Should you use a weightlifting belt? Should you not use a weightlifting belt? What’s the benefit to using the belt? If you’ve ever asked yourself any or all of these questions, keep reading for a definitive answer that applies to just about everyone.
In a world of oppositions, of course, there still exists the age-old clash between those who use weightlifting belts and those who don’t. And with a ton of conflicting information out there on the internet and spewing from the ill-informed mouths of other guys at the gym, it’s no wonder we’re all still divided on the subject of weightlifting belts and what, if any, benefit they provide in the gym.
We’ve heard it all, from the idea that a weightlifting belt will make a guy’s core weak, to the anxiety that belting up will make guys blow out their insides during a heavy set. As you’ll see here, weightlifting belts can actually strengthen your core by activating more of it during heavy lifts. And to be frank, turning the squat rack into a restroom could happen with or without the belt. But don’t worry—it’s highly unlikely either way. The case for using a weightlifting belt is just so much stronger than any argument against it, yet it still remains a heated debate for weightlifters everywhere.
Today, it’s time to put an abrupt end to this contentious argument. If you want to make those gains in a safer way, then you totally should start wearing a weightlifting belt. Here are at least five reasons to start using a weightlifting belt today:
1. Using a weightlifting belt for particular exercises can actually help prevent injuries to the lower back, especially injuries you might sustain during heavy lifts. Belting up for squats, deadlifts, power cleans, clean and jerks, overhead squats, etc., can provide more spinal stabilization, which dramatically reduces your overall risk of injury.
It’s all about how your body reacts to the belt’s squeeze. The belt itself doesn’t necessarily provide all the support you need, but it forces your core muscles to support the spine from the inside and outside. By belting up, you are really looking to create an increase in intra-abdominal pressure by reducing the volume of your core with the belt. Combined with the right breathing technique, the belt actually forces the core muscles to stabilize the spine with horizontal pressure to match the vertical pressure applied by the weights.
If all that sounds like a lot to handle, remember that workouts aren’t supposed to be easy. And like lifting in general, weightlifting belts are not supposed to be “comfortable” either. But workouts are supposed to be safe. Do we really need to say more? How much stronger would you expect to get if you’re laid up in bed for a few months recovering from a lower back injury? Would you rather take the risk of showing off your weightlifting-belt-independence for the other guys at the gym, or would you rather push through a safer workout and show off your gains for some mixed company instead?
2. That being said, the use of a weightlifting belt can actually increase your performance by allowing you to lift heavier. Thus, you can more easily build your overall strength with them. The rationale for this one is pretty simple: more intra-abdominal pressure, more spinal stability, more safety, more weight, more gains.
Some guys might tell you it’s a placebo effect, and that the belt makes you feel safer, causing you to think you can lift more. Even if it’s only a mental shift, you are still lifting heavier with a belt on than you would without it. That’s why we’ll say you don’t have to use it for every single set. However, you should use it for the particularly heavy sets. Take notice of how your body reacts to having the relative safety of the belt around it: you will more than likely be able to lift even heavier than your unbelted maximum.
Weightlifting belts are literally designed to allow you to lift as much weight as bodily possible. One specific study on squats showed an average increase in maximum weight lifted of 10 pounds more with the belt on than without it. Other studies showed a 10 percent increase in the speed of reps performed when wearing a weightlifting belt.
Additionally, some studies have shown that simply practicing breathing exercises with the weightlifting belt around the stomach right before your workout can increase performance as well. Think of it as a warmup for your core before the lifting even begins.
But then, it all really comes down to having the right breathing technique anyway—it’s called the Valsalva maneuver. Here’s a quick rundown of the Valsalva maneuver for squats: take in a deep breath into your stomach at the top of the rep, push your abs against the belt, hold your breath as you dip down, begin to exhale against a closed glottis, lift upward while pushing your breath against the belt, then exhale only at the top. This is the same breathing technique most of us use when bearing down for a bowel movement, but in this case, it’s the key to successful weightlifting belt use.
3. Weightlifting belts can actually teach a more correct form for less-experienced lifters. Research has shown that wearing a weightlifting belt can discourage bending of the spine in all directions, while actually encouraging lifting with the legs. For most exercises, you are supposed to keep your back as straight as possible, and the belt can serve as a physical trainer for a more correct lifting posture.
