If you ask ten different lifters whether or not you should wear a weightlifting belt, chances are you’re going to get ten different answers. Powerlifters rely on thick leather weightlifting belts for heavy pulls and squats; CrossFitters use a nylon Velcro weightlifting belt for assistance on long workouts, and bodybuilders tend to be split between thinking a weightlifting belt is essential and believing a belt will increase your risk of injury over time.
So, the question is this: Are there any benefits to a weightlifting belt? It used to be that belts were exclusive to serious powerlifters and Olympic level athletes. Now, depending on the type of gym you go to, you might see belts being used all the time… or you might not see a weightlifting belt at all. It’s hard to answer a question like this because it’s complicated and highly individualised.
There’s so much confusion about whether or not a weightlifting belt is helpful to your progress or if it will harm you in the long run. Let’s take a look at what a belt does for you and the benefits and disadvantages of wearing one.
For beginners, a weightlifting belt might be useful in teaching you how to train your IAP (Intra-Ab Pressure) properly. The downside of this is that if you begin your training with a belt, you might never develop the ability to stabilise on your own. No matter how much you train, a weightlifting belt isn’t going to replace concerted effort on core work, technique, or form.
Having said that, it doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or an advanced lifter, a belt can also help you be more aware of the position of your low back, prompting you to engage low back stabiliser muscles better.
Our Top Picks at a Glance
- RDX Giant Inside Editor’s Choice
- AQF 4″ Leather Weight Lifting Belt
- RDX Powerlifting Belt
- Beast Gear PowerBelt
- Fire Team Fit 6 Inch Belt For Men and Women
- Master of Muscle Belt for Men and Women
Note: There’s a lot more information below but clicking the above links will take you to current prices, further information and customer reviews on Amazon.
What is a Weightlifting Belt?
A weightlifting belt serves two purposes – it reduces stress on the low back and prevents hyperextension during overhead lifts. Belts reduce low back stress by compressing the abdominal cavity, which in turn creates intra-ab pressure (IAP). IAP provides more support in front of the bones in your lower back, giving your spinal erector muscles the ability to produce less force during a lift. Having an increased IAP means that there’s a reduction in the amount of low back compressions that you might experience when you’re pulling heavy weights for reps.
A note on breathing while wearing a weightlifting belt
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is integral to successfully executing core lifts. There are myriad ways to train yourself to breathe in this way, but one of the most effective is the Valsalva maneuverer. To test your ability to breathe while wearing a belt. Stand with a loaded bar on your back, and just as you descent to your squat, take a deep breath. Hold that breath while pushing your abs against the belt and until you reach parallel. Then try to exhale forcefully as you push up.
Trying to exhale against a closed airway means you’re not letting go of any breath. It’s similar to trying to clear your ears by pinching your nose. The same sort of breathing should be done when you’re pushing or pulling heavy weight. If you’re not able to perform the Valsalva correctly, a belt isn’t going to do much good.
Three types of weightlifting belts
- Made of leather
- Thicker in the back than in the front.
- Usually wider in the back than the front.
- Hybrid of Velcro and powerlifting belts
- Provides less internal pressure than powerlifting belts because they have smaller fronts but more pressure than a Velcro belt.
- Belts are designed to be stiff and thick
- Same width all the way around
- More surface area on abs that are in contact with the belt
- Lots of internal pressure build-up – more pressure means more stability, which translates to more weight.
- Typically made of synthetic material
- Held on only by Velcro, so there’s a limit to how much force can be exerted before the Velcro pops
- Intra-abdominal pressure is far less than a bodybuilding or powerlifting belt
- Doesn’t offer much of a performance boost, but might help your mental game
Do I Need to Wear One?
The question of whether or not you need to wear a weightlifting belt is a tough one to answer. There are lots of athletes who have weak cores, so using a belt will only weaken the core more. If you’ve never trained with a belt and are performing well, there’s not much reason to start wearing one. Some strength athletes see an increase in some lifts when using a belt. But this is all so variable based on your specific training regimen and your existing core stabiliser muscle development.
Sometimes wearing a belt can work against you. Most athletes have a similar variation of the same goal – to build a balanced body. When you regularly wear a belt, you’re not going to allow your core to develop and ultimately hinder your progress.
