Weightlifting belts are a common practice amongst strength, power, and functional fitness sports. In the beginning, they were used by mostly Olympic lifters and powerlifters, but recently they've increased in popularity amongst recreational lifters of varying fitness levels.
Although they help and provide benefits for those strength training, the recent increase in popularity has made them one of the most misused fitness accessories. It brings the question of whether a weight belt is even beneficial for recreational lifting? The answer is yes, but if used correctly and for the right type of training.
So before you splurge on one of our new UPPPER weightlifting belts, learn more about why they are used in the first place and how to use them so you can properly maximize your workouts!
How Weightlifting Belts Work
The common conception about lifting belts is that they support the back in order to help prevent injury when performing heavy lifts. Although there is truth to that, lifting belts aren't necessarily supplying you with support. It has to do more with how the body reacts to the belt that supplies the support to your spine.
Lifting belts are worn around the waist in order to provide a wall for your abs to push against. The added force with limited space increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which provides the support for the spine to help stabilize it. It also forms a rigid wall around the lower torso that connects the rib cage to the hip which helps prevent back hyperextension and any other bending and twisting that can lead to injuries.
Essentially a belt works as core muscles, so when you use one it's like having an extra set of those muscles. And in case you didn't know, a strong core is what helps keep you upright and is needed for better overall strength. That is why wearing a lifting belt often causes weightlifters to be more aware of their back position and the muscles needed to be activated to maintain good posture. And overall, it can make lifters feel more secure and confident when lifting with a belt.
Using a weightlifting belt isn't going to make you stronger or automatically help you lift the heaviest you've ever lifted. It's not a magic tool, but using one can have certain benefits like...
- It minimizes the risk of injury
- Maintains and increases intra-abdominal pressure throughout the entire movement
- Stabilizes and reduces stress on the spine
- Can create better biomechanics
- Makes you more aware of your form and reminds you to stay tight
- Can provide a sense of confidence and security
How to properly use and wear a weightlifting belt
Now that we understand how belts work, it's time to discuss how to use them effectively. One of the ways to make sure that you're using your belt to its fullest potential is by practicing the right breathing techniques. When you lift heavy you need to produce a large amount of force, think back to when you had to move something heavy like furniture. You usually take a big breath and push or pull the object while holding your breath. The same applies when training to lift heavy weights, except it has a specific name, it is known as the Valsalva Maneuver. This technique involves breathing in the air into your belly (not your chest), and exhaling forcefully with a closed throat pushes your belly out into the belt, thus increasing the pressure build-up around your midsection which allows you to lift heavier.
Practicing this technique is a great way to maximize the use of a lifting belt, but so does wearing it properly. Remember that a good belt is designed to increase intra-abdominal pressure in order to stabilize your midsection. That pressure is created when you contract your abs against the belt, so although weight belts are best worn tightly, you want to leave a bit of space in order to create that pressure. A good rule of thumb is to wear it one hole looser than as tight as it can go, so there should be a little bit of room in between your stomach and the belt, but not enough that your hand fits in between it. You want it loose enough to allow for abdominal bracing and expansion. If it's too tight, it can hinder your ability to brace your abdominals and limit breathing. As for the positioning, that's a matter of personal preference, but you should try to place it in a position that covers the majority of the abdominals and erectors to allow for maximal intra-abdominal pressure. Don't place it too low or high, it can cause pinching and discomfort. Place it an inch or two above your pelvis, making sure that it covers your abdominal wall.
When to wear a weightlifting belt
There's a huge debate in the fitness world on whether you should wear a belt at all. Some believe that you should learn how to lift heavy loads without a belt first. There is some truth to that.. A lifting belt does not compensate for a weak core, but if you need a belt when lifting a heavy load in order to avoid injury then use it. Either way, before you use a belt or even start lifting heavier weights, you need to be able to perform the movements with good form and know how to breathe to brace your core. Once you feel that your form is close to perfect, you know how to breathe properly to brace your core in order to increase intra-abdominal pressure then you can start using a belt!
