Everything you need to know about weightlifting or lifting belts. What are they, their types & uses, how to use them along with their benefits & drawbacks?
These belts are quite an essential piece of equipment in most gyms and training centres. In most places, institutes provide this necessary piece of equipment to professional trainers & athletes. Most trainees and weightlifters of all classes including Olympic athletes use belts for lifting heavy weights which otherwise seem impossible. Belts stabilise and support the spine & core muscles to protect against injuries.
What is a weightlifting belt?
A weightlifting belt is kind of a wrap that is worn around the waist when lifting heavy weights. Different belts are made from different materials depending on their type, purpose, and use.
Belts made of leather are more commonly used because they are durable, have more weight-bearing capacity and are long-lasting. They are typically kept thick approximately between four inches to six inches. They have metal buckles at one end to secure them on the waist.
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What is the purpose of the weightlifting belt?
The first question that comes to mind is what does a weightlifting belt do? So let us share what the purpose of the weightlifting belt is.
As a common practice, the majority of people use lifting belts to lift the extra weight which otherwise they can’t do.
A belt has two significant purposes:
- It decreases the level of stress applied to the lower back while lifting a weight. This stress decreases as the belt compress the abdominal cavity creating intra abdominal pressure (IAB). This pressure gives added support in front of the bones of the lower back, which allows the spinal erector muscles to exert decreased force while carrying out a lift.
- It also suppresses the chances of hyperextension while carrying out overhead lifts. Hyperextension is an abnormality in which the joint moves away from its normal position creating an increased or decreased angle than normal.
Weightlifting belts are meant for protecting oneself from injury or damage.
How do weightlifting belts work?
Before knowing the belt’s mechanism, it is necessary to learn how the body moves while you are carrying out exercises like squatting, deadlifting, or pressing heavyweight. In normal conditions, the core, also known as the torso is soft and very flexible just like a sponge.
This characteristic makes it easier for the person to bend sideways, forwards and backward and also twist easily. At the same time, this softness presents a challenge while pressing hard on weights, because a soft core can easily collapse under the weight.
So to fix it either one should have a strong core able enough to sustain the weight or support it somehow. This is where belts come into effect to add support and strength to the soft or weak core.
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To get a hard and rigid core, bracing it is an essential requirement. Which typically occurs while you lift or push something substantial. Think about pushing a stalled car, for that you have to breathe deeply and hold it along with keeping your core muscles tight, that is how you brace your core.
Taking a deep breath and keeping a hold of it, simultaneously keeping your torsos tight leads to a rapid rise in the internal pressure of the core. This practice ultimately transforms your spongy center into a hard structure. This tightening of the muscles enables the weightlifter to lift or push more weight without causing any damage to the spine.
You must clear one thing in your mind that a belt itself does not serve to anchor your back. It is not some kind of exoskeleton that strengthens your back just by wearing it on. It only gives a contraceptive cue to your torso to contract and tighten the core muscles firmly while you are lifting a heavyweight.
A weightlifting belt facilitates the core muscles with the push back to tighten up to an added extent and indirectly anchors the torso by keeping core muscles hard and rigid enough.
What are the different types of weightlifting belts?
The types of belts based on their use;
- These belts are made up of pure leather.
- They are thick on the back & thin on the front.
- These belts are a hybrid of Velcro belts and power lifting belts.
- Double prong stainless steel roller buckle for added security & adjustment.
- They give more pressure than a Velcro belt but lesser pressure than a belt for power lifitng.
- The power lifting belts are made rigid and thick.
- Their width is kept constant throughout the belt.
- Powerlifting belts provide an extra surface area on the abs that have direct contact with the belt.
- Most of the belts are double prong stainless steel roller buckle.
- They give a lot of internal pressure that ultimately gives added stability that lets the lifter carry extra weight.
3. Velcro belts
- The velcro belts are made up of synthetic material.
- These belts bear limited force that is as long as the velcro pops.
- They provide a minimal amount of intra-abdominal pressure as compared to a powerlifting belt or a bodybuilding belt.
- These belts are not that good to give you efficient and elevated performances but are sufficient for recreational lifting.
- These belts are available in both leather & synthetic material.
- They useful for gaining chest, triceps, back & improve stamina.
