When is the Right Time to Start Wearing a Weightlifting Belt?
Written by Keith Hansen
July 2, 2018
A friend from high school asked this question recently.
I sent her a short response, and I promised to go more in-depth here.
In order to fully answer this question one must understand these two concepts:
- When you should begin wearing a weightlifting belt in your strength training journey
- When you should begin wearing a weightlifting belt in a workout
And to be thorough I will cover the answers to more common weightlifting belt questions.
Before you can know when to wear a weightlifting belt it helps to know what a weightlifting belt does.
Let's dive in.
GEt your Mechanics Down First
Weightlifting belts are enhancers. They will let you lift more weight than you might otherwise be able to handle by increasing your ability to use your core muscles.
That part in italics is important. Really important. It's important because putting more weight on your back than the rest of your body can handle is a recipe for disaster. Namely bulging discs, pulled muscles, and torn ligaments.
Typically, in a well-trained weightlifter the muscles of the core are the limiting factor in a lift like the deadlift or squat. This is because the torso is the medium through which your legs transmit force to the barbell. If that medium (your core/spine) doesn't allow for an efficient transfer of energy than you will not be able to lift as much as possible. Wearing a weightlifting belt in this scenario immediately improves the transfer of force, and viola!, more weight is lifted.
In an un-trained weightlifter, there can be a multitude of muscles that are the limiting factor. Wearing a weightlifting belt in this situation can allow you to get into a position that the rest of your body is not strong enough to get out of safely.
As always with good strength training make sure you learn great mechanics before you try increasing the amount you can lift.
When to Put The belt On
Once you're sure you have great mechanics you need to know when you should wear a belt.
First, you should know with which exercises a belt can help. These exercises are those where force is being transmitted from the legs through the torso, and exercises where maximal core stability will contribute to the lift. The most common strength training exercises will be squat variations, deadlift variations, and the overhead press.
Second, you need to know when in your workout to wear a weightlifting belt. You should wear a weightlifting belt when you are squatting or deadlifting at or above 60% of your 1RM. You should also wear a weightlifting belt when you are lifting at or above a 7 RPE. You may be deadlifting at only 50% of your 1RM, but if it is an AMRAP set (RPE 10) it will be tremendously helpful to wear a weightlifting belt to get more reps as your core will most likely be the limiting factor.
How to Use a WEightlifting BElt
First, watch this video on how to wear a weightlifting belt. Most things are easier to see than reading.
A weightlifting belt should be situated in the soft part between your hips and ribs where your belly has the largest circumference. Weightlifting belts should be worn very tight.
To maximize the effectiveness of the belt you need to take a huge breath into your belly and push your belly out against the belt as hard as possible. Imagine trying to bust the belt off just using your stomach. If the belt is worn tight, and you press out hard, you will usually hear the leather (if the belt isn't leather, get a real belt) flex. That is a very good sound.
What Weightlifting belt Should You Get?
There is a more in-depth article what weightlifting belt you should get, but I'll give some brief information.
For most men a 10mm thick, 4" wide, single prong weightlifting belt is best. Thicker than 10mm isn't necessary, and neither is the double prong option.
For smaller framed people, most women, a 10mm thick, 3" wide, single prong weightlifting belt is best. If the belt is too wide it will dig into your hips/ribs and distract you during the lift.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Weightlifting belts are awesome. They will let you lift more weight in the squat and deadlift for more reps. But this is not a license to ignore core training. Why? Because you may have the luxury of wearing a weightlifting belt in the gym, but you aren't always wearing one in normal life (that would be incredibly abnormal).
And when do most people get injured? Life outside the gym.
Wear a weightlifting belt to help train the rest of your body harder. Follow a good core training program to bulletproof your midsection.