Weightlifting belts aren't needed throughout your entire workout routine, in fact, you shouldn't wear them all the time. If you wear them too much you'll end up relying too heavily on it for spine support and core stability. If you use them for every heavy lift, you'll slowly lose abdominal strength due to heavily relying on the belt to do the heavy lifting for you. To make sure that doesn't happen, you should only use them for these two occasions:
- Performing maximal or submaximal lifts in exercises in which the weight is supported by the lifter's back. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and barbell rows.
- Performing exercises that cause the back to hyperextend, like the overhead press.
Aside from that, the belt is not needed. Don't use them for warm-ups, lightweight loads, and any exercises in which the spinal erectors do not work against heavy resistance. It's only necessary for those two occasions, and if you really need support on heavy loads to reduce lower back pain or reduce the risk of injury, then use it. Just make sure that it doesn't become a crutch that you rely on too heavily.
How to choose the best weightlifting belt for you
There are two things you should consider when looking for the best weightlifting belt - width and material. Those who are doing regular weightlifting or are purchasing a belt for the first time should consider starting with a 4" width. A 4" width is optimized for intra-abdominal pressure making it a perfect starter belt for anyone weightlifting. Powerlifting belts, on the other hand, have a minimum 10" width. So, it really depends on what type of lifting you'll be doing. A 4" belt is ideal for Olympic lifting or regular weightlifting because they are typically wider in the back and tapered in the front so it doesn't interfere with the bar path during lifts. Powerlifting belts are designed for those who compete in strength on the big three exercises (squat, bench press, and deadlifts), so that involves extremely heavy reps that an average weightlifter may not be practicing.
Once you figure out what width works best for you, it's time to choose a material. There are two common materials for belts - leather (or vegan leather) and nylon. So let's take breakdown their pros and cons:
Nylon Belts: These belts feature a velcro buckle which gives them the advantage of being able to be easily taken off and adjusted. They're also inexpensive and comfortable to wear. Those are really the main pros these belts have, but it falls short on two important factors. First, it doesn't provide sufficient internal pressure needed to keep your core stable, which is the entire reason for using a lifting belt! This can cause the belt to pop off when too much pressure is being exerted which can be problematic when heavy weight lifting. Second, there not as durable as their counterpart, and the velcro can wear off quicker than you'd hope!
Leather Belts: These types of belts are slightly more expensive (if made from real leather), but you get more bang for your buck because of their durability! Unlike nylon belts which use a velcro buckle, these belts typically have a single or double prong metal buckle. Although it may be more annoying to loosen it or take it off in between sets, it's much more secure than a velcro buckle. But the main advantage they have over nylon belts is that they provide more support and are overall better for heavy weightlifting. The one downside is that they may be uncomfortable to wear at first, but it's the same as shoes, you just gotta break them in!
Not to be biased... But we do believe leather belts are the clear winner. In fact, that's exactly why we chose to go with a leather belt as opposed to nylon. Our team rigorously tested different types of belts to ensure we were putting out the best weightlifting belt at an optimal price point that doesn't break the bank! This is why our belts are made with vegan leather, opposed to real leather. We chose a high-quality microfiber vegan leather that is breathable and built to resist any outstanding abrasions so they don't wear down fast. They also feature a 4" width, internal padding, and secure in place with a double prong metal buckle and 10 rows of holes for easy tightening and optimal comfort and support.
In summary, weightlifting belts are commonly used in the bodybuilding community, but the increased popularity in strength training has led recreational lifters to use them. Bodybuilders, Olympic trainers, and recreational lifters benefit highly from these belts. It allows them to take on heavier weights in order to make progress in their training and with minimal risk of injury! And if you want to start training with heavier weights and hit personal records on your strength training journey then check out our UPPPER Lifting Belts!