- Ideal for chin-ups and pull-ups
You may also like our comparison guide about powerlifting vs weightlifting belt.
What are the different materials used in Weightlifting belts?
The types of belts based on their material of construction
- Design: These leather weightlifting belts are available in contoured, cylindrical or cone shape.
- Activities to be used in: Leather belts are ideal for powerlifting, weightlifting, or even in recreational lifting.
- Quality of belts: These belts are long-lasting, tough, and heavy.
2. Nylon belts
- Design: These nylon weightlifting belts or are available in cylindrical or cone designs, normal weight training belts are also made up of same materials.
- Activities to be used in: Nylon belts are beneficial for weightlifting, recreational lifting, or even functional workouts.
- Qualities of nylon belts: These belts are very versatile, light-weight, and comfortable to use.
Also read our comparative buying guide about leather vs nylon weightlifting belts.
What are the benefits of weightlifting belts?
Advantages of using a belt
1. It increases the intra-abdominal pressure
These belts are ideal to use because they lead to an increase in the intra-abdominal pressure created inside the abdomen. This makes it easier for the lifter to carry out heavy and strenuous weight lifting exercises.
2. It provides stability to the spine
As we have already mentioned that a using the belt increases the pressure in the abdomen, thus it ultimately leads to stabilizing the spine.
The increased pressure helps the spine to maintain stability and strength even while carrying out hard exercises involving the lifting of heavyweights.
This ultimately prevents the fall of the spine and saves it from collapsing over during weightlifting.
3. It provides a pushback to your stomach
By wearing a belt, the stomach of the lifter has a barrier to push against. This helps with increasing the abdominal pressure & further causing the weightlifting to be more fruitful and efficient.
You can also increase the intra-abdominal pressure by making a little effort without using the belt. For doing so, you have to take in a deep breath and take hold of your breath inside.
After that, do not exhale the breath in the normal manner as it will only take the air out of your lungs without providing you with any extra benefits. Be very careful while exhaling the air and take it out with the help of your stomach muscles. This specific movement is known as the Valsalva maneuver.
4. It restricts the range of motion of lumbar movement
One of the benefits of wearing a belt is the restriction of the range of motion of the lumbar movement. As the belt holds on tightly on the lumbar muscles which provides extra protection to the weightlifter while lifting.
The benefits of wearing a belt while carrying out heavy weightlifting exercises
- Increases the Intra-abdominal pressure between 15-40%.
- It decreases the spinal atrophy between 25-50%.
- It increases the bar speed by 6-15%.
Interesting read: 11 Weighted Squats Variations You Need to Add to Your Workout Routine
5. Reduction of stress on the lower back while carrying out weightlifting exercises
Using a belt, you can carry out weightlifting exercises in a protected and secure manner. As the pressure inside the abdomen of the user undergoes a remarkable increase, which causes the stress being exerted on the lower back to undergo a measurable decrease.
6. It helps in the maintenance of the proper position of the back
Wearing a belt will improve and enhance the back posture of the user which will ultimately maintain the back position and form of the weightlifter.
7. Maintain the core’s temperature
Inconsistent gaps between the reps can sometimes present a challenge to smoothly resume the exercise as muscles start to cool down. As a better option, it is recommended that lifters wear belts because they keep their muscles warm and help in smoothly carrying out of the exercise.
8. It improves the performance of the spinal erector muscles
By wearing a belt, the performance of the spinal erector muscles is increased, which further supports the lower back of the weightlifter while lifting. This enhanced performance of the spinal erector muscles enables the lower back to produce a decreased quantity of force while performing a lift.
9. It reduces the level of spinal shrinkage
The use of belt can protect you from becoming a victim of the lower back compression as it provides support to the spine while lifting. The spinal compressor is a significant issue during circuit weight training.
10. It makes you feel more comfortable and improves the performance
It has been observed that some people find themselves more comfortable and protected while carrying out weightlifting practices if wearing a belt than those who do not wear belt. Just like some people are more confident while driving with safety belt is on. This feeling plays a significant part in improving the performance and results.
