What's the best lifting belt?
When it comes to strength training, there's simply no magic formula. No piece of equipment will instantly transform your training and help you bypass the hard work required to make strength gains. However, there are some pieces of equipment that can help you lift more and reduce the chances of injuries.
This guide will explain the purpose of the lifting belt and its benefits, and give you an overview of the main types of belts on the market.
In this article:
What does a lifting belt do?
Lifting belts are used to enhance core stability during heavy lifts. They increase intra-abdominal pressure, providing a rigid brace for your muscles to work against. This results in a more stabilised core and a neutral spine, reducing the likelihood of hyperextending or rounding your lower back, a common source of lifting injuries.
By offering this added stability, a weightlifting belt enables you to maintain a stronger and more secure torso, which may help you lift heavier weights. However, it's crucial to note that a lifting belt isn't a remedy for poor technique or a safety guarantee against all potential injuries.
A lifting belt should be used as a supplement to proper form and not as a substitute. Learning to brace your core correctly during strength training is an essential aspect of safe and effective lifting.
Never forget – lifting belts aren't designed to support lifting beyond your capabilities. It's not about feeding your ego but supporting your performance and safety.
What does the science say about lifting belts?
There’s been a fair amount of research into lifting belts and whether they help or hinder strength athletes. The consensus from these studies is that belts can provide substantial benefits when utilised correctly.
Here are the main advantages of wearing a lifting belt:
1. Increase in intra-abdominal pressure
According to research, one of the primary benefits of lifting belts is the increase in intra-abdominal pressure. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that intra-abdominal pressure increased by up to 40% when subjects wore a lifting belt (Harman et al., 1989). This increase in pressure provides more stability to the spine and can potentially help protect against injury during heavy lifts.
2. Reduction in spinal load
Additionally, lifting belts have been found to reduce the load on the spine during lifting. A study published in the Journal of Applied Biomechanics found that wearing a lifting belt during lifting can reduce the amount of spinal flexion (forward bending), spinal extension (backward bending), and lateral flexion of the spine but increases the amount of trunk flexion (Kingma et al., 2006). This means that the belt can help to keep the spine in a safer position during lifts.
3. Improved lifting performance
As well as reducing the chances of injury, another potential benefit of lifting belts is enhancing lifting performance. A study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that when trained lifters wore a lifting belt, they could generate more speed and power during lifting a heavy deadlift (Zink et al., 2001). However, the benefits of lifting performance are not universal for all types of lifts (such as isolation exercises) and might be more significant for experienced lifters lifting heavier loads.
4. Enhanced Body Biomechanics
Research also suggests that lifting belts can enhance biomechanics. A study in the journal Spine found that individuals who wore a lifting belt were more likely to use their legs rather than their back when lifting, which can help reduce strain on the lower back (Lander et al., 1992). This implies that lifting belts can promote proper technique, particularly in novice lifters.
So while lifting belts aren't magic tools that instantly improve strength or safeguard against all injuries, scientific research suggests they can significantly increase intra-abdominal pressure, reduce spinal load, possibly enhance lifting performance, and promote better lifting biomechanics. As with any tool, their efficacy depends on proper use and good lifting technique.
Ready to reap the benefits of a lifting belt? See our belts
What exercises should I use a belt on?
You've probably seen some people always wear lifting belts at the gym.
This isn't necessary: lifting belts are typically only used on large compound lifts, such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. A belt can also be helpful in strongman/strongwoman training, where your back needs as much support as possible.
If you're using a machine, you will get little benefit from a lifting belt or doing bicep curls (not in the squat rack). Belts are designed to stabilise you during heavy compound movements - not in isolation exercises.
How strong should I be before using one?
It's a common misconception that you must be at a certain strength level or be able to lift your body weight in squats and deadlifts before using a lifting belt. In reality, you can start using a lifting belt when you can correctly brace your core and maintain proper form when lifting.
For beginners worried about developing their core, a good compromise can be to go beltless on your warm-up sets and put the belt on for your working sets. There is no hard and fast rule here.
Again, the belt is not there to help you lift weights beyond your capabilities but to enhance your performance and safety when performing heavy lifts correctly.
What kinds of lifting belts are there?
Lifting belts are simple yet effective pieces of equipment for strength training. However, several different types of lifting belts are available, so it’s important to understand the differences.
The Velcro lifting belt is an economical option often used by novice lifters, bodybuilders, and weightlifting athletes. They’re easy to adjust, allowing lifters to find their optimal fit easily. This feature can be useful for lifters who wish to alternate the belt's tightness during their workout routine. Velcro belts are lightweight and less bulky than their synthetic leather counterparts.
