Weight Lifting Belts Guide | How To, When To, and Why Use Them

By 8 February 2021Training

Weight lifting belts are pieces of supportive strength gear that are used by a variety of lifters in multiple contexts. It can be confusing at times when figuring out if weight lifting belts are for you and if you should be wearing one during your training.

If you look around online, there’s not really a “one-size-fits-all” approach for when a lifter should invest in and wear a weight lifting belt for their training.

In this article, we’re going to provide a framework for wearing weight lifting belts which will hopefully assist you in deciding if a belt is right for you based on the context of your situation. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter, read on below to learn more about weight lifting belts.

Weight Lifting Belts Table of Contents

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What Are Weight Lifting Belts?

Weight lifting belts are supportive pieces of strength equipment designed to increase stability in the torso to promote performance. They come in different styles and constructions to support performance in a variety of contexts and settings and no two weight lifting belts are generally the same.

There are four common types of weight lifting belts that will be used and these include:

  • Single-Prong Weight Lifting Belts: Great for recreational lifters and powerlifters.
  • Double-Prong Weight Lifting Belts: Great for serious strength athletes.
  • Lever Lifting Belts: Great for powerlifting.
  • Velcro Weight Lifting Belts: Great for recreational lifters, functional fitness, and weightlifting.

All of these belts each have their own respective lists of pros and cons and your belt selection should be based on your activity, range of motion that needs to be achieved, and the weight being lifted.

What Do Weight Lifting Belts Do?

Weight lifting belts are designed to support the increase of intra-abdominal pressure (iAP) and create torso stability which will then have a positive carryover to torso rigidity and performance. (1)

They serve as an external cueing mechanism for lifters and athletes to use when working to increase or decrease thoracic pressure accordingly based on their goals and needs.

What do weight lifting belts do?

In respect to being an external cueing mechanism, essentially a belt can help facilitate the skill of bracing by providing the body with an external surface to “feel” and press into. A belt can provide external feedback to facilitate and create a stronger brace for increasing iAP while also mitigating stress in the lower region of the torso.

By providing the body with more torso support, we can work with more proficiency at higher intensities. Studies have suggested that when wearing a belt, lifters are able to perform quicker reps and have less discrepancy in form breakdown. (2)

Basically, by providing the torso with more support and stability, we’re able to execute consecutive reps with a greater rate of speed when working with higher intensities. This makes sense when you consider the fact that the body wants to feel more stable in order to display strength and power.

weight lifting belts and thoracic pressure

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How To Use Weight Lifting Belts

To properly use weight lifting belts, you’ll want to use them as a means of facilitating a stronger brace. In practice, this means pressing into them from all angles when bracing to create a more “cylinder” or “can-like” position with the torso. Simple squeezing the abs and “flexing them” is not the ideal way to utilize a belt.

Since a weight lifting belt provides external support around the anterior, posterior, and sides of the body, we can work to press all angles of the torso into it to create a higher amount of pressure when lifting.

This in return will increase our torso’s rigidity, which can then correlate to high proficiency when executing exercises at higher intensities. For example, if we’re able to maintain better torso positioning when posterior loading in the back squat, then we can focus on executing reps at higher intensities versus mitigating what might be happening at the torso sans adequate support.

When to Use Weight Lifting Belts

Weight lifting belts should ideally be worn when performance outcomes and goals could be directly related to one’s ability to create intra-abdominal pressure and torso rigidity. Essentially, we should use weight lifting belts when our goals for high-intensity exercise can be related to our ability to maintain desired torso positions.

A lot of times lifters will create “golden rules” for weight lifting belt usage, but those “one-size-fits-all” approaches don’t account for the depth of one’s contextual situation.

when to wear weight lifting belts

Multiple factors can influence when a lifter should a weight lifting belt. Some of the most common include:

  • Training goals
  • Amount of weight being lifted
  • Type of exercise being performed
  • Ranges of motion being worked through
  • How one plans to autoregulate intensity

If we can blend the above with the goals we’re working towards and how they relate to performance, then we can better strategize lifting belt usage.

By building a framework that ebbs and flows based on performance outcomes — and not just something like an arbitrary intensity of one’s 1-RM for using a belt — then we can build better strategies based on our individual context.

Special Note for Beginners: If you’re a beginner lifter, then it can be useful to develop a foundation for technically proficient form at various loads before reaching for a belt. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t nor shouldn’t wear one when the context calls for it. More so, we’re suggesting to build your form and understand why you should use one before defaulting to a lifting belt.

Do Weight Lifting Belts Weaken the Core?

In short, no. Weight lifting belts alone will not “weaken” the core.

do weight lifting belts weaken the core

We’re not fans of this question because it lacks depth. If a lifter is following a well-balanced program that accounts for core strength, bracing capabilities, and more, then they shouldn’t waste time worrying about the idea that a belt could be weakening one’s core as they’re likely receiving enough core strength work outside of when they’re wearing a belt.

Now, if a lifter is defaulting to a belt during every workout and not spending any time prioritizing core strength, then they may want to explore this question more and objectively question their training and core strength.

However, for most lifters who wear belts specifically when the context calls for them, then they shouldn’t stress this topic.

How To Wear Weight Lifting Belts

How you wear a weight lifting belt should scale based on your anthropometrics and the type of activity you’re doing. In most cases, a weight lifting belt will go around the navel (belly button) and that will generally be a good spot for most.

When tightening a weight lifting belt, you’ll ideally want to be able to get a finger in-between the belt and your torso. If you’re having to suck in to put the belt on, then you’re likely putting it on too tight. Remember, we want to be able to brace into the belt and maintain some level of our breathing mechanics.

A weight lifting belt’s positioning can vary outside of what’s provided above based on the:

  • Type of belt you’re using.
  • Type of exercises being performed.
  • Torso length.
  • Range of motion trying to be achieved.

A simple means of finding your belt positioning is to remember that if it’s limiting mobility in exercise or digging into the ribs/causing pain, then you should likely reposition it.

Weight Lifting Belt Takeaways

Weight lifting belts can be incredibly useful as you work towards your training goals. Instead of creating arbitrary rules of utilizing them strategically, it can be better to instead focus on how they can support your contextual needs based on the setting you’re in.

References

1. JE, L., RL, S., & JK, G. (1990). The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise22(1).

2. JE, L., JR, H., & RL, S. (1992). The effectiveness of weight-belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise24(5).

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake Boly, CSCS, M.S. is a weathered veteran of the fitness industry. Prior to Pheasyque Lab, he was the Fitness Editor at BarBend.com for four years. To date, Jake has written over 1,700 articles about fitness and health and has trained hundreds of athletes all while continuing to push the boundaries of fitness and health content creation.

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