Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?
Written by Melissa Hurley, Calvin Sun and Bryce Smith

The Question: Should you a weightlifting belt?
The Answer: It’s a personal decision – yet, I would agree that there are people who shouldn’t be wearing one.

We have had some questions about whether or not an athlete should wear a weightlifting belt as part of their training. While commonplace in strength sports such as powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and strongman, lifting belts have also become more popular among competitive CrossFit athletes. As a result, more recreational CrossFitters are now beginning to question whether or not they need to wear a lifting belt when they head to the gym.

Misconceptions About Wearing Weightlifting Belts

There are some misconceptions about the use of lifting belts in general. A common misconception is that using a belt allows you to be “lazy” and not properly brace with your abs and create an adequate amount of intra-abdominal pressure to maintain a strong, neutral spine. Proper usage of a belt is actually quite the opposite.

How to Properly Use a Weightlifting Belt

A lifting belt, when used properly, provides tactile feedback for the athlete when bracing, resulting in a stronger, more stable lifting position. This helps to prevent the lumbar from rounding during exercises such as deadlifts and squats, as well as helps to prevent hyper-extension of the spine when lifting a load overhead.

Should a CrossFit Athlete Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

CrossFit tends to promote an approach to fitness that is both functional and minimalist, so it’s easy to see why some CrossFitters might raise an eyebrow at the idea of wearing a lifting belt. Others might be inclined to adopt a piece of equipment they see being used by elite level competitors without understanding its purpose. At the CrossFit Games we wee an overwhelming number of athletes using supportive gear such as weight belts, wrist wraps, and knee sleeves, including our own Team Invictus athletes.

So, the elite have adopted using supportive gear, but what about the recreational CrossFit athlete? Well…it depends.

Should a Recreational Athlete Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

A large majority of recreational athletes likely have no need for a lifting belt. If you have poor mechanics and mobility, working to improve your technique and quality of movement should be a much higher priority than purchasing a weightlifting belt. A lifting belt won’t fix your technique and it definitely won’t make you more flexible. If you do CrossFit just to stay healthy and fit, you probably don’t need a belt anytime soon either – just pay good attention to your lifting mechanics and stay within ranges that allow perfect mechanics.

Should a Beginner Athlete Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

In our opinion, beginner weightlifters should never use a belt. They should focus on strengthening the musculature around the main joints and become better movers through repetition. The time under the bar will lead to greater adaptation to stress. All too often we see athletes coming in to the gym and seeing the more advanced athletes using belts. As a result, they too feel the need to purchase a belt so they can become just as strong and awesome.

Weightlifting Belts for Intermediate and Advanced Athletes

Intermediate and advanced level athletes should, however, consider incorporating the use of a weightlifting belt. These individuals typically have much better mechanics, have developed greater strength, and have learned to tap deeper into their central nervous system to move heavier loads. These individuals are also more likely to push the envelope on when to stop due to loss of proper lifting mechanics. Simply put, these guys and gals normally test their limits much more frequently. For them, a lifting belt provides tactile feedback and a little bit of extra support in case a lift goes wrong.

How to Put on a Weightlifting Belt

Align the belt so that the bottom of the belt is just above the crests of your hip bones. Make sure the front of the belt covers your belly button.  As you take in a breath, you should feel your trunk fill with air and put pressure on the belt in all 360 degrees. Your belly should press into the belt, as should your back. Your obliques should press into the belt just above your iliac crests. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to get your hand between your belly and the belt.

Pros of Wearing a Weightlifting Belt

All of the upsides to wearing a belt come down to the idea of intra-abdominal force or pressure. A study done by Miyamoto, et al. found that “Intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles increased significantly by wearing the abdominal belt during Valsalva maneuver and during maximum isometric lifting exertions.”  This involves taking a large breath of air into your belly, not your chest, and trying to exhale forcefully with a closed throat. This will push your belly out into the belt, which will help increase the pressure build up around your midsection.    In short, if you increase the pressure in the abdomen, then you better stabilize the whole area which makes for a safer environment for the spine and can increase your ability to lift heavier weights.

Another study by Kingma, et al., showed that, “Wearing a tight and stiff back belt while inhaling before lifting reduces spine loading. This is caused by a moment generated by the belt rather than by the IAP (Intra Abdominal Pressure)”, which suggests that there maybe even more reasons why belts are beneficial.

In terms of movements, belts can be used for the big compound lifts; squats, deadlifts, presses and Olympic lifts along with strongman exercises.  A belt should never be used for sitting or laying down exercises.

How to Start Using a Weightlifting Belt

If you would like to start incorporating a lifting belt, be smart about how to incorporate it into your workouts. We recommend warming up without it and just wearing it during your work sets. It is very important that we all learn how to breathe and how to brace with our lats, abs, and supporting core musculature before slapping on a belt. Building core strength and coordination is advantageous for building lasting strength. Consider the lower percentage lifts to be the core builders while belts are showtime ergogenic aids. The belt isn’t a crutch for poor positioning. Lock in your form and then use the belt as assistance for holding good positioning; remember, long spine and low breath.

As always, be sure to consult your Invictus coaches if you aren’t certain.

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July 23, 2014 10:28 pm

Sure A Weightlifting belt doesn’t just offer protection when completing a
heavy workout in the gym. It can also help improve your performance by
enhancing intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn stabilises your core
and midsection.You can always Minimise injuries and maximise performance with a Gripped neoprene training belt.

Amy Justice
Amy Justice
August 18, 2017 6:55 am
Reply to  David

Can you break down mechanically how intra-abdominal pressure increases stabilization?

Janice Hurley-Trailor
Janice Hurley-Trailor
April 30, 2014 6:41 pm

Too funny – clearly we all need a belt. Good Article Melissa…always wondered about those belts.

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