There’s a good chance you’ve used or seen someone else use a weightlifting belt in the gym.
A belt can help you lift heavier weights while protecting your back by increasing intra-abdominal pressure.
To wear a weight belt, you position it around your waist, secure it with the right amount of tightness, and brace your stomach with a deep belly breath.
It’s simple enough, but there are a few things to consider to ensure you’re using and wearing your belt properly – otherwise, you’ll experience disappointing results.
How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt
A weight belt isn’t a magical accessory that automatically makes you stronger just by wearing one. There is a specific sequence of positioning and bracing that will bring you better results. If you want to protect your back and set PRs, here’s the best way to wear a weightlifting belt.
Step 1: Position the Belt
You should place the lifting belt around your naval – above your hip bones and below your ribs. Depending on your torso length, you may have more or less wiggle room to position the belt.
Step 2: Secure the Belt
Once the belt is in position, inhale slightly and secure the belt. Breathing in ensures you get adequate tightness once you brace into the belt.
Most belts use velcro, prongs, or levers. A lever belt is the easiest to secure and requires minimal effort. Pull the lever towards your body to tighten and push it away to loosen.
Velcro and prong belts require more effort than levers and may require some experimentation to figure out the right amount of tightness.
Step 3: Expand Your Core
The final step is to breathe into the belt with a deep belly breath. If you feel the belt expanding outward in all directions, you’re ready to lift. Otherwise, you may need to adjust.
When bracing, breathe deeply into your belly and actively try to expand your obliques. Once you’ve reached capacity, pretend as if someone is about to punch you in the gut. This will naturally tighten your entire midsection and draw your ribs down. You’re now ready to lift.
The Importance of Belt Sizing
There are three sizing elements that you should consider when picking a belt: length, width, and thickness. Each of these factors will determine comfort and effectiveness.
Length: To find your belt size, find the circumference around your naval with a flexible tape measure. Do not use your pant size to order your belt. With the measurement, refer to the belt manufacturer’s sizing chart. Each company has different size ranges, so double-check before you buy.
If you find that your measurement is shown on two sizes, it’s almost always better to go with the smaller size. For example, if a 34 is at the top of a size Large and the bottom of an Extra Large, pick the Large.
Width: Belts typically have a 4″ width, but some will be 3″ or 5″, and others will taper down to 2″. Most lifters will be happy with 4″, but your torso length will help you decide.
Thickness: Weight belts generally range from ~5mm to 13mm in thickness. Thicker belts are more rigid and supportive for heavier weight training. Thinner belts are more flexible and better for functional/general fitness.
How to Use a Weightlifting Belt
To get the most out of your weight belt, you need to use it properly, starting with bracing.
Unfortunately, many of us could be better at breathing and bracing. Next time you’re at the gym, pay attention to someone setting up for a big lift. You’ll often see their chest rise disproportionately to their abdomen – this isn’t correct bracing.
When you use a lifting belt, you should actively push against it from every angle. This requires breathing from the diaphragm and filling your belly with air. In technical terms, this is the first stage of the Valsalva Maneuver.
When using a lifting belt, experiment with positioning. Some lifters prefer a higher belt, while others like them just above their hips. There’s no right or wrong answer as long are you’re bracing correctly.
You can use a weightlifting belt for dozens of exercises, including powerlifting, Olympic lifting, CrossFit, bodybuilding, and more.
How Tight Should a Weightlifting Belt Be?
An essential part of wearing a weightlifting belt is finding the right tightness. Although it may seem that a tighter belt is more effective, over-tightening can be counterproductive. That’s because you’re restricting movement and preventing expansive core breathing. Not to mention, it’s just uncomfortable.
When engaged, the belt should allow you to breathe 360 degrees around your back, obliques, and front abs. As a general rule, your weight belt is too tight if you can’t slip a finger between your body and your tightened belt without sucking in.
How to Break in a Lifting Belt
Weightlifting belts primarily come in two materials: nylon and leather. Nylon belts are much more flexible, making them a great choice for CrossFit, general fitness, and some Olympic lifting. However, leather belts are rigid, making them better for powerlifting, strongman, and heavy Olympic lifting.
When you get a leather belt, it will be very stiff and uncomfortable to use at first. Some people are alarmed by this – but don’t worry – leather will relax and conform to your body over time.
Thicker belts require a longer break-in period. For most people, 10mm is the perfect width. However, larger lifters may prefer 13mm, while smaller lifters may prefer 8.5mm or less.
Thankfully, there are some ways to speed up the break-in process and use your weight belt more comfortably.
- Step One: Roll your belt tightly in both directions… a lot. Seriously, put on your favorite Netflix show and start rolling. By the end, you’ll notice a big difference.
- Step Two: Twist and contort the belt in multiple directions. Imagine trying to fold your belt into a long taco and filling it with your favorite protein and all the fixins. You shouldn’t actually be able to fold it, but it will help relax the stiff, long edges.
- Step Three: Wear the belt frequently at first. Leather has memory, and after using your belt enough, it will learn your body and conform to it more naturally.
How Often Should You Wear a Weight Belt?
Wearing a weight belt frequently at first can help break it in and teach you how to brace properly. I recommend doing this, but once you’ve gotten comfortable with your belt and how to use it, you shouldn’t wear it as often. Too often, lifters become reliant on the belt and use it as a crutch.
It’s true that lifting belts increase intra-abdominal pressure and can help you lift heavier weights more safely. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect direct core strengthening or train with a belt during warm-up and sub-maximal lifts.
I recommend plank variations, bird dogs, dead bugs, and curl-ups to help build stability throughout your entire core. You should also lift raw (no belt) until you get to your heavier sets (80%+ of your 1-rep max).
What Does a Weightlifting Belt Do?
A weight belt increases intra-abdominal pressure to help you lift heavier weights while supporting your back. Studies have shown correlations between increased power and decreased spinal compression when wearing a lifting belt correctly.
Who Should Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
While a weight belt isn't necessary for everyone, they're useful for powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, CrossFitters, strongmen(women), bodybuilders, and anyone looking for additional back support. If you're lifting heavy weights, I recommend a leather belt. Otherwise, a nylon belt is great for most people.
Are Weightlifting Belts Safe?
Yes, weight belts are very safe as long as you wear them correctly and brace into the belt through your entire core. A belt that's too tight won't allow you to brace fully, and a belt that's too loose defeats the purpose entirely.
Weight belts can be an excellent tool to help you progress in your training while protecting your back.
However, to realize the benefits of a weightlifting belt, you must wear it properly.
Through correct positioning, deep breathing, and strong bracing, you’ll be well on your way to setting PRs with a little help from your belt.