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The first thing you’re probably wondering once your first lifting belt arrives is how you’re meant to break it in so it wraps around your waist easily.
So how do you break in a lifting belt? Breaking in a lifting belt isn’t always an overnight process but it can be sped up with methods such as wearing it often, rolling it up tightly, heating it up, using a weighted object or applying substances like olive oil or rubbing alcohol and petroleum jelly to soften it.
Not all belts are created the same way. Some will require extensive breaking in over time while others won’t require as much effort or don’t need any break in time at all. Overall, the goal is to keep the belt rigid enough to serve its purpose while also not making it impossible to fasten with a lever or prong and tighten it around your torso.
In this article, I will go over whether it’s necessary to break in your belt, factors that affect it, how long it may take, and whether all lifting belts will require a break-in period.
Not sure when to wear a lifting belt? Check out:
Is Breaking In A Belt Necessary?
Breaking in a belt isn’t technically necessary but will make using it much more comfortable. It also isn’t necessary for all types of belts.
In the sport of weightlifting or among recreational gym-goers, nylon velcro belts are common. Those belts won’t require any breaking in at all. However, a weightlifter using a more rigid belt will perhaps wish to break it in more than a powerlifter since their movements are a bit more dynamic.
Additionally, some belts have more give than others. As a result , you can still wrap it around your waist even without extensive break-in measures. Some lifters may prefer to keep the ultra rigid feel while others want it to feel more supple, easier to handle, and less likely to bruise the skin.
The degree to which you wish to break in your belt forcefully will depend on personal preference, the type of belt you have, and which sport or activity you engage in.
Wondering why powerlifters and weightlifters use different types of belts? Check out my article Powerlifting vs Weightlifting Belt: Which One Is Best?
Factors That Affect A Belt's Break-In Time
There are several factors that affect how long it will take for a belt to fully break in, including thickness, material, usage, and whether you are taking any additional measures to break it in faster.
The first and most obvious aspect to breaking in a belt will be the thickness. Most powerlifting belts are either 10mm or 13mm thick. The 13mm belt will take much longer to break through. If you are someone who bruises easily and doesn't have the time or patience to break in a belt, you'll be much better off with a 10mm one.
Secondly, while most belts are made of leather, there are other materials on the market. Belts made of leather are the thickest ones and need a longer break-in time, much like how real leather shoes need to be broken in more so than shoes made from other materials.
My belt is an IPF-approved non-leather belt. While it is stiff and serves its purpose well for powerlifting, it is quite easy to break in.
Thirdly, the most important factor for breaking in a belt is usage. The more you wear it, the more it will break down. Someone lifting with a belt 4x a week vs someone who only throws it on occasionally will see very stark differences in how their belt feels over time.
Finally, there are several extra measures you can take to promote breaking in the belt. Those that do employ those strategies will see it break in faster than those who don’t. I’ll explain those strategies further down in this article.
Are you a female powerlifter who’s in the market for a new belt? Check out the 10 best women’s powerlifting belts.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
How Long Does It Take To Break In A Lifting Belt?
Breaking in a lifting belt to a point where it’s comfortable enough to wear it for training can take a couple days. But for a fully comfortable fit, you may need to wear it for a couple of months.
The time frame for breaking in a belt will largely be dependent on how frequently you wear it as well as the size and material of your belt. How tight you wear it and how many extra measures you take to increase its flexibility will also affect how long it takes to break it in.
The first day you receive your belt you will want to do an initial break in and that will get it to a point where you can insert the prongs to the desired spot or be able to fasten the lever relatively easily. This can take a day or two of rolling and manipulating.
However, you may still notice in the coming weeks that the belt is bruising you or leaving marks in your skin, or just isn't as easy to maneuver as some of your friend’s belts. To get to a point where your belt is no longer difficult to deal with or tolerate during training, it may take several weeks to possibly months, depending on how often you wear it.
