work

The common conception about lifting belts is that they support the back in order to help prevent injury when performing heavy lifts. Although there is truth to that, lifting belts aren’t necessarily supplying you with support. It has to do more with how the body reacts to the belt that supplies the support to your spine.

Lifting belts are worn around the waist in order to provide a wall for your abs to push against. The added force with limited space increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which provides support for the spine to help stabilize it. It also forms a rigid wall around the lower torso that connects the rib cage to the hip which helps prevent back hyperextension and any other bending and twisting that can lead to injuries. 

Essentially a belt works as core muscles, so when you use one it’s like having an extra set of those muscles. And in case you didn’t know, a strong core is what helps keep you upright and is needed for better overall strength. That is why wearing a lifting belt often causes weightlifters to be more aware of their back position and the muscles needed to be activated to maintain good posture. And overall, it can make lifters feel more secure and confident when lifting with a belt.

Benefits

Using a weightlifting belt isn’t going to make you stronger or automatically help you lift the heaviest you’ve ever lifted. It’s not a magic tool, but using one can have certain benefits like…

  • It minimizes the risk of injury
  • Maintains and increases intra-abdominal pressure throughout the entire movement
  • Stabilizes and reduces stress on the spine
  • Can create better biomechanics
  • Makes you more aware of your form and reminds you to stay tight
  • Can provide a sense of confidence and security

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When to wear a weightlifting belt

There’s a huge debate in the fitness world on whether you should wear a belt at all. Some believe that you should learn how to lift heavy loads without a belt first. There is some truth to that… A lifting belt does not compensate for a weak core, but if you need a belt when lifting a heavy load in order to avoid injury then use it. Either way, before you use a belt or even start lifting heavier weights, you need to be able to perform the movements with good form and know how to breathe to brace your core. Once you feel that your form is close to perfect, you know how to breathe properly to brace your core in order to increase intra-abdominal pressure then you can start using a belt!

Weightlifting belts aren’t needed throughout your entire workout routine, in fact, you shouldn’t wear them all the time. If you wear them too much you’ll end up relying too heavily on it for spine support and core stability. If you use them for every heavy lift, you’ll slowly lose abdominal strength due to heavily relying on the belt to do the heavy lifting for you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, you should only use them for these two occasions:

  • Performing maximal or submaximal lifts in exercises in which the weight is supported by the lifter’s back. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and barbell rows.
  • Performing exercises that cause the back to hyperextend, like the overhead press.

Aside from that, the belt is not needed. Don’t use them for warm-ups, lightweight loads, and any exercises in which the spinal erectors do not work against heavy resistance. It’s only necessary for those two occasions, and if you really need support on heavy loads to reduce lower back pain or reduce the risk of injury, then use it. Just make sure that it doesn’t become a crutch that you rely on too heavily.

Types of Weight Belts

There are various types of weightlifting belts available on the market. Some of the most common ones are powerlifting belts and bodybuilding/traditional belts. Velcro belts can be easier to put on and remove than leather ones, and thicker belts can be more supportive of the spine when performing weightlifting exercises.

A powerlifting-style belt that is the same width all the way around is ideal for preventing back hyperextension and twisting. Otherwise, a conventional belt can be worn in the usual manner with the wide part of the belt in the back.

When To Avoid A Weightlifting Belt

If you aren’t lifting a heavy load, then you

If you aren’t lifting a heavy load, then you don’t need a lifting belt.

You also shouldn’t be using a belt if you don’t have the proper form of the exercise down.

If by adding the lifting belt you start to compromise proper form, this is an indicator that the weight is too heavy for you. 

If you are unable to stabilize your core without the belt, there is a good chance your core has become too reliant on the belt, causing it to work like a crutch.

You will want to remove the belt until you can work that core strength back up and complete the move with proper form.

If you have a history of high blood pressure or a hernia you will want to avoid adding a lifting belt to your workout. The added intra-abdominal pressure can make these matters worse.

Again, if you are not performing a squat, deadlift or overhead press than a lifting belt is not necessary.

Pros And Cons of a Weightlifting Belt

Pros:

Pros:

The pros of wearing a lifting belt are relatively few and simple.

Greater Stability

A lifting belt increases stability throughout your core and reduces stress on your lower back when the exercise is performed correctly. This allows you to accomplish heavier lifts once you have mastered form and breathing.

False Sense of Security

A lifting belt sometimes makes you think that you can lift heavier than you really can.

Often times it can even compromise your form because the weight being lifted is too heavy for you.

