FROM BODYBUILDING TO POWERLIFTING: YOUR GUIDE TO WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS You walk into your local gym. You see the giant powerlifter wrapping a weightlifting belt across his midsection. You nod your head in agreement. Then you see someone walking on the treadmill wearing the same belt. You’re not sure why but you know something feels off about that.
And you would be correct.
The weightlifting belt has become one of the most misunderstood and misused pieces of exercise equipment in the gym.
Despite the proven benefits for improving your performance and reducing the risk for injury, there are several types of weight belts, each one particular to one exercise or type of workout.
Are you using the best weightlifting belt for your goals and workouts?
Let’s take a closer look at each type of lifting belt, the benefits of each one, and how to know which gym belt is right for you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What are Weightlifting Belts?
- Types of Weightlifting Belts
- Weightlifting Belts vs. Powerlifting Belts
- Weightlifting Belts vs. Shred Belts
- Weightlifting Belts vs. Dip Belts
- Benefits of Weightlifting Belts
- When to Use Weightlifting Belts
- How-to Put-on Weightlifting Belts
- What to Look for When Buying Weightlifting Belts
- Where Can I Buy Weightlifting Belts?
- FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Weightlifting Belts
WHAT ARE WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS?As the name suggests, a weightlifting belt is worn during weight training. The purpose of a weight belt is to stabilize your spine during heavy load lifting, primarily the squat and the deadlift.
When the belt is wrapped around your waist, you’ll notice it’s snug. This is a good thing. When you breath in during the eccentric or lowering portion of an exercise, you’re building up abdominal pressure. The belt will tighten as your abdomen pushes against it.
As a result, this helps to stabilize your spine for the concentric or lifting phase of the exercise.
TYPES OF WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSNot all weightlifting belts are created the same. There are several types of belts that can be beneficial for you depending on your goals and workouts.
Most of the weightlifting belts we discuss below are available with either one or two prongs, unless otherwise noted. Some have a lever system or Velcro.
The prong refers to the bar that you put into the hole to lock it into place. Prongs are primarily a preferential thing. There’s no vast difference between one or two.
Some lifters say they will only use a two-prong system because it’s added security while others find the two-prong system more of a headache then its worth.
We suggest trying two types of belts to find which you prefer.
Standard Weightlifting BeltsThe traditional weightlifting belt is worn with the buckles in the front and the padding along your back. This standard belt can be used for most generic workouts that involve squatting and deadlifting.
You’re getting an average amount of coverage along your back – usually three to four inches – and a padded front for your abdomen to push against.
The classic weightlifting belt isn’t built for specific goals such as setting a new PR in powerlifting or performing an unorthodox Strongman exercise.
These are great for the average gym goer – someone who wants to improve their health and fitness but won’t be stacking several plates on the barbell anytime soon.
Powerlifting BeltsUnlike the classic weight belt, powerlifting belts are specifically designed to handle the punishment of a powerlifter’s training schedule.
When you upgrade from a traditional belt to a powerlifter’s belt, you’ll immediately notice the substantial difference in thickness.
Powerlifting belts also have more coverage along both the front and back. More coverage ensures greater stability during those repetitions when you’re pushing your max.
Powerlifting Lever BeltThe powerlifting lever belt offers all of the same benefits but its locking system is based on a lever.
This type of powerlifting belt is arguably the best as far as security. The heavy-duty steel lever is designed to provide maximum compression and support.
A lot of longtime powerlifters believe that the lever design allows you to achieve levels of tightness and compression that no prongs can match.
Shred BeltsA shred belt does not offer any type of support during weightlifting workouts, but it’s worth mentioning because it is a valuable piece of fitness equipment.
The “shred” in shred belt refers to the thermogenic properties of the material. When you wear a thermogenic belt, you are safely increasing the temperature of the covered muscle tissue. This is done with the intention to increase blood flow, nutrient uptake, and fat burning.
Studies suggest that fatty tissue is stubborn when it comes to blood flow. You can work your butt off but if the blood flow is slow, you’re not maximizing your fat burning potential. This is where a shred belt comes in.
It’s been shown to effectively increase blood flow and promote fat oxidation. If your goals are weight loss or getting shredded, this type of belt is exactly what you’re looking for.
Dip BeltsAnother popular type of weightlifting belt, the dip belt is designed to hold weight plates during dips and pull-ups. It’s not going to give you any type of support or improve your performance.