If you’re a competitive strength, functional fitness, or powerlifting athlete (or you want to become one), then you’re going to be judged on your ability to move weight and properly execute lifts. Even then, the bulk of your training should be belt-less to allow your core to develop with the rest of your muscles synergistically.
Weightlifting belts work because they force you to engage your core. When you put one on, you’re both holding your breath in a bit and tightening your torso. This creates a ton of internal pressure, allowing you to press, push, pull, or squat heavy.
A belt doesn’t support your back or act as an extension of your spine. What it does is gives your brain clues on how to squeeze your core and helps remind you to keep your core tight during the entire movement. It indirectly supports movement by providing internal clues to keep yourself tight and strong.
Might help protect your low back during heavy lifts because it restricts lumbar range of motion
Keep in mind a belt shouldn’t act as a back brace. But it can be used to reduce low back strain and help prevent injury. When you wear a weightlifting belt, you’re engaging your core more, so your back muscles don’t have to work as hard.
Increases IAP, which could reduce low back stress
This is the primary use of a weightlifting belt and helps keep your core super solid when you’re lifting heavy. Performing compound lifts without a belt is possible – so long as your breathing with your belly and know how to engage the IAP accurately. The amount of IAP is significantly increased when your core has something to brace against.
Immediately physical feedback on maintaining proper position and form – moving incorrectly can be painful
Paying attention to correct form is the first thing to go when you’re tired, taxed, or even when you’re new to barbell training. That’s unfortunate since form is the gateway to lifting heavy. But sometimes it’s a challenge to remember mental cues to execute lifts well. A weightlifting belt can give your brain a clue to maintaining the correct form. The tactile feedback you’ll immediately receive if you try to lift with incorrect form can help you develop the right muscle memory to lift correctly every time.
Could help you perform better
The scientific community still hasn’t reached a consensus on whether or not wearing a weightlifting belt will help you perform better. But that doesn’t stop bro science from proclaiming that wearing a weightlifting belt will increase your muscle growth, power, and strength.
Some anecdotal evidence suggests that wearing a belt will allow lifters to pull and squat more weight than when they don’t wear a belt. However, that might be psychosomatic and not have anything to do with actual strength development. There is emerging research that shows wearing a belt during heavy squats might engage your quads and hamstrings more, but more studies are needed to replicate these findings.
- Might provide a false sense of security and exceed your own safe lifting limits
- Exposes lumbar segments above and below the belt to higher forces of stress
- Inhibits abdominal muscle development
The cons of lifting with a belt all circle around motor learning and exercise. There’s a lot to unpack regarding motor learning and exercise, but the purposes of a weightlifting belt here’s a quick summation.
When you’re working on a movement, you’re trying to achieve two goals – first, you want to learn to move better and your exercising to place healthy stress on your body.
Motor learning is when you actively train your body to move with more coordination, efficiency, or skill. Depending on your personal goals, your training time might be spent focusing on motor learning.
For other athletes, you’re simply exercising – that is, moving in a way that puts the body under enough stress to cause a physical response like making your muscles bigger or your heart stronger.
Both of these processes are important and often work concurrently with each other. If you’re trying to improve your physical function, the line between motor learning and outright exercise might not always be clear.
So with regard to a weightlifting belt, wearing one all the time might inhibit proper motor learning. That is to say that if you always squat or deadlift with a belt on, your body might not be able to accurately learn how to move with more coordination under pressure (aka stress) of more weight.
All of the compound lifts and most accessory work require a pattern of movement to be executed correctly with proper form. This means that you have to first engage your abs and core as the foundation for your lift.
As we know, proper core development is critical for progressing in your training. Wearing a belt every time you train means that you’re not giving your core a chance to get stronger along with the rest of your body.
You might think that you could augment this by exclusively training your core alternately. This is an option, but it’s far from efficient, and it doesn’t help you make progressive gains over time. Letting the belt do the hard work for a heavy pull can’t ever be mimicked by accessory abdominal muscle work.
It’s never recommended to use a belt in place of core activation work. The same goes for stabilization and technique learning. If you’re paying close attention to your training and have good coaches, this shouldn’t be an issue. But if you’re going it alone at the gym, then you really need to be mindful of how a weightlifting belt might impede your motor training development.
