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When to Start Using a Lifting Belt?

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I cover what a lifting belt does, when to start using a lifting belt and the different types available. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding belts in the gym.

Once you’ve built a solid foundation learning the correct technique and how to brace your natural core, start using a lifting belt on heavy compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and overhead presses.

When to Start Using a Lifting Belt?

Why Do You Need a Lifting Belt? And What Does It Do?

In Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, wearing a lifting belt has always been extremely common. In recent years, however, you can walk into most recreational gyms and find lifters of varying skill and experience levels wearing belts. But do you need one?

A weightlifting belt has 2 main functions. The main one is to create the intra abdominal pressure and help with core stability. It reduces the amount of stress on your lower back when lifting in an upright position and prevents your back from flexing and hyperextending (forcefully extending beyond its normal limits) during overhead lifts.

Wearing a belt increases the pressure on your abdomen when lifting. This helps to support your spine in big compound movements such as a squat or a deadlift.

By pushing your muscles against the lifting belt you increase your intra-abdominal (stomach) pressure to a much higher level than just simply ‘activating your core’. Keeping a strong spine and torso during a lift means better performance.

Wearing a belt can also help you become more aware of your back position when lifting. The pressure of the belt against your back prompts you to consider your back position and what muscles should be used to maintain good form.

Anecdotally, some lifters simply feel more confident and secure when wearing a belt, even if just wearing the belt as an accessory.

When to Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

So with the benefits of wearing a lifting belt explained above, you might have two main questions. Should I get a lifting belt? When should I wear one? Let’s look at the different factors.

1. Injury Prevention

If you’re in the gym under a heavy load, wearing a lifting belt will help to minimize the risk of any serious injuries. By increasing your intra-abdominal pressure when lifting, a belt can keep you injury-free by promoting proper form.

For individuals working up to squats and deadlifts over 2x their body weight, a belt can help combat any imbalances between the strength of your legs and your core.

2. Improved Biomechanics

Wearing a belt can improve biomechanics by reducing spinal flexion and extension, helping you to keep a neutral spine throughout the lift.

Research into lifting belts has shown that wearing one improves your biomechanics when squatting and deadlifting. By helping to stabilize your core and back, wearing a belt allows you to focus on lifting with your legs.

This focus is beneficial because the legs can handle heavy loads effectively. While all muscle groups are capable of adaptation and growth with proper training, the larger mass and specific muscle fiber composition of the leg muscles generally allows them to excel  in these power-driven tasks.

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3. More Weight

Put simply, weightlifting belts can help you lift more! A lifting belt will help secure the spine and reduce pressure on the lower back, so the central nervous system can go all in and maximize the efforts during heavy lifts.

4. Getting Past a Plateau

If you’re a lifter whose progress on the big lifts seems to have stalled, wearing a lifting belt may help you to break through the plateau and topple that previous 1RM.

Alongside the physical benefits, using a belt could provide the mental boost you need. A belt can help to break down a mental plateau just as much as a physical one.

When to Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

When Should You Use a Weight Belt?

For the reasons stated above, you should use a weight belt in 2 primary situations:

  • When performing maximal or submaximal lifts in compound exercises such as the squat or deadlift, where the weight is supported by the lifter’s back and core muscles
  • When performing overhead exercises which may cause your back to hyperextend, such as the military press and push press.

The rule of thumb is to use a lifting belt for lifts that are 75% or more of your 1RM. This is especially important as the weights increase to levels that could potentially become dangerous.

When You Don’t Need to Use a Lifting Belt?

1. If You Don’t Need extra Intra-Abdominal Pressure

If your training doesn’t involve compound lifts that put a lot of pressure on the spine, you don’t need to wear a lifting belt. Say your routine includes fixed resistance machines, bodyweight exercises, or dumbbell conditioning without heavy loads – wearing a belt is pointless.

A lifting belt is used to increase intra-abdominal pressure and provide spinal stability during heavy, compound movements like olympic weightlifting, overhead presses, squats and deadlifts, where the load could potentially cause injury without proper support and stability.

2. You’re Not Using Perfect Form with Heavy Weights

If you’re not lifting heavy weights using the perfect form to begin with, it’s likely you don’t need a belt yet. Whilst you may be able to add more weight using a belt, extra weight with bad form isn’t a good idea.

