What do I need? Weightlifting Belt or Powerlifting Belt


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Are Weight Belts Bad for Our Lower Backs?

No, it doesn’t appear that lifting belts increase our risk of getting a lower back injury. It’s true that lifting weights with an excessively rounded lower back can increase the shear stress on our spines, increasing our risk of injury, but that’s a reason to lift correctly, not a reason to avoid wearing a weight belt.

Returning to Dr Stuart McGill, he warns against wearing a belt becoming an excuse to lift with poor technique. If we’re deadlifting a heavy barbell, we should lift it safely, with or without a weight belt. For instance, when you deadlift, your technique should be like the charging bull, not the scared cat:

he also points out that if we’re training me

he also points out that if we’re training merely to improve our health, not to gain as much muscle size and strength as possible, then we may as well avoid weight lifting belts. After all, the myriad health benefits of strength training can be gotten with or without a belt (source).


Do Weight Lifting Belts Make Our Cores Weaker?

One concern is that wearing a belt would take the load off of our lower backs, preventing them from getting as strong, and thus putting us at greater risk of injuring our backs outside of the gym. However, Dr Stuart McGill (the foremost expert in spinal health) found that the lower back muscles still work just as hard during compound barbell lifts when wearing a weight belt (study). A similar concern is that wearing a weight belt might stop our abs and obliques from growing stronger. However, again, McGill’s research contradicts that. Ab activation seems similar with and without a lifting belt.

How To Wear A Lifting Belt For Bench Press?

If you’re someone who hasn’t yet tried a lifting belt for bench press, then I have some tips on wearing one.  

Be Patient

Wear a lifting belt for bench press for about 1-2 months before deciding whether it’s going to be something you stick with or not.  

You can’t get a proper assessment of whether you like wearing it or not if you only use it for a single workout.  It’s a new piece of equipment, and so there will be an adjustment period in terms of learning your own personal preferences.  


A lot of lifters do not like wearing the belt super tight for bench press.  I agree it will feel rather uncomfortable and you’ll have a hard time breathing and benching at the same time.  If you can stick 1 finger between your stomach and belt then it’s probably tight enough.  You’ll also want to make sure you know the difference between 10mm vs 13mm belts and 3 or 4-inch belts. For bench press, you want a 10mm belt.


As I said, you want to start wearing the belt as low on your waist as possible.  From there, you can play around with bringing it higher. 

Take a look at my head-to-head comparison between the Inzer Belt vs SBD Belt.

Which belt should you buy?

Alright, so now that you know if you really need one and you still think it would be a good idea, which one should you buy?

Fairly simple actually. You want a high quality belt that is rather thick and sturdy. The flexible ones are plain nonsense. You might as well just wrap a piece of foil around your core and save some money.

A decent belt should be roughly 9mm thick, have a very strong buckle, around 4"/10cm wide and made out of leather.

A good starting point is any belt that looks like this:

Or if you prefer a different buckle, like this:

The weight lifting belts from RDX bring a great value for the price, if you want a specific recommendation.

When Do You Need A Weightlifting Belt  

For the most part, a lifting belt is not needed.

For the most part, a lifting belt is not needed.

Typically you only need a belt if you are an experienced lifter and you want to work toward going heavier with your weights.

I would not recommend using one unless you reach at least 80% of your 1-RM  (1-RM, or one-rep max, simply refers to the max amount of weight you can lift for one rep).

It is key that you have your form and breathing down before throwing a belt on. A belt is not designed to fix improper form or prevent injury due to improper form.

There are also only a handful of moves that might require a belt. These include:



-Overhead Press (multiple variations)

Due to the pressure they put around your core, they are only needed during the move and then should be removed. They should not be worn during your entire workout.  

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What type of weight lifting belt should I buy?

Belts come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. It

Belts come in all shapes, sizes, and materials. It is essential to know what precisely to avoid when shopping.

Material: Leather. Nothing else

Quality lifting belts are made of leather and fastened with a buckle or lever. Garbage belts are made out of nylon and secured with velcro.

Velcro Belts
Velcro Belts

Velcro wears, and it wears fast. If you’re wearing your belt correctly in training, then you should be taking it off in between your sets because it is not comfortable to just hang out in it. This means you’re fastening and unfastening your belt up to 30 times a training session. Give it three months, and your belt will have lost a significant amount of its ability to stay closed under stress. I have never seen a velcro belt that I couldn’t force open just by bracing. Trust me; you don’t want your belt popping open at the bottom of a squat.