The effectiveness of weight-belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise view
11. It leads to the production of improved biomechanics of the body
As per research studies, it has been found out that those who wear belts during lifting are less likely to suffer any abnormal spinal flexion, spinal extension, and spinal lateral flexion. These movements basically refers to forward, backward and sideward bending of the spine, respectively.
Other than this function, it causes a rise in hip flexion and knee flexion. This makes it possible to lift the weight by using your legs more than by using your back, which is the correct biomechanical position one must opt for while lifting anything from the ground.
12. It improves the muscles activity ultimately promoting muscle growth
Use of belt, helps activate the quadriceps muscles and the hamstring muscles. Having increased muscular activity while carrying out heavy exercises benefit the user in the long run, ultimately leading to better muscle growth.
You may also like to read our other posts about muscle growth:
- What are the best foods to eat for muscle growth?
- 15 Best Compound Lifts and Exercises to Gain Muscle Mass
- The 7 Best Back Exercises to Strengthen Back Muscles
How to use weightlifting belts?
The art of using lifting belts
1. Always choose the appropriate belt
Always keep one thing in mind that using a belt is only required while carrying out heavy powerlifting practices. When you wear a belt, it enables you to lift heavier weight and also improves your results romanian deadlifts, cleans, snatches and squats.
You do not require a belt if you are doing any other exercises in which there is no heavy lifting. In addition to this, a belt can also be used in case of heavy standing overhead press lifts to add stability to your spine and decrease the stress applied to it.
Also read: How to squat properly?
2. Go for a weight belt that has a uniform width
Always choose a belt that has a standard width ranging from approximately 3-4 inches throughout the whole belt. Also that this belt size is most appropriate and admired because it gives extra comfort to the user.
You must have seen belts that have narrower fronts and much wider backs, which lead to unequal support during weightlifting. Usually hard belts like leather belts & powerlifting belts have uniform shape.
Also, keep in mind that the thickness of the belt matters. The thicker the belt, the more comfortable it is. This is because a thick belt provided extra padding to the core and adds an obstacle to be pushed against.
3. When to use a belt?
You should wear a belt only during lifts where the attempt is close to your maximum bodyweight or you are going to carry out more than three repetitions. Keep one thing in mind that a belt is only required if carrying out heavy lifts that exert high pressure on the spine.
Also, try to avoid using a belt in case you are lifting light weights that are less than 90% of your one-repetition maximum. But before you use belt, it is necessary that you actually know the correct form for performing the exercise. Also that you are already good at stabilizing your back even without using a belt. Then gradually, you can jump down to using a belt in order to enhance your performance.
A belt is only useful to be used while practicing heavy compound power lifts where there is actually the need to use the support. You might not get improved results if you use a it during an isolation exercise, for example, bicep curls.
Pro Tip: Arms blaster can help with isolating the muscle during exercise to achieve a bigger bicep.
4. Where to tie the belt?
Wrap your belt around your waist, but make sure it is placed above your belly button. This is because the belt must rest above the muscles of the abdominal wall.
You should never place the belt below the stomach as it will not be much helpful, even if you feel more comfortable this way. Also, the position of the belt may vary according to the type of lift you are going to carry out.
5. How tight should the belt be?
Tie the belt tightly but only to the level that does not affect your breathing. For this, breathe deeply and keep your abs flexed while wearing the belt. Now start tightening it until you feel your abs pushing against your belt. This way, you will be able to gain maximum benefits while carrying out weightlifting.
Do not wear it too tight so that it suffocates you or makes you feel uncomfortable. However, with regular use of the belt, you will get an idea of the appropriate level of tightness that you have to maintain.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to get your hand between your belly and the belt. Breaking Muscle
You may loosen the belt if it feels too tight while you are carrying out the exercise. It should only be tight enough that makes you feel comfortable and provides you with added anchorage.
Breathe deeply and hold your breath before you start repetition, then expel the air as you push to brace your abs. The right method of breathing is a must to gain the real benefits of a belt.
6. When to remove the belt?
After you are finished with heavy weightlifting, take out your belt even if you have to carry out lighter exercises later. Wearing a weight belt for too long can affect abdominal development, so try to stabilise your body without relying upon the belt.
When should one use a weightlifting belt?
One should only use a belt if he knows how to do weightlifting without using a belt. To get the real benefits from a belt, it is a must that you know the right way and timings to carry out weightlifting and also if you are already a pro at weightlifting.