If you’ve never lifted heavy without a belt, your core may be significantly weaker than other surrounding muscles.

Avoid a belt when learning how to lift. Once you can lift the heavier weights using the perfect form with your body’s naturally provided weight belt (your transverse abdominis), look to move up using a belt as an aid.

weightlifting workout

Wearing a belt isn’t necessary for types of resistance exercises where the spine and core muscles don’t work against heavy resistance or load. For example, if you’re in the gym performing a wide lateral pulldown or a seated leg extension, using a belt won’t provide support and affect performance.

It’s highly likely the gym bros using a belt for every single lift won’t see any ergogenic performance benefits other than possibly making them look cooler or giving a wider appearance.

Constantly using a belt for lifting can weaken the development of your natural core musculature. Let your body get used to a natural bracing technique in the movements which don’t require whole-body stabilization. Use the belt as an aid for lifting, not a crutch.

Belts are designed to provide support for weights that heavily tax the body. Using a belt for light loads will have little to no effect on performance.

Lifters with underlying health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure should exercise caution when using a lifting belt for longer periods. Elevated blood pressure can result from prolonged belt use, even with light work or aerobic activity.

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3. At What Weight Should I Use a Belt for Squats?

Unless you’re going for max weight or using more than 75-80% of your 1 rep max for a heavy compound movement such as the squat a belt most likely isn’t needed and won’t provide any added benefit if used.

Before progressing to using a lifting belt, focus on strengthening your body’s natural weight belt, fully engaging it throughout the lift whilst using proper form. Focus on the main coaching points in your lifts and build up a good natural foundation. If you can’t lift weight safely without using a lifting belt, lighten the load.

Do You Need a Belt to Deadlift?

A belt should only be used to deadlift when performing maximal loads. When performing lighter submaximal technique work or warming up, focus on breathing and bracing correctly.

When deadlifting with submaximal loads there is a lower risk of the spine deviating from its neutral position. Deadlifting without a belt can help to strengthen your natural core, reinforce better technique and allow less restriction.

Powerlifting Gym Training

When Do You Need a Lifting Belt?

In short – if you’re performing heavy lifting that goes over 75% of your 1RM or you need a tactile cue to brace your core, you want to wear a lifting belt. 

However, for mostly fixed path resistance machine or bodyweight workouts that usually involve lighter loads under 75% or your 1RM and a lack of technique cues, you won’t need to wear a belt. Focus on progressing the weight lifted and refining your technique before considering a belt.

Do You Need a Lifting Belt?

What Lifting Belt Do You Need?

So now you know what a lifting belt does and the situations in which you need one, what type should you use and why?

Various types of lifting belts are available on the market. They vary in size, shape, and material used for manufacture.

1. Bodybuilding Belts

WARM BODY COLD MIND Leather Weight Lifting Belt
  • Typically made of leather
  • Thin on the front and thick on the back area
  • Narrow on the front and Wide on the back
  • Some see this shape more suitable for Olympic Weightlifting
  • Double pronged adjustable stainless steel roller buckle

Suitable uses: Weight Lifting belts are beneficial for use in the gym when performing compound exercises where the weight is progressively increased. A good base of lifting established with technique cues well known.

Qualities: Durable and tough. Provide good support.

2. Powerlifting Belts

Powerlifting Belt Instagram
Photo by @apemanstrong
  • Rigid and thick design suitable for heavy lifting
  • Constant width throughout the belt
  • Most belts have the same steel buckle as the bodybuilding belts
  • Premium belts have high quality hinge buckle providing extra support
  • Shape (wide front) might not be the best for Olympic Weightlifting

Suitable uses: Powerlifting belts are beneficial for high-level lifting in compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. Main uses include max lift attempts and loads >80% 1RM.

Qualities: Extremely durable and tough. Provide great support.

Also read: Nylon vs Leather Lifting Belt

3. Velcro Belts

WBCM Nylon Belt
  • Typically made of synthetic material like Nylon
  • Minimal amount of Intra-abdominal pressure compared to powerlifting or bodybuilding belts
  • Sufficient for recreational lifting
  • Not efficient enough for consistently elevated high level performance and when safety is crucial for athlete health

Suitable uses: Velcro belts are beneficial for normal weightlifting, recreational lifting, and functional workouts that contain compound movements.