With that said, it’s definitely a belt you should have in your collection. Adding weight to your dips and pull-ups is just as important as increasing the overall number you perform.
Back BraceThe back brace is ideal for anyone with lower back pain. It provides lumbar support to help alleviate any soreness or pain in the lower back.
It should be noted that the type of support you get from a back brace is not relevant to a weightlifting workout. You would never want to wear this while performing a squat.
What’s more, if you do wear a back brace, try to limit your time in it as you don’t want your body to become dependent on it.
WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS VS. POWERLIFTING BELTSAfter scrolling through a list of weightlifting belts, you might be asking yourself, “Does it really matter which one I choose? Don’t they all do the same thing?”
Each type of weightlifting belt is designed to support a specific workout goal.
A standard weightlifting belt is going to be a beginner’s ideal piece of exercise equipment. It’s thick enough to be durable yet comfortable. It also provides enough support for basic resistance training workouts that incorporate the squat and deadlift.
A powerlifting belt, on the other hand, is uniquely designed to handle the demands of a powerlifting workout. You’ll notice that it’s significantly thicker than a classic weightlifting belt. It also has a wider span across your entire torso.
The powerlifting belt is able to help you support your spinal column during lifts where you’re using three to six times your bodyweight. This type of belt is also able to go the distance as far as durability and longevity.
Not that a weightlifting belt is a poor-quality belt – it’s not – but a standard belt isn’t designed to be used during serious powerlifting workouts and meets.
WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS VS. SHRED BELTSAs we discussed above, a shred belt doesn’t offer the same type of support for your workouts. In fact, it offers no biomechanical support at all. Instead, it helps you achieve your goals of getting shredded or achieving a leaner physique.
A waist trimmer belt should never be used during a squat or deadlift, for example. Instead, you’ll want to wear this belt during your warm-up to prep the core for the workout that follows.
You can also wear it during your cardio workouts to increase abdominal blood flow, temperature, and fat oxidation.
WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS VS. DIP BELTSJust like shred belts, a dip belt doesn’t provide any actual biomechanical support. Instead, it acts as a way to anchor weight plates to yourself for exercises that don’t lend themselves to holding additional weight.
For example, the triceps dip. Sure, you can perform the exercise on the dip bars but the only thing you’ll be able to increase is the number of repetitions your complete. If you want to switch up the challenge, you can use a dip belt to focus on strength, not numbers.
You can also use a dip belt for pull-ups and elevated box squats.
BENEFITS OF WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSAlthough there are different types of weightlifting belts, the ones that support your movement patterns all share the following benefits:
Improved Form and StabilizationStudies consistently show that wearing a weightlifting belt can help to support proper movement patterns and biomechanics, especially during hip hinge movements.
When used as directed, the weightlifting belt can increase abdominal pressure and as a result, this will enhance spinal stabilization. This ensures the work is being focused in your quadriceps and hamstrings – not your lower back. 
Naturally, the more work that’s being directed to your legs, the more the muscle fibers are stimulated, the better your results… assuming you’re following up your workout with a quality nutrition program.
Greater Force ProductionAnother benefit and popular reason for using a weightlifting belt has to do with force production or how much force you can generate from the bottom of a lift.
Take the squat as an example. Once you lower the bar, you pause and it’s at this moment that you need to generate enough force through your legs, butt, and hips to get back to the top.
Studies show that a weightlifting belt can support force production as well as how quickly you move the bar during heavy hitters like the squat and deadlift. 
The first two benefits of weightlifting belts naturally support the rest of the benefits on this list.
Increased One-Repetition Maximum (1RM)Weightlifting belts improve your form and increase the amount of force you can generate through your legs. Naturally, you’re more than likely going to see a boost in your one repetition maximum.
And there’s research to back this up.
One study found that subjects who used a weightlifting belt were able to significantly increase their 1RM. The researchers concluded that the intra-abdominal pressure from the belt was the reason. 
More StrengthContinuing with the point above, weightlifting belts help you get stronger.
By ensuring your legs are doing the work they’re meant to, the greater level of activation and force production can naturally increase your strength gains. 
Decreased Risk of InjuryFinally, weightlifting belts can decrease your risk of injury during your workout, especially during the squat and deadlift.