- Removes stress from low back and can impair muscle adaptation
Stress is what drives muscle adaptation. That means that if you’re not safely stressing your muscles, they’re not going to grow.
When Do You Need to Wear It?
No matter which type of belt you’re wearing, it needs to be tight enough to maximize its benefits. That means that when you’re wearing a weightlifting belt, it should be snug and tight against your midsection. Most experts recommend not wearing a belt in between your lifts because it’s physically tiring. Some research has shown that wearing a weightlifting belt can elevate your blood pressure.
Exercises, where the spinal erector muscles aren’t working against heavy resistance, don’t require a belt. That means that you’re not going to see an increase in ability if you’re wearing a belt during lat pulldowns or cable rows. Similarity, a weightlifting belt isn’t going to be useful if your weight load is very light.
Wearing a belt every time you train can degrade your abdominal muscles and decrease their development. Research shows that there are lower levels of muscle activity when wearing a belt. That’s because the muscles that would ordinarily keep your core engaged aren’t activated when the belt is creating IAP.
Using a belt as a teaching tool can help you learn how to engage your core correctly, so you are less reliant on it over the long run. When you put one on correctly, you’re going to learn how to breathe with your IAP engaged and how to brace stabilizer muscles in your back. Low belly breathing and back muscle engagement are crucial when you’re attempting big lifts, and a weightlifting belt might help you develop mental cues to activate those areas.
Weightlifting belts can also be beneficial if you’re just coming off an injury – wearing anything that helps to protect the spine is a good idea when you’re still not lifting at maximum potential. Most importantly, save a belt for big sets that have you pulling, pushing, or squatting heavy.
How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt Properly
Your belt needs to be pretty tight. You should still be able to breathe, and it shouldn’t restrict your range of motion. If your belt isn’t tight enough, it’s going to shift and move during your lift. That means you’re not getting any of the positive effects of wearing one, and you’re not going to achieve IAP.
Most coaches recommend your belt be tight enough that you can just barely stick a finger between it and your abdomen.
Positioning your belt depends on your particular anatomy. No matter your torso length, place your belt where you can generate the most force against it using your core muscles.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Weightlifting Belt
Knowing the pros and cons of weightlifting belts will help you better decide which will be the most effective for you.
Belts that halve a wide back and thin front aren’t the best for most athletes. Though the wide back is supposed to act as a brace. In reality, this doesn’t help clue your brain into engaging the IAP. So you’re not going to get ideal feedback from your body when wearing this kind of belt. The thickness also gets in the way of lumbar extension, making it challenging to put yourself in the right position for deads and squats.
When you’re selecting a belt, width is by far one of the most important factors. Look for a belt that is the same width all the way around. Most are about 10cm wide, which is generally appropriate for the majority of all athletes. However, the 10cm wide belts can dig into your rib cage when getting into a deadlift position, so you might be better suited looking for a belt that’s about 7.5cm wide. This is especially true if your programme calls for any sort of Olympic lifting like cleans, snatches, or clean and jerks.
People with shorter torsos and longer legs will definitely benefit from a 7.5cm belt because anything wider is going to be uncomfortable in your midsection.
Here are some other factors to consider when selecting your ideal weightlifting belt:
- Material – leather will ultimately last longer than nylon or other synthetic materials. But leather takes a while to wear in and can be stiff for a while. Nylon is much more pliable and might be useful if you’re into functional fitness rather than powerlifting or traditional bodybuilding.
- Thickness – the thicker the belt, the more your core can push against. Anything that’s 10-13 mm thick will be perfect for most lifters.
Prong vs. lever buckles vs. Velcro – There are plenty of closure variations on the market. Lots of inexpensive weightlifting belts use Velcro to close the belt. However, Velcro doesn’t last forever, and depending on how well you can tense your core, the Velcro might pop. Functional fitness athletes seem keen on Velcro belts because they’re easier to get on and off and because of how they use them (as a mental cue and not specifically to engage IAP).Prong buckles and levers are way more secure than Velcro and will ultimately last longer. Single prong belts are easier to take on and off than double-prong, which is beneficial after you’ve executed a heavy lift and really need your breathing to return to normal. Lever closers are simple to operate, even when your hands are taped and chalked.But adjusting them is difficult since you have to unscrew the lever, adjust, and then screw it back in place again.
