Do You Really Need a Weightlifting Belt? And Other Burning Belt Questions Answered
Belts have rules: You shouldn’t wear a regular ‘ol belt with suspenders. Nor should you wear one with linen pants or casual chinos.
But pants belts aren’t the only kind of belts with rules. Weight belts have rules, too.
Except, the risk of shirking weight belt rules isn’t just making fashion faux-pas. Weight belt rules are designed to keep you safe during your day-to-day workouts and throughout your entire lifting career.
Ahead, get all your questions about weightlifting belts answered. Whether you want to know when to use a weightlifting belt, or how, or why, we’ve got you covered.
What Is the Purpose of a Weightlifting Belt?
In the kooky world of CrossFit, this question is as hotly debated as whether the Rogue Echo Bike or AssaultBike are a better buy; whether Rich Froning or Mat Fraser is the ultimate G.O.A.T.; and whether or not Mal O’Brien has a chance of beating Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games.
While all of these questions are interesting, here, we’ll only be tackling the one: Why do people wear lifting belts, and should you?
In simplest terms, the purpose of a weightlifting belt is to provide something for your abdominals to brace against when under heavy loads, thus keeping your spine in a neutral, safe position.
One study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that the way belts do this is by increasing something called intra-abdominal pressure (IAP), which in turn creates greater stability around your spine.
Essentially, this means that the belt helps keep your lumbar spine, discs, and supporting muscles in their most optimal position as you pull, press, or drop (into a squat).
How to Use a Weightlifting Belt
Using a weightlifting belt isn’t as intuitive or easy as using a pant belt. And actually, not everyone who lifts is a good candidate for a weightlifting belt.
Sizing and securing the belt both require some savvy.
1. Make Sure You’re Ready for a Weightlifting Belt
We’ll dive into more detail below. But a weightlifting belt really isn’t for anyone or everyone.
First, ask yourself if you actually need the belt to help you with bracing. Next, know that it’s imperative to know how to use a belt before you put one on. People new to lifting weights should focus on form rather than belting up to move a heavy load.
Many coaches will tell you that there is a prerequisite level of strength, experience, and skill that athletes should have in order to benefit from using one of these devices; however, it’s really subjective and depends on the coach and the athlete. Many competing athletes wear belts as soon as plates go on the bar, no matter what percentage, to ensure their form is consistent. If you’re unsure, ask a coach.
Additionally, people who are trying to prevent re-injury of a previous or existing injury but enjoy a fruitful lifting career can benefit from a belt.
2. Figure Out What Sport You’re Using It For
CrossFit athletes, powerlifters, and Olympic lifters all use different styles of belts, for the most part.
Powerlifters, for example, typically use leather belts with lever closures because of how tight you can get these belts.
CrossFit athletes, on the other hand, generally wear nylon, Velcro-closure belts because they are easier to put on mid-workout and are more flexible to accommodate the wider range and faster pace of movements seen in CrossFit.
3. Buy the Right Size
Please check the sizing guide before adding a belt to your cart—don’t just buy the size you normally get in pants or shorts.
If the belt is too tight, you could compromise your lift due to discomfort or injure yourself, but if it’s too loose, the belt won’t actually do anything but get in your way.
4. Wear the Belt Correctly
Exactly where the belt sits will vary based on body shape and type. But generally, you want your belt to sit right above your hip bones and make contact with your lowest rib bones—this position maximizes contact against your back, front, and sides.
Next, inhale slightly before clasping the belt shut. Key word here: slight. A slight inhale allows you to get the belt tight, but not too tight. As a general rule, you want to be able to fit one or two fingers between your belly and the belt.
5. Practice Breathing Into It
Hear us loud and clear: Wearing a belt isn’t a replacement for bracing your core! When you wear a weightlifting belt, you still need to brace your midsection. Actually, the belt’s job is to help you brace with a little more oomph. In other words, the belt assists; it doesn’t do the work for you.