Assuming you’re using the weightlifting belt as directed, the intra-abdominal pressure that you create will help to stabilize the spine. This is going to be essential during those lifts when you’re trying for a new personal record. 
WHEN TO USE WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSCan you use a weightlifting belt during any type of workout? Are there workouts that are better suited for the gym belt? Here’s a breakdown of when we would recommend using a weight belt.
SquattingThere are two exercises that come to mind for a weightlifting belt; the first is the squat.
Most of the studies performed on weightlifting belts involve the barbell squat. Each study demonstrated how effective the weight belt was for improving form, force production, and results.
Given the biomechanics of the squat, it’s no surprise that the weightlifting belt is recommended for this exercise. In order to create the force production needed to move heavy weight, you need to be able to brace your abdomen and generate intra-abdominal pressure.
The weightlifting belt allows you to do just that, resulting in better form, execution, and gains.
DeadliftingThe second exercise that’s commonly associated with a weightlifting belt is the deadlift.
Just like the squat, the deadlift been featured in several weight belt studies. The weightlifting belt is especially helpful for hip hinge movement patterns.
One of the most common deadlifting mistakes is the transference of the workload to a surrounding muscle group.
A weightlifting belt helps to prevent that, and a result, you’ll see an improvement in your form and results.
If you regularly perform both squats and deadlifts, especially if you’re consistently going for a new personal record, it’s worth the investment to get one type of belt for each movement.
For example, you’ll find that some of the squat belts are tapered, making it more comfortable to perform the exercise. It also ensures that the belt won’t get in the way during the exercise.
PowerliftingTwo of the most common exercises to involve a weightlifting belt make up two-thirds of a powerlifting workout.
Naturally, a weight belt is going to lend itself to the sport and this is why there are specifically designed powerlifting belts.
We discussed it above, but you’ll notice the powerlifting style belts offer a lever option, which is ideal for serious lifters.
StrongmanAlong the same lines as powerlifting, Strongman workouts also incorporate squats and deadlifts. And given the fact that most Strongmen are lifting as much as powerlifters, a powerlifting belt would be ideal.
Dips and pull-ups are also a regular part of Strongman training, so we would recommend considering a dip belt as well.
HOW-TO PUT-ON WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSBefore putting on the belt for the workout, you’ll want to set it up to match your body type and comfort level.
In general, your weightlifting belt should sit on top of your hip bones.
It’s during the squat that you may notice the belt will move according to your body type and this will give you immediate feedback as to how you should position the belt before getting started.
Keep in mind that if you angle the belt up and it still feels odd, you can buy a tapered belt that gives you the same support but it’s shaped so that it won’t pinch as you go through the squat or deadlift exercises.
Next up is comfort. Typically, a thick padding is going to be more comfortable. With that said, you should only opt for the thickest style belts if your goal is to set a new personal record at powerlifting meets.
Now that you have your ideal belt, it’s time to put it on before the workout.
Place the belt around your waist and slowly tighten the belt until you find the notch that allows you to take a deep breath and fill your belly with air. When you do this, you should feel how your abs push against the belt. This is the intra-abdominal pressure we’ve been talking about.
If you’re not able to breathe in and hold a belly of air, this is one cue that the belt is too tight.
From here, go ahead and perform a few warm-up repetitions. Take note of how the belt feels. Is it uncomfortable? Does it move around too much? Are you not able to breathe in and push your abdomen against the belt?
Find out where you’re having your trouble spots and adjust the belt accordingly.
Note on Breathing and Activating the AbsWe’ve discussed this throughout the article but this is where we’re going to hammer it home: you must activate your abdomen while using the weightlifting belt.
This involves taking a deep breath in and contracting your abs or pushing them out against the belt. The belt will get tighter as you generate more intra-abdominal pressure. And remember that it’s from this increase in pressure that you’ll see the benefits of the belt.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSReady to go shopping for your next weightlifting belt? Here’s what the best weightlifting belts have in common:
MaterialTraditional weightlifting belts can be made from nylon or leather. Nylon tends to be better suited for weight loss or muscle building workouts
Leather is ideal for powerlifting and Strongman workouts. These belts tend to have maximum durability, which is essential for the crazy workloads that come with the territory of these types of training.
Locking System: Prong vs. Lever vs. VelcroWeightlifting belts are going to feature one of three systems: prong, lever, and Velcro.