Weightlifting Belt Reviews
Editor’s Choice: RDX Giant Inside
RDX has been around for a long time, and for good reason. They make quality products that aid and assist in weightlifting efforts. With the RDX Giant Inside belt, you’re getting something that’s going to last for a long time. It helps maintain form and encourages you to squat to depth. Your low back will be engaged and protected on pulls and heavy presses. Double-stitched seams increase the durability of this oil-tanned, genuine cowhide leather belt, and the faux-leather lining offers comfort and protection of your lumbar spine.
- Leather means it’s going to last a while
- Stiffness helps maintain proper form, especially when squatting heavy weights
- Double loops keep excess belt in place during movements
- Belt isn’t the same diameter all the way around, so might not engage IAP correctly
- Double prong can be hard to take off, especially in competition settings when your hands are chalked, and grip is fatigued
- 6mm thickness might not be suited for all lifters
- Surface coating is fake leather
- Stiff to wear to start and will take some time to wear
- Sizing is inconsistent, making it difficult to select appropriate belt for each lifter
This is a quality belt. It’s leather and comes in a wide array of sizes, though the sizing might be difficult to discern, even with manufacturer recommendations. Because this belt isn’t uniform width all the way around, it’s not likely that you’re going to properly engage the IAP when wearing it. That means that it’s not well suited for powerlifters but might be okay for use with conventional bodybuilding. The double prong closure of the heavy gauge steel buckle might be challenging to release, especially if your grip is already taxed from a heavy session.
This AQF belt comes in the standard 4-inch size and features varying width. It’s a classic bodybuilder belt that may help you increase your IAP, but will definitely help cue you mentally to maintain proper form. The inner lining is made from suede, so it’s soft on the skin and easy to clean.
- Might be useful to mentally cue form correction
- Double stitching and leather construction indicate it will last for a long time
- Helps reduce stress on lumbar region and offers a sense of security when lifting heavy
- Non-pinch buckle flap and double loop closure keeps belt in place during lifts
- Belt isn’t uniform width all the way around
- Manufacturer recommends incorrect measurement setting for women, making this belt difficult to size for female athletes
- Really hard to release the double-prong closure
- Can be uncomfortable to wear because the sizing is difficult to get right
Sometimes it pays to invest in a belt that’s going to stick with you no matter the rigors of your training. If you’re just starting out, the AQF might be a good belt choice for you. It’ll help you get into the feeling of training with external support at a basic price point. That said, if you’re looking for a belt that will be with you for years, through meets, off-seasons, and the intensity of serious training, this might not be the best belt for you. The leather is great, but the belt can be hard to size, and it’s not the easiest to get on and off.
RDX knows how to construct a belt, and this one is a great example of that. Its four inch width is uniform all the way around, so it’s going to accurately and correctly help you engage the IAP. That means that it will not only off extra support to the lumbar region during your lifts, but it will help you accurately breathe, too.
- This belt is properly constructed to engage the IAP correctly
- Leather is 10mm thick
- Doesn’t fold or lose shape with repeated use
- Made from multiple layers of leather, so there might be some tendency for the layers to separate over time
- Stress on stitching might occur from layer separation with extended use
- Can be difficult to size correctly
This powerlifting belt is thick and durable, so it’s not going to be ready right out of the package. Most lifters who opt for the RDX will spend about a week conditioning it – rolling it back and forth so that it loses some of its initial stiffness. Don’t let that deter you from the quality of this belt. It’s built to last and will absolutely be instrumental in helping you achieve your lifting goals.
Beast Gear is known for its attention to detail, and it shows in this belt. The single layer leather construction means that when you buy this belt, you’re buying it for the long haul. It’s not going to separate like some other belts. Reinforced screw rivets stay in place with even the most intensive, long-term use. The belt is 10mm thick, so it’s going to effectively help you stabilise and engage your IAP.