To brace your core, take a breath deep into your belly—not your chest. Then, think about pressing that air down towards your belly button. This gesture will tighten your midline as if you’re expecting a punch. Hold this position as you lift.
Do Weightlifting Belts Help You Lift More Weight?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is a little more complicated than that.
The best way to lift more weight is to improve your technique, follow a periodized program with progressive overload, and do accessory work that helps you minimize imbalances and strengthen supporting movement patterns.
But yes, a weightlifting belt can support heavier lifts. Though, how much heavier you’ll be able to lift with a belt than without a belt is still up for debate, because research on the topic is limited.
One small study found that weight belts helped women lift 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) more than they would have been able to lift sans belt, which the researchers deem “statistically significant.” Whether that’s significant or not to you is up for you to decide.
Will a Weightlifting Belt Help Me PR a Lift?
The best thing you can do for yourself if you want to PR a lift is to dial in your form and progressively overload.
Sound technique allows you to lift weight as efficiently and safely as possible. If your form is fundamentally incorrect, it means that you’re wasting energy and putting your body at risk of injuries.
The best way to improve the quality of your movement pattern(s) is to hire someone to help you. If you’re already a member of a CrossFit box, ask your coach to watch you move.
Trust me, clean up your movement patterns and you’ll see a PR even if you’re not wearing a belt.
That said, once your mechanics are sound, go ahead and grab that belt and practice breathing into it and bracing. Before going bananas with weight, make sure you feel fully confident in your use of the belt. Truly, a weight belt plus sound mechanics is a dream team.
In fact, research has shown that belting up before testing your squat or deadlift offers some payoffs.
The aforementioned Medical Science in Sports & Exercise study found that belting before squats can help support your trunk, especially when individuals squatted 90% or more of their one-rep max.
Further, one small 2022 study published in the journal Medicine found that those who wore weightlifting belts alongside wrist wraps while deadlifting reported less perceived exertion, compared to those who lifted without the additional gear.
Those decked out in a belt and wrist wraps also took less time to complete each rep. While that means less time under tension, and therefore less muscle breakdown—and therefore growth, after repair—per rep, it also means that athletes may be able to complete more reps. This is significant for CrossFit athletes, since they are so often subject to high volumes at relatively high loads.
For what it’s worth, there is also a mental benefit to wearing weight belts, just like there’s a mental benefit to wearing knee sleeves or wrist wraps or other support gear.
Should I Wear a Weightlifting Belt for Olympic Lifting?
Again, this is subjective. Some weightlifting coaches will say you don’t need to wear a weightlifting belt every single time you sling a barbell overhead; and that you don’t want to wear a belt every single time you move weight, and that you should reserve it for higher percentages.
Why? Because wearing a belt at lighter weights could possibly encourage athletes to stop bracing their core as actively as they would without the belt. If this happens, it interferes with gains because every time your belt takes over the job of the midline (to stabilize your spine), you lose out on an opportunity to strengthen your core. Long term, this can seriously interfere with your ability to hit new snatch and clean PRs.
On the other hand, that’s not an issue with experienced lifters and elite athletes. In fact, Mat Fraser has been seen competing with a belt on when he is lifting nowhere near maximal weights. Many weightlifting coaches direct athletes to wear belts at lower percentages because you don’t want your technique to change when you get to heavier loads.
Additionally, people who have endured injuries and are trying to prevent re-injury might consider wearing a belt during all lifts, no matter the percentage.
Can You Wear a Weightlifting Belt for CrossFit?
You can wear a weightlifting belt during CrossFit. But weightlifting belts aren’t like shoes, which you probably want to wear every single workout. They’re more like gymnastics grips or knee sleeves, which you only want for certain workouts.
In case you’re not familiar: CrossFit is basically a sport smoothie. It blends together elements of gymnastics, bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, monostructural movements (running, rowing, biking, swimming, skiing, etc), and more. Sometimes you train each of these components alongside another. Other times—like during strength work or skill work—you train one component at a time.
