One of the most common questions we get asked as coaches is “Do I need a lifting belt?”
The answer… it depends.
First, let’s go over what a belt is for and how it works. Belts are worn around the waist to help the lifter stabilize while lifting. Bracing “out” against the belt helps build and maintain tension. Combined with good core control and bracing, the belt supports the torso (core and back).
HOW TO USE A BELT
Typically you want to wear your belt around your lower waist. The bottom edge of the belt should sit just above the hip bone. This will be different for different people (and different lifts) depending on belt type and body dimensions, but this is a good starting point.
The belt should be loose enough that you can squeeze a finger between the belt and your body and you can still breathe normally. But it should be tight enough that you definitely want to take it off or loosen it between sets. If you feel like you can casually walk around with your belt on, it’s not tight enough.
When you brace, push out against the belt in all directions. It should be the same way you brace without a belt. The belt will add extra tactile feedback, help create more tension, and provide support.
Generally speaking, you want to start wearing a belt when you get to about 80% of your 1-rep max. In other words, don’t put it on for your warm-up sets and then just wear it around the gym. Use your “natural belt” (ie. your core muscles) to stabilize your sub-maximal lifts. You also typically won’t wear a belt for assistance lifts (unless they’re really heavy or there is something specific you’re trying to achieve by using the belt).
TYPES OF BELTS
Most powerlifting belts are 4” wide. Sometimes you’ll see belts with a taper (ie. narrow in the front and wide in the back), but those are more common in Olympic-style weightlifting and bodybuilding.
In the genre of “powerlifting” belts, there are 3 common varieties: leather, velcro/soft, and neoprene.
- Leather belts are thicker and (theoretically) more supportive. They generally range from 10mm-13mm in thickness and are pretty stiff. These are for heavier lifts and (usually) more experienced lifters.
- Velcro/soft belts are made of layers of fabric and have a velcro closure. They’re less “aggressive” than a leather belt, but still very supportive and can be used by most lifters for most of their lifts.
- Neoprene belts are made of neoprene and are often layered underneath a leather or soft belt. These are most commonly used in strongman training. On their own, neoprene belts provide much less support than a leather or soft belt, but they are great for keeping your back warm and providing a little extra support on the super heavy lifts and stressful lifting positions common in strongman.
- Hybrid options also exist! There’s a really great “hybrid” belt option that’s currently available from Pioneer. It melds the support of a leather belt with the flexibility of a soft belt. (No, we don’t receive anything in exchange for this info. It’s just a good belt.)
BACK TO THE ORIGINAL QUESTION…
Do you need a belt?
If you’re newer to lifting (ie. have been training less than a year), and/or don’t typically push to max effort/failure in training, you probably don’t need a belt. It’s always best to build a good base of support with your muscles and tendons before relying on outside aid. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t know or regularly train your 1-rep or 3-rep max… you don’t need a belt.
If you’ve been lifting for a while (over a year), and feel like you’re bumping up against a wall, it might be time to experiment with a belt. The extra support from a belt can be helpful in pushing through plateaus and allow you to lift more weight.
IF YOU DO WANT A BELT…
What’s the best option for you? It depends. We generally recommend starting with a soft belt. They’re reasonably priced, easier to size, and a great way to learn to lift with a belt. (We recommend Pioneer, Cerberus, or 2POOD). That might well be the last belt you need to buy. Or you can decide that you’d like more support and want to make an investment in a leather belt. (We recommend Pioneer, Cerberus, or Inzer.) Neoprene is *not* a great way to learn to use a belt, and most people won’t feel a difference in their lifting by adding *only* a neoprene belt. But if you’re looking for extra support for your strongman or powerlifting lifts, check out the neoprene options from Cerberus or Rehband.
Just like a belt… we got your back! A coach can help you decide when it’s time to start using a belt, what belt will be the best fit for you, and how to use it once you have it. You can always shoot us an email at [email protected] or set up a free chat with a coach using this link: thepowerplantgym.com/free-intro/