Leather, fastened with a single-prong metal buckle or with a metal lever, has none of those problems. Yes, you will pay more, but as with many things in life: you get what you pay for. Lifting is ultimately a very inexpensive sport. You need a good pair of shoes and a good belt, and you’re good to go for years or decades. A quality lifting belt will cost $80-$150 and last a lifetime.

Thickness: 10 mm or 13 mm

Leather belts come in varying thicknesses, typically either single-ply leather (about 5-6.5 mm thick) or a double-ply (10 mm or 13 mm thick).

I do not recommend the single ply belts. They deform far more easily than their heftier cousins. With a 6.5 mm belt, you will quickly start to see deformation around the buckle holes. Also, it’s quite easy to bend the belt across its width (from top to bottom). This is problematic for “fluffier” lifters.

New lifters should start with a 10 mm thick belt. They don’t suffer from the same problems as the thinner single-ply belts. If you’re a competitive powerlifter, then you may consider a 13 mm belt, but it is overkill for most others.

Width: 4 inch or 3 inch

Left: 4-inch, Right: 3-inch
Left: 4-inch, Right: 3-inch

My standard recommendation for most lifters is to start with a 4-inch belt. This works well for the “average” male. However, for some women, or indeed anyone with an unusually short torso, there may not be 4-inches of room between their ribs and their pelvis. You shouldn’t feel sharp pinching in your ribs or pelvis at the bottom of the squat.

For these lifters, a 3-inch belt will most likely be appropriate. Some manufacturers make belts as narrow as 2.5-inches, but I have never met a lifter who needed one.

What’s most important to note here is what you should avoid: tapered belts and anything over 4-inches in width.

Tapered: run away!
Tapered: run away!

Tapered belts are usually narrower in the front (2-3 inches) and wider in the back (4-8 inches). This is foolhardy. Manufacturers sell these to people who think the belt’s purpose is to protect their back somehow. That’s flat-out wrong. The width of the belt in the back has nothing to do with the safety or health of your back under load. Remember, the belt is a tool to increase your intra-abdominal pressure (which helps your back), but it provides no means of mechanical protection for your back. Even worse, the narrower width in the front means the belt is less effective at resisting your braced abdomen, and thus less effective at maintaining increased intra-abdominal pressure.


Most new lifters should buy a single-prong lifting belt. I don’t see a point in the double-prong belts; it’s just something else to fiddle with while trying to get into and out of the damn thing. You can also buy what’s called a lever belt; it uses a lever to close the belt. This makes it far easier to tighten the belt adequately. The downside is that you can only adjust the size of the belt with a screwdriver. If you need a 3-inch belt, you may also have difficulty finding one with a lever.

Misconception: I’m waiting until Im strong enough to use a belt

We’ve touched on this already in the above analysis. Let’s use that analysis to respond to this common misconception.

Your goal is to get strong. What does that even mean? Where is strong? When is one strong? It means different things to different people. It might mean being able to toss your toddler in the air or wrestle with your 10-year-old, or merely to get out of a chair without assistance. Really, your goal is to get stronger. You’re at x, let’s get you to x+1.

We get you from x to x+1 by applying stress. In this case, specific, measurable stress using a barbell. Your body adapts to this stress and voila, x+1. Lifting without a belt unnecessarily limits the stress we can apply, and thus limits how strong you can get.

As a coach, I tend to have my lifters use a belt either immediately, or very early in their training. The only reason I might delay is if the lifter is particularly struggling with the technique for a given lift. In that case, I might keep the belt out to limit the variables and distraction during the early weeks of their lifting.

In short, there is no “strong enough” for a belt. Once you have the mechanics down, start using one. This will allow you to pre-empt any stalls in progress you would inevitably have if you continued lifting beltless.

Wrapping Things Up

When it comes to trying out the latest craze, be sure to gather as much information as possible so you do not open yourself up to injury.

While it might look cool to throw on a belt it is designed to help with lifts not symbolize as a championship belt for victories.

If you are not into powerlifting or increasing your 1-RM there is a good chance you will never need a lifting belt.

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