Abdominal Floor Pressure

For women, a lifting belt can lead to increased stress being placed on your pelvic floor. 

Many women, especially mothers, have a pelvic floor that is already weakened.

Due to increased intra-abdominal pressure from the core, the pushback placed on your pelvic floor can cause more stress on that group of muscles, potentially leading to injury.

A Weaker Core

Along with weakening of the pelvic floor, use of a lifting belt can hinder can hinder the development of a strong core.

The core starts to rely on the belt instead of your own muscle strength when performing your lifts, which doesn’t allow the muscles to grow.

How To Properly Use A Weight Lifting Belt

A common misconception among those who use belts properly is that you are supposed to ‘push’ your stomach out against the belt during a lift. This is counter-intuitive as doing this will typically result in spinal flexion – the thing most people are trying to prevent in the first place.

Since the belt is used to create IAP, make sure you wear it around your abdomen and not your hips. Make sure not too tight as it can cut off circulation and prevent proper contraction, but fits snugly.

To use it during a lift, just put it on tight and forget it’s there: use your core the way you normally would. Your abs will work harder just by having the belt there, which is exactly what you want.

Exercises to Use with a Weight Belt

As cool as a weightlifting belt may make you look, there’s no need to wear it during every single exercise. It’ll look ridiculous if you’re relying on a weightlifting belt during preacher curls.

First, stick to only wearing your weightlifting belt during heavy sets.

Here’s why.

Your body will naturally produce intra-abdominal pressure during moderate lifts, and wearing a belt for your whole workout can cause you to become overly reliant on this external pressure.

When lifting heavy, these are the exercises you should be wearing a weightlifting belt for:

If you’re jumping between squats and barbell curls in the same workout, you don’t necessarily have to take the belt off for curls and put it back on for squats.

You can simply loosen the belt’s tightness and leave it around your waist.

Weightlifting belts for women

In the present time, women have started taking an interest in keeping themselves fit and healthy. For this reason, they are into carrying out exercises that keep their body active and strong. Weightlifting has sought much attraction from women because of its numerous advantages. Like men weightlifters, women also prefer using weightlifting belts because these belts give extra protection, support, and anchorage to the spine, which enables the lifter to lift more weight.

Harms of using weightlifting belt by women

A weightlifting belt especially affects the pelvic floor of a woman’s body. A pelvic floor is a group of muscles that rest at the base of the pelvis. This area helps in providing a site for baby development and also includes the placement of other organs like bladder, uterus, etc.

Wearing a weightlifting belt increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which directly affects the pelvic floor resulting in its weakening. For this reason, it is recommended to women to use weightlifting belts as less as they can in order to keep their body healthy and fit.

Why You Should Learn to Lift Beltless Before Wearing a Belt

Oftentimes, lifters rely too much on belts in their training, neglecting their body’s natural ability to create and harness intra-abdominal pressure. However, in the event a lifter is competing, such as in powerlifting or weightlifting, wearing a weightlifting belt can significantly increase one’s performance provided they have taken the time to develop sound bracing and breathing mechanics while training beltless.

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Additionally, if a lifter is concerned about spinal integrity due to a previous injury, a belt may be a good option. (Also, another option is not to lift a weight that you can’t move without a belt.)

For days when you’re using loads under 85% of one’s one-rep max or so, train without a belt to develop bracing mechanics. Generally speaking, use a belt when maximal strength, power, and/or loading above 85% of a one-rep max is the primary focus.

What is the purpose of the weightlifting belt?

The first question that comes to mind when reading about a weightlifting belt is what does a weightlifting belt do? So let us share what the purpose of the weightlifting belt is?

As a common practice, a majority of the people use lifting belts to lift the extra weight which they are unable to lift without wearing a belt because a weightlifting belt provides additional support to the body.

A weightlifting belt has two significant purposes:

It decreases the level of stress applied to the lower back while lifting a weight. This stress decreases as the belt compress the abdominal cavity creating intra abdominal pressure (IAB). This pressure gives added support in front of the bones of the lower back, which allows the spinal erector muscles to exert decreased force while carrying out a lift.

It also suppresses the chances of hyperextension while carrying out overhead lifts. Hyperextension is an abnormality in which the joint moves away from its normal position creating an increased or decreased angle than the normal.

Weightlifting belts are meant for protecting oneself from injury or damage.

