Everything you need to know about weight lifting belts, from how they work, to how they should be worn. A complete guide to how to find the best weight lifting belt.
Should you wear a weightlifting belt or not? This is a question that many people have asked themselves over the years. Almost every serious lifter has wondered at what stage they should start wearing a lifting belt and why. So, if you are in the same situation, you are not alone!
Here, we go through some of the questions that people ask the most regarding weight lifting belts. By the time you have reached the end, you will have all the answers you need as to if you need to use a weight lifting belt, and what you should look for before you buy one. We also link out to a review of the best weight lifting belts at the end to save you the time of finding them yourself. We are good like that! So, without further ado, let’s begin…
Who Should Wear A Weight Lifting Belt?
Weight lifting belts are designed to aid people who want to deadlift or squat as much weight as they can. If you are serious about increasing the amount of weight you can move, you should look at using a belt. We will go into more detail about how they aid you later on.
Who Shouldn’t Wear A Weight Lifting Belt?
Weight lifting belts are not suitable for everyone, and it also depends on the circumstances in which they are used. We would suggest that you don’t use one if:
- By using one, it has an affect on your movement. If it causes you to perform the exercise incorrectly, then you should avoid using one. So, if it is messing with how you catch a clean or snatch, don’t use a belt. You will be better off developing your strength without one. Getting low is key!
- If you have a condition which is related to blood pressure or the heart, we would again suggest that a weight lifting belt is not for you. A belt will create intra-abdominal pressure, and may also cause a slight increase in blood pressure. For the majority of fit and healthy people, this is not an issue though.
- If you have a hernia history, you should once more avoid using a squat belt, although some people choose to employ the Valsalva maneuver as they exercise.
Basically, if you have a health condition, you should consult a doctor first, and explain why you want to use a weightlifting belt, and what you hope to achieve. They can then give you advice based on this.
How Do Weight Lifting Belts Work?
This is perhaps the most commonly asked question. In simple terms, the belt will support parts of your body involved in squatting and deadlifting, and help you to lift more. This is how:
With the weight lifting belt wrapped around your stomach, your abdomen is restricted as to how far it can expand when taking a deep breath. The effect of this, is that your intra-abdominal pressure is increased, and as a consequence, so is your spinal stabilization. It is this spinal stabilization which is the key factor in being able to lift more.
The reason behind this, is that the prime movers in squatting and deadlifting such as the hips and legs can contract harder without risk of damaging the spine. This means that not only can you lift more, but also the chances of injury when training are reduced.
Using A Weight Lifting Belt Helps You Lift Heavier
A number of studies have indicated that wearing a belt helps you to lift heavier. This doesn’t mean that you should throw all caution to the wind though. Lifting heavier is a gradual process and you will develop your strength over time. You will notice improvements in the speed of getting through the squat sticking point, and more concentration on the quads. As more muscle fibers become activated, so you will notice improvements in the weight you are lifting.
Does Wearing A Weight Lifting Belt Reduce Gym Injuries
This is a very interesting question, and no exact studies have been made on this. Our general observation, is that quite often people do things the wrong way around. They start wearing a weight lifting belt AFTER they are injured. Our opinion, is that it is only common sense to wear one in order to avoid injury in the first place. The additional support it gives greatly reduces the chances of injuring parts of the body.
But Won’t A Weight Lifting Belt Weaken My Core Strength?
We can understand why people might think this, but it is a misconception. Remember, the weight lifting belt is to be worn for exercises such as squats and deadlifting. No one said you should stop exercising your core independently!
You should always work on your core body strength as part of your overall weight training. Planks and leg raises are always going to work your core more than squats in any case. So whether you wear a belt or not is irrelevant when it comes to exercising your core. Squats and deadlifts are the wrong exercise for this in the first place. One note – Please, whatever you do, don’t wear the weightlifting belt when performing crunches! (yes, we have seen people do that. It’s a massive Fail!).
What To Look For When Buying A Weight Lifting Belt
Weight lifting belts can be made of all sorts of material, but by far the best is a leather weight lifting belt. Buy a good one, and it will quite literally last you for the rest of your life. It might cost a little more initially (maybe $50-$120), but it will probably be one of the best investments you ever make. Compare that with the amount of money you might spend each month on supplements or gym membership, and it’s a no-brainer.
Generally speaking, the best squat belts are around 10 cms wide and about 13mm in thickness. Any wider than 10 cm, and you might find that it is difficult to get into a good position to begin the deadlift. Of course, everyone’s body shape and size is different, and also why they want to use one. Powerlifters might find a tapered belt is more suitable (wider at the back than the front). People who spend a lot of time in the gym might also use one belt for deadlifting and another for squats.
If you have never used a weight lifting belt before, and are not a lifting specialist, we would suggest buying a tapered belt. It might not be as effective for squats, but you will find it is more a general purpose belt that still does the job.
Belts might also come with a lever system, a single-pronged or double-pronged method of fastening. We would suggest a single-pronged is best. The double-pronged belts can be irritating to put on and off over time, and they are no more or less secure as a method of fastening than a single-pronged belt. It is also easier to tighten and loosen a single-pronged belt between exercises. Lever system belts are particularly annoying to loosen and tighten.
Are Weight Lifting Belts Comfortable?
No, not really! Well, not at the start. Most belts need to be broken in, and you might feel some pressure and bruising on your ribs and hipbone at the beginning. You will become used to it though as you begin to wear the belt.
How Should I Use A Lifting Belt?
Before using a weight lifting belt, you must first set it up. Many people choose to have their belt sitting on top of their hip bone. For squats, they might then angle the belt upwards so that it is above their belly button. Others though, prefer it straight across, whilst others still angle it down. This is all a matter of comfort, and so you can choose what works best for you.
Remember the purpose of the belt though, and why you are using it. It has to act as a support, and so by definition it needs to have a certain tightness. It should also not hinder or affect movement for the exercise. This is especially important for deadlifting, where a good starting position is essential.
Practice With The Belt
We would suggest that you consciously practice with the belt in order to find the position and angle that works best for you. The different heights and angles can make a big difference to your comfort levels and also performance. It may take a while to find the best position, but it will be worth it.
How Tight Should The Belt Be?
The tightness of the squat belt is just as important as the angle, if not more so. The guide here, is to find the notch on the belt that still allows you to inhale fully into the stomach. Then, you should try to press your stomach out against the belt. It’s too tight if you can’t take in a full breath, or you end up raising your shoulders in order to do so. Many people use a notch tighter for squats than for deadlifts.
Want to find out more about the best weight lifting belts designed to help you lift more? We have put together a list of the best, so you can compare them and make your choice. Take a look at our weight lifting belt review here.