Qualities: Lightweight, versatile and comfortable to use.

Our Recommended Lifting Belt

A lifting belt currently on the market is the WARM BODY COLD MIND Leather Weight Lifting Belt. 4″ Adjustable Belt with Buckle.

Warm Body Cold Mind Leather Weightlifting Belt

Warm Body Cold Mind Leather Belt
  • Best for: Olympic Lifting, Weight training
  • Closure Type: Double prong belt buckle
  • Available Sizes: S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XL
  • Waist Size Range: 28” (72 cm) up to 51” (131 cm)
  • Width: 4 inches
  • Thickness: 6 mm
  • Material: Genuine Leather
  • Certification: IPF & USAPL approved

It offers a heavy-duty design with a double roller stainless steel buckle. It’s made with genuine A-grade leather with 6 mm thickness. The 4-inch belt offers maximum back support to keep your core stable and increase your gym performance.

This is a tough and durable belt with laser printing for both men and women. It’s designed to be used in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Crossfit, and general fitness training.

FAQ

Is it better to do squats with or without a belt?

The answer is actually both.

If you’re performing squats where your goal is to maximize the amount of weight you can lift, wearing a belt to reinforce your core and promote better posture would be beneficial. Wear the belt around your waist and ensure you are breathing and bracing properly before performing the lift.

However, the belt should be used to reinforce your core and not as a replacement for proper bracing technique. Learn the basics well first. When lifting the lighter loads get used to using good technique and properly bracing your core before progressing the weight. When you’ve learned the basics well, start to bring the belt out.

Should I wear a belt while benching?

As you’ve probably seen, most of the world’s best bench pressers wear a lifting belt when pressing. Wearing a belt will help with leg drive and core stability but should be used when you’re already an experienced powerlifter.

Unlike squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses, a lifting belt won’t magically improve your bench press. It can, however, provide additional stability helping to enhance technical elements of the lift.

Does wearing a belt weaken your core?

As long as you follow the points above and use a belt in the correct situations, wearing a belt won’t weaken your core.

Wearing a belt during heavy compound lifts increases spinal stability and intra-abdominal pressure, supporting your natural core muscles.

During training using lighter loads and when performing any accessory lifts, focus on form and build a solid foundation first, giving yourself a strong base on which to build with the belt as an aid.

Should you wear a weight belt for leg press?

Lifting belts help performance on lifts involving the lower back and core musculature. If an exercise doesn’t stress the lower back or core that much, wearing a belt won’t provide much additional benefit.

With your back firmly against the pad during the leg press, your natural core will help to stabilize the body sufficiently enough to perform the press with the correct technique.

Summary

So now you know. Lifting belts provide huge benefits when used in the correct situations whilst providing little to no benefit to others.

If you’re serious about performing heavy compound movements like squats and deadlifts, a weight belt like the one I’ve reviewed above is a solid investment. If you primarily train with fixed path resistance machines, a belt probably isn’t for you.

What do you think about lifting belts? Share your thoughts in the comments section and tell me all about your lifting experiences!

Also read:

References:

  1. What is normal intra-abdominal pressure and how is it affected by positioning, body mass and positive end-expiratory pressure?
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00134-009-1445-0.
  2. How to Engage the Transversus Abdominis, and Why It’s Important
    https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/transverse-abdominal-exercises#what-it-is.
  3. All photos are made by Torokhtiy Media team.

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Oleksiy Torokhtiy

Author: Oleksiy Torokhtiy
Olympic Weightlifting Champion

Experience: 21 years
Best ResultsSnatch – 200 kg,
C&J – 240 kg

Oleksiy Torokhtiy is a professional athlete boasting 20 years of experience in Olympic weightlifting. With multiple European and World titles under his belt, he has showcased his prowess in two Olympic Games (Beijing 2008 and London 2012). Upon concluding his illustrious career, Oleksiy dedicated himself to coaching. By 2022, he had conducted over 200 weightlifting seminars worldwide. He is the visionary behind an international sportswear and accessories brand known for its motto, “Warm Body Cold Mind.” Additionally, he is an esteemed author and the creator of a series of training programs and eBooks.

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