Image source Instagram
You should only go for using a belt if you carry out hard and heavy exercises. Light exercises or even weightlifting using light weights do not require wearing the belt. You should only use one if you are to lift heavy weights or perform weighted squats.
Before switching to use a belt, you must consult your trainer and doctor in order to get clean chit whether you are eligible for wearing one or not. If you are a victim of any serious medical issues like hernia, high blood pressure, etc. then you must not go with belt.
Should beginners use a lifting belt?
As per many experts, using a belt for weightlifting is not recommended for beginners, for many reasons but these are 2 main reasons.
- As a beginner you must first focus on your technique, as belt won’t help you much if your technique is flawed.
- In the beginning your emphasis should be on strengthening your core instead of supporting it with belt.
Weightlifting belts for women
In the present time, women have started taking an interest in keeping themselves fit and healthy. For this reason, they are into carrying out exercises that keep their body active and strong.
Weightlifting has sought much attraction from women because of its numerous advantages. Like men weightlifters, women also prefer using belts because these belts give extra protection, support, and anchorage to the spine, which enables them to lift more weight.
Harms of using weightlifting belt by women
A belt especially affects the pelvic floor. It is a group of muscles that rest at the base of the pelvis which supports bladder, bowel and uterus (womb).
Wearing a lifting belt increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which directly affects the pelvic floor resulting in its weakening. Once it is weekend bladder and bowel control are effected. For this reason, it is not recommended for women to carefully use the lifting belts.
How to choose the right weightlifting belt?
Shopping for a weightlifting belt
Shopping for a belt can be quite challenging as there are a lot of options to choose from in UK and it is not easy to choose the perfect belt.
Each belt type is different based on its purpose like leather made belts are designed for heavy lifting like powerlifting where as velcro belts are for regular lifting at gym. So if your regimen is about powerlifting then softer belts is not going to serve the purpose instead a stronger, right belt like leather belt will. As a basic rule you look for something comfortable, long-lasting, and efficient in use.
Following are some of the key elements to consider while selecting a belt.
Choose a belt that is comfortable
Firstly measuring your waist at the navel and then choosing the right size of your belt is the wisest option. Make sure you take the measurements appropriately because wrong readings can put you in trouble while carrying out heavy weightlifting.
A thick belt does not necessarily mean a better option
The average width of the most widely used belts ranges from 10 millimeters to 13 millimeters. A better thickness of the belt means better support and anchorage to your spine. But it is not always a good point to go with. You must keep your comfort and ease in mind before choosing the right belt, and gradually increase the thickness.
Go with the belt that is made from the material that suits your lifting style
Belts are made from a variety of materials like leather, Velcro, or suede. But the belt you should choose is completely upon your purpose of using the belt. Powerlifting belts are preferred to be leather made as these belts last for a longer period of time, and they are stronger.
Talking about the suede belt, it is softer and feels more comfortable to wear. Also, a combination of both these materials is also put together to form a belt that is both good and comfortable to use. For Olympic lifting one can opt for a Velcro belt as it is most appropriate.
AQF Sports is one of the top weightlifting brands in UK, it offers complete range of belts for all regimen needs.
For heavy lifting always opt for a leather belts instead of the nylon belt because they provide better support and last longer.
Also, make sure that the belt you choose has a prong buckle closure. Do not go for a belt that has a velcro strap at its terminal. This is because a velcro belt can easily get unstrapped while carrying out weightlifting.
This happens because of the tension created by the core while doing a heavy lift. And of course, you do not want belt to come off in the middle of lifting the weight.
Another precautionary measure which is a must consider, is that if you are suffering from high blood pressure should not go with using a lifting belt. This is because tightening the belt leads to a rise in blood pressure.
Also read our general tips & mistakes to avoid while lifting heavy weights
To wrap it up!
Weightlifting belts help protect the body from injuries while heavy weight lifting. They add stability and strength to back muscles but can also weaken your core strength or cause problems for people with blood pressure. They are just a tool like any other tool & only it’s use can determine the effectiveness of the instrument. Lifting belts can add to your natural game as well as become a hindrance to your growth if they are not correctly used.
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