However, they generally don't offer the same longevity or support as more premium belts. Over time, the Velcro might lose its adhesiveness, and the belt material may wear, especially with heavy or frequent use. Due to their design and material, they can't provide the same level of rigid support and intra-abdominal pressure as a synthetic leather belt, which could be a limiting factor during heavy lifts. They are rarely approved for use in powerlifting competitions but are commonly used in weightlifting.
The single-prong belt is probably the most common belt on the market.It's typically made from leather or durable synthetic leather material. Single prong belts are comfortable and aren't as thick as a double-prong. Some lifters prefer a slimmer, more contoured belt.
With only a single prong, the belt is relatively quick and easy to take off. This belt type is usually the most affordable than double-prong belts due to having fewer materials. While a high-quality single-prong lifting belt is unlikely to pop off if worn correctly, some lifters feel more secure with a double prong. We use animal-friendly Amara synthetic leather on our belts.
A double-prong weightlifting belt is much the same as a single-prong, but it has two prongs instead of one. Bigger lifters often find the double-prong belt more supportive than the single, and many competitive powerlifters prefer a double-prong. With two prongs, you can feel more confident in your belt staying secure. However, if you don't keep your belt on between sets, a double prong can be tedious to put on and take off. With more surface area and metal, the double-prong costs more than a single prong.
Unlike prong belts, a lever belt has an adjustable lever buckle adjusted on your first wear. This means you can quickly get your lifting belt on and off. This can be useful if you like to take your belt off after each set.
If you use a reputable company, the buckle of your lever should be made of a durable metal such as stainless steel. For instance, Strength Shop offers a lifetime performance warranty on their lever belts.
Strength Shop lever belts are IPF approved and are often used by competitive lifters.
To summarise, here's a table to compare the four main types of lifting belts:
Single prong belt
Double prong belt
Can a lifting belt help with back pain?
While a lifting belt can help support your lower back during heavy lifts and potentially prevent injuries, it's not a treatment for back pain. If you have back pain, seeking professional advice before lifting weights is crucial.
What's the difference between 10mm and 13mm lifting belts?
The only difference is the thickness. Some athletes prefer a thicker belt, while others don't.
We also offer a narrower belt that's popular with shorter athletes. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference.
How do I choose the right size of lifting belt?
To choose the right size, measure around your waist, roughly around the belly button area. Don't rely on your trouser/pant size, as it may be inaccurate.
Strength Shop provides a sizing guide on each of our belts.
How do I clean and maintain my lifting belt?
Most Amara leather lifting belts can be cleaned with a damp cloth and mild soap. Avoid soaking the belt in water or applying harsh chemicals which could damage the material. As for maintenance, periodically applying a leather conditioner can help extend the belt's lifespan.
Can I wear a lifting belt all the time in the gym?
While lifting belts are beneficial for heavy compound lifts, they shouldn't be worn all the time or for all exercises. Using them for lighter weights or isolation exercises could potentially hinder your core development. The key is to strike a balance and not become overly reliant on the belt.
Are all lifting belts approved for competitions?
No, not all belts are approved for competitions. For instance, in powerlifting competitions, you'll need an IPF-approved belt. Always check the rules of your specific federation or competition before purchasing.
Is it better to have a tighter or looser fit with a lifting belt?
The lifting belt should be tight enough to support and help you create intra-abdominal pressure, but not so tight that it restricts your breathing or movement. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to fit your hand between your belly and the belt.
Choose a Strength Shop lifting belt
Most athletes considering serious training or competition will generally want a single prong, double prong, or lever belt. Each will provide you with a high level of support. At Strength Shop, they’re all made of high-quality synthetic Amara leather and use stainless steel in their metalwork.
They’re also IPF-approved, so they can be used in powerlifting competitions. Regardless of your preferred style, a lifting belt will help you perform at your true potential and help prevent injury.
Harman, E. A., Rosenstein, R. M., Frykman, P. N., & Rosenstein, M. T. (1989). The effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 21(2), 186-190.
Kingma, I., Faber, G. S., Suwarganda, E. K., Bruijnen, T. B., Peters, R. J., & van Dieën, J. H. (2006). Effect of a stiff lifting belt on spine compression during lifting. Spine, 31(22), E833-E839.
Zink, A. J., Whiting, W. C., Vincent, W. J., & McLaine, A. J. (2001). The effects of a weight belt on trunk and leg muscle activity and joint kinematics during the squat exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 15(2), 235-240.
Lander, J. E., Simonton, R. L., & Giacobbe, J. K. (1992). The effectiveness of weight-belts during the squat exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 24(5), 603-609.