It’s very common to see someone wearing a weightlifting belt, especially in any competitive strength sports, such as powerlifting or strongman competitions. Lifters can be most often seen doing squats and deadlifts while belted.
But if you ask someone in the gym the reasons for wearing a belt, you will get a bunch of different answers. Plus, there are different types of weightlifting belts for different purposes.
Go Without A Belt First
Firstly, it’s important to address the reasoning and real purpose of using a weightlifting belt. Many lifters and athletes rely on a belt too early in training.
I often see guys in the gym lifting weights while wearing a belt when they really shouldn’t be. Even worse, is the gym doing sit ups with a belt on!
By using a belt when you are a beginner, you are neglecting your body’s ability to naturally build up and make use of intra-abdominal pressure with the Valsalva maneuver. This is a skill that everyone should develop if they want to lift correctly and lift heavier. Once these bracing and breathing skills have been developed, a belt can offer improved performance, stability and safety when compared to going beltless.
If a lifter has a past injury to the spine or similar, then using a belt can be a good option for lighter weights. But at the same time, it could be asked why they are lifting a load which is greater than they are confident with. Without the proper techniques learned and developed, using a weight belt for lifting can become a crutch in the future.
If you are training with a mass under 80% of your RM, it’s probably a good idea to go belt-less and develop a stronger bracing and breathing technique.
How To Brace Using A Lifting Belt
Even when not using a belt, you still need to learn and practice the correct bracing technique, especially for maximal lifts. Without experience in these techniques, a belt will be nowhere near as effective as it should be.
The video below explains the correct technique to use:
Where To Wear It
A good weightlifting belt will stabilize the entire core and increase intra-abdominal pressure, not just support the lower back. This pressure is created by contracting the abdominal muscles against it.
When it comes to the proper way to wear a weightlifting belt, a good rule of thumb is to make it as tight as possible and then go one hole looser. A belt that is too tight will impede breathing and the wearer’s ability to brace fully, reducing the effectiveness of it. On the flip side, wearing one too loose can cause it to not provide the right level of support or even slip.
A lot of personal preference is involved when it comes to finding the right lifting belt position on the body. The perfect location is where it:
- Covers the abdominal muscles
- Doesn’t impede the desired movement
- Is comfortable
This location is usually around an inch higher than the pelvis. If it is positioned too low, it can cause discomfort by making contact with the iliac crest. If it is located too high, it can push against the ribs and pinch the lower abdomen.
Women’s Workout Belts
Women need weightlifting belts just as much as men do. But they should also consider the same questions:
- Are you at the level where you need one?
- Have you developed the breathing and bracing technique?
Weightlifting belts for females are very similar to (often the same as) unisex ones except that they are sometimes smaller and available in different colors or styles. Another thing that women should take into consideration is the toll that intra-abdominal pressure has on the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor can be weakened over time by the pressure created by a belt
An already weak pelvic floor can be exacerbated with the use of a belt as is takes the pressure created by one. Over time, this will make it weaker. To counteract this, adding pelvic floor exercises to your workout are highly recommended.
Wearing A Belt For Big Guys
There are many different ideas about how you should wear a belt for deadlifts. If you are a big guy then the best way to wear your weight belt is usually the same way as squats.
For the more average guys and conventional lifters, it can be quite common for your belts to jam into your legs at the bottom of the lift which will make it pretty difficult to get your back set up before the pull. The bigger your belly is, the harder it is to set up the back. For some people, this is a major problem to the point where they don’t bother wearing their lifting belt for the deadlift.
Not everybody has his problem but there are some ways in which it could be resolved:
- Wearing it with a looser fit
- Wearing it at a higher position
- Wearing the belt backward
It is quite common for lifters to wear their belts looser for deadlift thus giving them a bit of room to set up. But this is often not optimal because wearing a looser belt means less support and thus less weight can be lifted.
Some the lifters will wear their weightlifting belts higher on their body. Again, this is not a great solution. The combination of stomach muscles pushing against it is what generates the intra-abdominal pressure increase in the body and thus by wearing the belt higher up there is less contact with the abs, and so less pressure. But because it is less painful than wearing the powerlifting belt in the normal position, this solution is often utilized because some support is better than no support.
The Big Guy Solution
Now, a better alternative is to actually wear the belt backward. By wearing the belt backward with the buckle at the rear, there is less protrusion at the front of the body and thus a decrease in the amount of contact at the front of the body with the legs. This may feel a bit strange at first, kind of similar to a dipping belt where the majority of the belt is resting on the rear of the body. But it will certainly be more comfortable.
The only downside to this method is that you need a buddy to help you get your belt on, tighten it and get it off again.
Weightlifters and powerlifters wear lifting belts to support their core. By taking a deep breath and pushing their body against it, they can create pressure which makes their torso more stable for a heavy lift.
You should only wear a weightlifting belt if you have a solid lifting experience and have properly developed your core strength and the bracing techniques to use one effectively.