6 Ways To Break In A lifting Belt
Six ways to break in your brand new lifting belt are:
- Roll it tightly
- Warm it up
- Wear it often
- Use heavy objects
- Apply olive oil
- Apply rubbing alcohol
1. Roll It Tightly
The most common method for breaking in a lifting belt is by harnessing some of your strength and rolling up the belt as tight as you possibly can. You should also roll it in both directions and, if possible, store it in a tight-fitting space where it can remain rolled up for several hours or overnight.
You can use something like a hip circle or resistance band to hold it in place inside your gym bag as well so it is kept tightly curled up whenever you aren’t training with it.
2. Warm It Up
If you live in a warm climate or are currently experiencing summer where you live, place the belt outside or inside of your car so it heats up. Once the material heats up, it will be much easier to work with and manipulate so you can then further break it in. It will also feel better than coming from a room temperature or cold environment.
If you are currently in the winter months, store your belt indoors and not in the trunk of your car. This will make your life a lot easier when you try to put it on.
If you’re a bigger male lifter, check out my recommendations for the top 5 lifting belts for big guys.
3. Wear It Often
Arguably the best thing you can do to break in your belt is to wear it as often as you can or as often as it makes sense.
You won’t want to wear it for something like bicep curls but you can throw it on earlier during your warm ups. You can also keep it on for sets even where you feel like it may not be necessary, at least for the beginning stages of owning your belt.
4. Use Heavy Objects
If you don’t have enough strength to really crack into the belt yourself, using heavy objects around your home or a kettlebell or weight at the gym will help add some extra pressure.
Fold the belt as much as you can and then place the weight on top to help it crack down. Continue to do this at various sections along the length of the belt.
You can also use a heavy object as a means of holding the belt in its rolled up position that was mentioned under method #1 in this list.
5. Apply Olive Oil
Olive oil can be used to soften the belt up a little bit. It will not damage the leather and can, in fact, help maintain it. Therefore, pour some olive oil on an old cloth or T-shirt and brush it along the leather before bending and folding the belt.
You can do this every few months even after the belt has been broken in as a way to maintain the leather material.
6. Apply Rubbing Alcohol
Another strategy similar to the olive oil method is to apply rubbing alcohol to your belt with a cotton ball and follow it up with a layer of petroleum jelly.
This will have a similar effect to the olive oil in that it makes the material more forgiving to work with and easier to manipulate, bend, and crack in tough spots.
Do All Lifting Belts Have A Break In Period?
Most lifting belts will have a break-in period. However, some belts will have a considerably shorter break-in period than others (days vs months) while others will require more effort than others.
2 Belts That Require More Breaking In
SBD belts are known to be some of the stiffest on the market and will definitely require breaking in. You may need to train in it for several months before it starts to feel comfortable.
Pioneer prides themselves in using high-quality leather. That paired with a 13mm thickness will definitely mean its belt needs some breaking in when it first comes out the box.
2 Belts That Don't Require Breaking In
While some lifters still do often break in their 10mm Inzer Forever belts, I've put it under the “belts that don't require breaking in” because it is usually significantly less than other belts. The SBD belt, for example, will take months to break in, but the Inzer belt will only take a few weeks.
Many just put it on the first day they get it and don’t go through a formal breaking-in process.
Nylon belts like the Harbinger 4” nylon belt don’t require any breaking in and are ready to use immediately upon purchase.
They are also a great option for those who are not strictly powerlifters since you may not need the rigidity of a leather belt or need a belt with more flexibility to support you during dynamic movements like the snatch and clean and jerk.
Still not sure which lifting belt is right for you? Read our in-depth guide on how to choose the best powerlifting belt for you.
Depending on the material of your lifting belt, it can take anywhere from a couple of days to several months to break it in. However, wearing it as often as possible, rolling it up tightly, leaving it in a warm room, putting weighted objects on top of it, and applying olive oil or rubbing alcohol and petroleum jelly to it can speed up the break-in period.
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.