You don’t need a weightlifting belt for gymnastics, monostructural, or most accessory or hypertrophy movements. Actually, a belt could make movements that fall into those categories way harder. A belt would hugely restrict your movements during toes-to-bar, pull-ups, bar muscle-ups, and HSPU, for example.
And because a belt presses against your diaphragm if you’re wearing it correctly, wearing one while running, rowing, doing double-unders, or any other cardio-based movement would make it hard (VERY hard) to catch your breath. TBH, a belt during these moves would probably make you huff and puff the way Fran does. Pass.
You might, however, elect to use a belt during any of the following instances:
- You’re testing heavy loads for squat, pull, clean, snatch, or press.
- You’re about to do a metcon that requires you to do moderate or heavy Olympic or power lifts under fatigue
- You’re doing any strength work where you feel you need help bracing.
When Should I Start Wearing a Weightlifting Belt?
As a general rule, beginner lifters should not be moving enough weight to necessitate a belt. If you’re new to CrossFit, powerlifting, or Olympic lifting, your priority should be learning to lift with good form—not lifting as heavy as you can, which is the main claim to fame of weightlifting belts.
Weight belts should be reserved for people who have moved past the beginner phase and are ready to start testing limits, unless you’ve been instructed by a credentialed trainer or health professional to wear one to prevent injury.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re ready for a belt:
- Can I complete these lifts safely and with good form, without a belt?
- Do I know how to properly stabilize my midsection without the help of a belt?
- Does my coach think I’m a good candidate for a belt?
- Do I need one to prevent re-injury?
Do Weightlifting Belts Protect Your Back?
Your core muscles are your back’s number-one protector. Weightlifting belts are merely helping aids.
Let’s use a metaphor to explain: If your spine is a country, you can think of your core muscles as the country’s army. Weightlifting belts are the army’s horses. They aren’t particularly effective protectors on their own. But the horses (belts) can provide additional support when used alongside/by the army (your core muscles).
So, yes, belts can provide back support, but you shouldn’t rely on one alone to protect you during your strength training sessions, especially during very heavy lifts. Brace, brace, brace!
What is the Best Weightlifting Belt?
Just as Concept2 and AssaultFitness are the most iconic brands for CrossFit cardio machines, there are weightlifting belt brands that are endemic in CrossFit.
Hands down, the most popular brand is 2Pood, which makes nylon weightlifting belts that are equal parts flexible and secure.
Women and smaller-bodied lifters are often thrilled to learn that 2Pood also offers a line of 3” Petite Belts, which are shorter than many other belts on the market. The shortened stature of the belt makes them more comfortable for Metcons.
Other high-quality belt brands that are popular amongst CrossFit athletes include:
- Bear KompleX
- Rogue Fitness (FYI: Mat Fraser worked with Rogue Fitness on the Rogue USA Nylon Lifting Belt)
What Kind of Weightlifting Belt Should I Get?
The type of belt you should get heavily depends on many factors, including: what type of weight training you’re doing, your waist size, your overall body size (including torso length), how much weight you intend to move, and more.
Brands aside, there are many types of training belts. They can be categorized by closure mechanism—double-prong, single-prong, lever buckle, roller buckle, Velcro—or by material. Common belt materials include nylon (often with a foam core), neoprene, suede, and leather.
Belts also vary in thickness. Powerlifting belts are often thicker, up to 10mm thick or more, to provide an ultra-stable surface for the core to brace against during heavy squats and deadlifts that tax the lower back. If you compete, it’s important to make sure your belt abides by IPF standards. Strongman athletes are also seen wearing extra thick belts to help brace while moving uber-heavy weights.
Olympic weightlifters will generally wear thinner belts to accommodate the range of motion needed for clean-and-jerks and snatches. For those who compete, the belt must be 4 inches or narrower to abide by International Weightlifting Federation rules. CrossFit athletes will, for the most part, wear even thinner Velcro belts, even during heavier weights.