When You Dont Need a Belt at All

Really, as far as gaining strength and performance in the gym are concerned, it’s hard to argue against not wearing a belt, but there are a few big red flags to wave here. You probably want to avoid using a belt if:

  • You have high blood pressure: If you have health conditions like uncontrolled high-blood pressure or conditions that can be exacerbated by intra-abdominal pressure (like a hernia), you should not be wearing a belt (or even using the Valsalva), period. We’ve discussed this in our breathing article as well, but this warning goes double here since a belt will raise both intra-abdominal pressure and blood pressure further.
  • You can’t lift heavy weight with good technique: Belts don’t magically undo bad form. It’s always a good idea to refine your lifting technique with heavier weights before you wear a belt. If your form sucks to begin with, wearing a belt is only going to reinforce poor technique.
  • You don’t know how to stabilise your body without a belt: Without bracing your core, there’s a good chance you’re not properly stabilising your body for heavy loads. Even if you seem to lift OK with a belt on, you may end up using the belt as a crutch and could increase your chance of injury if you ever try to lift the same without it.
  • You don’t squat, deadlift or do much overhead pressing: No, you don’t need to wear a belt for bicep curls.

Above all, check your ego at the door. You don’t want wearing a big belt around your waist at the gym to give you grandiose visions of superhuman ability. You’ll end up hurting yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best type of weightlifting belt?

There’s no one best belt. There are a plethora of styles of lifting belts. Styles can range from material used, structure, rigidity levels, and sport-specific types.

For Olympic weightlifting, you want a belt that’s thicker in the back but thinner in the front for more mobility during the snatch and clean & jerk. Powerlifters and strongmen want a power belt, which is the same thickness and width for more intense bracing. There are also different styles to consider. Some feel that a buckle is more secure than a lever, but it’s generally harder to secure and fasten. There are also velcro belts, which everyday gym-goers may enjoy since they’re easier to use and not as stiff. 

When should you wear a weightlifting belt?

Generally speaking, most lifters who wear weightlifting belts do so when loads get above 80% of their one-rep max. Depending on the skill level of the lifter and loads being lifted, this may vary. It is important to note that lifting with a belt does require some awareness and skill, so it is important to train in a belt from time to time if you are planning on competing in a lifting sport.

That said, most lifters who train and compete in weightlifting belts will also go through training blocks where they will not use a belt, which can be helpful to develop better foundational core strength and address weaknesses that may be masked when using a belt.

What exercises should you wear a weightlifting belt for?

Nearly any exercise can be done with a weightlifting belt. However, it is reserved for compound lifts like squats, presses (bench and overhead), deadlifts, and accessory movements. 

If you find yourself using a weighting belt for things like walking lunges, calf raises, and biceps curls, for example, there is a strong chance you are not even using a weighting belt properly, should learn how to brace without a weightlifting belt, and might be recovering from lower back issues. In that case, you should ask yourself if you should be training the way you are training right now. 

How can I break my belt in?

If you just bought a heavy-duty power belt, then you’ll notice it’s really stiff. Here’ a simple trick: Turn on your favorite show, sit down with your belt in front of you on the floor, and roll it tightly up and then unroll it for the duration of the show. Eventually, it’ll get warm and begin to loosen. This will ensure it’s comfortable to wear, and then over time, it’ll soften up a bit more.

Weightlifting belts are a “sometimes” accessory

A weightlifting belt is not a fashion statement; it’s a training tool. You don’t need to rely on the belt for every. Single. Exercise.

Most lifters prefer using a belt for squats and deadlifts, where a little extra support can keep the spine from buckling during these power lifts. Many experienced lifters throw the belt on for near-maximum efforts, and take it off for regular training and warm-ups. Just so we’re clear, “near-maximum” is a weight that is 80% or more of your maximum lift. The exact percentage is often arbitrary, so wear it when you think you really need the extra support on big lifts. Some lifters only bring it out for their top sets; others do all their working sets with a belt to maintain a consistent feel from set to set. Knowing when you need to wear it and when you don’t comes with experience, and can also depend on your training style (high volume versus low volume, for example).

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For all other times, when you’re not squatting or deadlifting a cosmic amount of weight, you don’t need to wear it. In fact, if you can and do wear it all the time, you’re likely not wearing it right. Belts should feel snug enough that they’ll sit in same place, but not so tight that you’re cutting off circulation. You should still be able to take a full breath when it’s strapped on, but you won’t be comfortable wearing it between sets.

Not every gym-goer needs (or will want) a weightlifting belt. It’s useful, but not a requirement. Just keep in mind when they benefit you and when they don’t, and use them accordingly. They’re tools—not championship belts to show off in the gym.This article was originally published in March 2016 and was updated on June 3, 2021 to include updated links and to align the content with current Lifehacker style.

  

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