Rightly so, there’s some speculation that weightlifting belts can make you reliant on them over time. However, this is easily avoided by simply being attuned to your body. Therefore, a weightlifting belt should never serve as a crutch for knowing and practicing good form. Always pay attention to what your core is doing, even when you’ve got a belt around it.
Moreover, you don’t realize how crooked you might let your back get on deadlifts until you’ve got a tight belt around your stomach telling you to straighten up. Those who think they’ve already got the best form might be surprised by how poor or misaligned their lifting posture really is. Even for experienced lifters, it’s a great idea to occasionally strap on a weightlifting belt to check your form. Think of it as “seasonal training” to continue getting the best workouts possible, which leads me to my next point…
4. There is an insanely strong correlation between guys who use weightlifting belts and guys who are jacked. Clearly something important is going on here. If weightlifting belts really were not effective, don’t you think the pros would have figured that out ages ago? Would powerlifting belts still be a thing if they didn’t actually produce results? Next time you crank out some deadlifts or squats, take a look around at who actually wears a weightlifting belt consistently. Hint: it’s not the dude who looks like limp spaghetti or the guy who’s still trying to figure out the barbell clamps—it’s usually the guys who are obviously seasoned weightlifters. Any experienced lifter and any reputable bodybuilding/weightlifting website will encourage you to make use of a weightlifting belt whenever possible, including this one.
If you doubt our word on weightlifting belts, consider asking other sources of gym-related knowledge, such as a personal trainer. They can also show you how to adjust your belt to the appropriate fit. The angle of the belt will be slightly different for each individual—it usually just depends on whatever is most comfortable for you. However, the belt should always sit above the hip bones. Also, you want to adjust the belt as tight as you can get it while still being able to take in a full breath into your stomach and pushing your stomach out into the belt. If you have to raise your shoulders to fully inhale, you’ll know you’ve got the belt too tight. But as always, knowing the best adjustments for your weightlifting belt will only come with experience. You’ll have to commit to belting up for a while before you’ll really know your preferred fit.
5. Finally, it’s always your own decision to wear a weightlifting belt. But that decision should absolutely be an informed and experienced one. If you’ve never tried a lifting belt, you are potentially forfeiting half of your gains. Your workouts might be half as effective and your strength might be much lower than they otherwise would be. You will never really know how your body and workouts could benefit from the belt unless you start using one yourself. Everyone should start using a weightlifting belt just to at least have the experience of using one. If it doesn’t work out, then at least you’ve got a legitimate reason to forego the belt: your own body just doesn’t prefer it. But it is that bodily knowledge of the weightlifting belt that you must at least gain before you can make a well-informed decision for yourself.
It’s important to note that weightlifting belts are not all made equal; they come in many different forms, materials, etc. Depending on what you really want out of your weightlifting belt, you will need to look for different types of belts. For guys who are looking to get into powerlifting, you’re looking for the type of weightlifting belt made specifically for those workouts. Powerlifting belts are typically made of thick leather, they’re adjusted using buckles with predefined settings, and they’re usually the same thickness all the way around the belt. For guys who are looking to start using a weightlifting belt, we suggest something more along the lines of a Velcro weightlifting belt. Unlike a leather belt with a predetermined set of holes, the Velcro support strap gives the ability to adjust the tightness to the desired comfort and support needed for leg and core body exercises. Velcro belts also provide the same security that any other belt does.
To bring it back to the beginning, the most important benefit of using a weightlifting belt is the dramatic reduction in risk of injury. If you don’t already use a weightlifting belt, chances are you’re not trying to powerlift right now, and you don’t need the heavy-duty types of belts used by powerlifters. That’s why we recommend starting out with a Velcro belt today. It provides the same support as other weightlifting belts, while also typically providing more comfort and ease of use. Additionally, and probably most importantly, the variability of the sizing will allow you to determine how tight you want to wear it. That’s a feature other belts just don’t provide, and it’s useful for guys who are just starting to belt up. So, if you’ve made it this far, will you decide to enhance your workout with a weightlifting belt? Or are you satisfied with meager results?
-Written by Nick Machuca