- Uniform width
- Three rivets on either side of the loop
- 10 mm thickness helps engage IAP
- Size range is extensive, suitable for both male and female lifters
- Single-layer of leather, so no chance of separation
- Screw-in rivets won’t pop out with extended use
- Sturdy construction means you might need to spend time conditioning the belt
- If you’re not used to wearing a uniform-thickness belt, it might feel awkward initially
- Buckle can be a challenge to get on and off
- Carrying bag that comes with the belt isn’t very durable and won’t last long
Beast Gear is committed to quality, and it shows in the construction of this belt. It’s well suited for both powerlifters and conventional bodybuilders. The dual-prong closure might be a challenge to get off if your hands are chalked, and your grip is fatigued. But that’s a quality you want in a belt – something that’s going to stay put.
The belt is a uniform 4 inches all the way around, so it’s going to do what a belt is supposed to do. Plus, your purchase helps support gorilla conservation, so that’s an added feel-good bonus.
This is a nylon weightlifting belt with a Velcro closure that has double stitching and comes in an array of colours. The Fire Team Fit weightlifting belt is best suited for those who primarily body build or engage in functional training lifts. It’s well suited for new lifters who are still learning their own mental cues to maintain proper form and engage your core.
- Nylon might be useful for CrossFit athletes
- Velcro makes for easy on and off during functional training workouts
- Velcro closure means it will fit snugly against waists of all size
- Added padding on lumbar support might increase comfortability of the belt
- Made from nylon, so this isn’t going to be useful for engaging IAP
- Not uniform diameter around, so this will act as a brace and not a weightlifting belt
- Sizing isn’t very diverse – only ranges from 68 cm to 109 cm, so smaller or larger waist athletes can’t wear it properly
- Quality isn’t the best; belt might curl, and stitching can fray
This isn’t the belt for you if you’re trying to maximize your powerlifting numbers. It’s also not suitable if you really want to wear a belt for IAP compression and proper breathing. However, it might be useful if you’re just getting into lifting, or if you do a lot of functional fitness style training where a belt can serve as a mental cue more than a physical one.
Made from neoprene and featuring a simple Velcro closure, the Master of Muscle Belt won’t dig into your sides. Its comfort design slopes on either side, giving you freedom of movement while you’re wearing it. You can easily cinch the belt to be the perfect size for you, helping you to engage your core and maximize your lifts.
- Might help with hypertrophic lifts because it helps keep core engaged
- Very easy to put on and take off
- Simple to adjust
- Light weight, so you could keep it on between sets just by disengaging the Velcro
- Velcro might slip and slide, making it less than useful for core stabilisation
- Won’t provide the same kind of support as a leather belt
- Very wide, which might be awkward for some people to wear
- Sizing can be difficult to get right
This is a decent six inch belt for anyone who lifts semi-heavy and isn’t concerned about core support. It’s soft and flexible, so it’s not going to stabilise in the same way as conventional leather belts. The Velcro closure might slip when you put it on, which can be challenging if you’re trying to mentally prepare for a heavy pull, squat, or press. Casual lifters will benefit from wearing this belt as an added layer of core stabilisation, but it’s not suited for anyone who is chasing big PR numbers due to its design.
Weightlifting belts are a tool, just like straps, chalk, and knee sleeves. In the right setting, for the right athlete, they’re an integral part of training. But they’re not indispensable – that is, most athletes will be just fine never using a belt. Learning proper form and how to engage and brace your core without a belt means that you’re going to have a better chance of hitting PRs on your own. In turn, you’re going to get stronger and a more balanced body.
Remember that a weightlifting belt can only benefit your performance if you’re executing it with poor form. Said another way, wearing a belt will only help you if you’re flexing your spine. Since your spine should always remain neutral during compound lifts, this might mean that wearing a belt is useless.
When you use a weight lifting belt properly, that is, activating your core muscles and increasing IAP, a good weightlifting belt will help stabilize the spine. This creates a mechanical advantage that might help you perform better on some exercises.
Mechanics aside, understanding how to technically train and engage all of your stabiliser muscles to execute lifts properly means you’re going to be far less reliant on gear. When you learn how to properly brace and breathe on your own, you’re not going to need to lean on a belt. That said if you’re competing or testing max numbers, it can be a very useful training tool. Just like all things fitness, learning to develop and then rely on your own strength without using outside tools will ultimately serve you best in the long run.