Prong: This is the name for the metal bar that is built into the belt and is placed inside of the hole to lock the belt in place. There are single prong and double prong belts. Arguably, whether you go with a single or double prong is a matter of preference. Some lifters love the added security of the second prong while others find it pointless and a needless extra step.
Lever: The gold standard of locking mechanisms, the lever that secures your belt is a surefire way to guarantee your belt is locked and ready to go.
Velcro: This type of locking system is more common for beginner-level weightlifting belts. If you’re performing basic resistance workouts that incorporate squats and deadlifts with low amounts of weight, this would be an acceptable locking system to go with. If you are planning on pursuing heavier weight loads via powerlifting workouts, for example, we recommend upgrading to a prong or lever belt.
Thickness or WidthWhen we say thickness here, we’re referring to the width of the belt and how much support it provides. We’ll discuss the depth thickness next in the comfort section.
You’ll find a variety of different belt widths. Classic belts will be somewhere between three and four inches wide. Powerlifting belts will usually be around six inches. This is because powerlifters need that extra width for the additional support.
The width of your weightlifting belt is going to be determined by your body type, comfort, and workout type.
What’s more, be aware that you might need one weight belt for squats and another for deadlifts. This is common since a squat belt is designed for that movement pattern. Same with deadlifts. Given the quality and longevity of the belts, having belts that complement each movement is a worthwhile investment.
ComfortThe shape and the padding of the belt is going to determine the comfort of your belt. Again, try on several belts or purchase two different ones for each exercise. You may find that you don’t need as much padding, for example, in your deadlifting belt as you do the squat belt.
Workout TypeAs we’ve been discussing throughout the article, there is no universal weightlifting belt.
The belt you’d wear for a weight loss-focused workout is not the same as the belt you’d wear for a powerlifting meet.
Match your weightlifting belt to your workout.
WHERE CAN I BUY WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS?Iron Bull Strength offers a variety of high-quality weightlifting belts. Best of all, we’ve separated each belt into the workout that it would most benefit.
Weightlifting Belts: From single prong to double prong and leather to nylon, we’ve got the belt for your workout.
Powerlifting Belts: Our leather powerlifting belts offer you elite-level durability and comfort with either a single prong or double prong locking system.
Powerlifting Lever Belt: For the serious lifter, our lever-based powerlifting belt is going to help you achieve your next personal record.
Shred Belts: Looking to get lean or kickstart your weight loss? Our shred belts safely increase body temperature, which helps you warm up, prepare for the workout to follow, and burn more fat.
Dip Belts: Getting tired of endless dips and pull-ups? Our dip belts allow you to stack the plates and take your strength to new heights.
Back Brace: Bouncing back after an injury? Does your back act up from time to time? Try our back brace, which provides lumbar support and allows you to return to your daily routine.
FAQ – FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING BELTSHere are a few of the most frequently asked questions about weightlifting belts:
1. Who Shouldn’t Use a Weightlifting Belt?If your workouts don’t involve squats and deadlifts, we wouldn’t recommend a weightlifting belt.
Also, give the intra-abdominal pressure, if you have a heart condition or blood pressure issues, you should consult your doctor before using a weight belt.
2. When Should You Use a Weightlifting Belt?We would recommend wearing a weightlifting belt whenever you’re about to place weight on your spine such as during a squat or deadlift.
3. How Do I Clean My Weightlifting Belt?You can handwash your lifting belt with a mild detergent and warm water. Allow it to air dry.
WEIGHTLIFTING BELTS: SUPPORT, STRENGTH, AND SAFETYTake your workout to the next level with a weightlifting belt. Shown to support your posture and performance, a weight belt can be the difference between missing that personal record and setting a new one.
REFERENCES1. Miyamoto K, Iinuma N, Maeda M, Wada E, Shimizu K. Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1999;14(2):79-87. doi:10.1016/s0268-0033(98)00070-9.
2. Lander JE, Hundley JR, Simonton RL. The effectiveness of weight-belts during multiple repetitions of the squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1992;24(5):603-609.
3. Harman EA, Rosenstein RM, Frykman PN, Nigro GA. Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1989;21(2):186-190.
4. Bauer, J. A. et al. “The Use of Lumbar-Supporting Weight Belts While Performing Squats: Erector Spinae Electromyographic Activity.” (1999).
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