We talk a lot about wearing lifting belts for exercises like the squat, deadlift, and overhead press, but what about bench press?
Do you need a lifting belt for bench press? Most of the best bench pressers in the world wear a lifting belt for bench press. This is because a lifting belt stabilizes your serratus anterior muscles (important for shoulder positioning), gives you more confidence under heavier weight, and supports your bench press arch.
A lifting belt won’t magically allow you to bench press more weight, but it can provide additional stability that may enhance certain technical elements of the lift. In this article, we’ll talk about the 8 benefits of wearing a lifting belt for bench press, and 2 reasons why people choose not to wear one.
Should You Wear A Belt For Bench Press?
With exercises like the squat and deadlift, you will notice an almost immediate increase in strength from wearing your lifting belt.
This is especially the case after you master how to breathe and brace properly when lifting and wearing a belt.
However, the same cannot be said for the bench press. You won’t automatically increase your numbers by tossing on a lifting belt like you would for squat and deadlifts.
This is because for movements that require axial loading (where the spine is loaded vertically), creating tension and stability around your torso has been said to take hundreds of pounds of pressure off your spine (Husking et al., 1990).
So, if you don’t get an immediate reward, should you still wear a lifting belt while benching?
While it’s not mandatory, there are several strong reasons why top powerlifters opt to wear a belt when benching heavy, which I’ll cover in the next section.
Regardless of these reasons though, here’s what I recommend doing:
If you already have a lifting belt, wear it for your next bench press workout and see how it feels. Everybody is going to have a personal preference when it comes to what equipment to wear, and you should experiment to see what works for you.
If you don’t already have a lifting belt, you definitely need one if you want to take your lifting seriously. There are lifting belts specifically for bench press, which I’ll cover later in this article, but for most people, I would not suggest buying one of these belts.
The lifting belt you purchase should be versatile enough to allow you to use it for all your lifting needs, which includes the bench press, but not exclusive to it.
This is why I recommend the Inzer 10mm Forever Lever Belt (click for reviews, description, and price on Amazon). I’ve used this belt for 15 years and have competed at three World Bench Press Championships with it. It’s easy to break in, fits extremely comfortably, and will last you a lifetime.
Let’s now talk about the benefits to wearing a lifting belt for bench press.
8 Benefits To Wearing A Lifting Belt For Bench Press
Here are all of the reasons that I’ve heard for why people wear a lifting belt for bench press:
1. Stabilizes the obliques to increase serratus activation
The obliques are the muscles on the side of the torso. They attach to the rib cage and integrate with the muscles of the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior muscles start from the back of the shoulder blade and wrap around the front of the rib cage. They help control the position of the shoulder blade.
Why am I bringing up this anatomy?
Research by Kaur et al. (2014), shows that the serratus anterior can be stabilized if the obliques are active. This is important because poor stability of the serratus anterior may result in abnormal shoulder movement, which can lead to an uneven bench press, impingement, and rotator cuff tears.
Therefore, wearing a weightlifting belt while bench pressing can keep the obliques strong, which influences the stability of your serratus anterior and your overall shoulder position.
2. An external reminder to get tight
A lifting belt can simply be an external tool that reminds you to create tension through your whole body.
You can think of it like putting on your battle armor. When you put on the armor, you know you’re getting ready to fight.
The same is true for bench pressing.
Placing a lifting belt around your torso is a mental rehearsal to treat the next set seriously, and to get as tight as possible from your hands to your feet.
Mental rehearsal in sport has been well-studied and has shown to improve performance.
3. Helps mitigate low back pain
If you already have pre-existing lower back pain, then a lifting belt might help mitigate potential flare-ups that you get while bench pressing.
This is not to say that a lifting belt is a cure for back pain. But it can certainly be used as part of a well-rounded rehabilitation program to continue to lift heavy.
4. Supports your bench press arch
The bench press arch is one of the most important technical elements of a powerlifting-style bench press. It’s where the low and mid-back extend upward causing a separation between the back and the bench press.
This technique is used by competitive powerlifters to increase performance as it will put the shoulders in an advantageous position, recruit more muscle fibers of the lower pec, and reduce the range of motion of the movement.
Wearing a lifting belt while bench pressing will support the arch, potentially allowing you to hold the arch better under a max weight or when experiencing fatigue from performing several reps in a row.
One lifter I spoke with said:
I have a very big arch and I often cramp up without the belt.
Some lifters say that a lifting belt may inhibit how much they can arch. But I would argue that they are simply wearing their belt in the wrong position on their torso. I will explain how to wear a belt for bench press later.
5. Might help save your low back for competition
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, then you will perform 3 max attempts each for the squat, bench press, and deadlift during a meet.
The last lift of the competition will be deadlift, requiring strength from your low and mid-back. It’s unavoidable that throughout the competition you will squat and bench press beforehand, which might create fatigue for the muscles used in the deadlift.
As such, some powerlifters like to wear a lifting belt during the bench press to mitigate the fatigue knowing they will need to deadlift afterward. While fatigue is going to build up regardless throughout a powerlifting competition, powerlifters like to seek any advantage possible, no matter how marginal.
Related: Powerlifting vs Weightlifting Belts
6. Allows heavyweight lifters to ‘push their fat up’
While this isn’t going to apply to every lifter, and it might even seem silly to outsiders, but it’s an important reason why some lifters wear a belt.
If you’re a super heavyweight powerlifter, and you have a lot of fat around your torso, a lifting belt can squeeze your torso and ‘push the fat’ higher up on the body.
This allows lifters to touch the bar to the ‘highest point’ on their chest. Ultimately, it reduces the range of motion that the barbell needs to travel.
7. Improves confidence (even if physically it doesn’t make a difference)
A few lifters have mentioned that they recognize there is likely no physical performance benefit to them wearing a belt as they’ve tried lifting both with and without it.
However, they noted that despite no physical benefit, they simply like wearing a lifting belt while benching because it improves their confidence under the heavier weight.
If you feel more confident executing heavier loads while wearing a lifting belt, then there is most certainly going to be a net positive on your performance. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why I wear a lifting belt for bench press.
8. Equipped bench pressers need it to keep the shirt in place
This is another benefit that might not apply to all people, but if you’re an equipped powerlifter then you’ll use a lifting belt to help keep your bench press shirt ‘in place’.
When lifting with a bench shirt, you want to have the shirt ‘pulled down’, and without a belt, the shirt will ‘ride up’ while benching. This will cause a less than ideal bar path, and the shirt will feel like it’s choking you.
2 Reasons Why People Don’t Wear A Lifting Belt For Bench Press
While I’ve just mentioned the reasons why people wear a lifting belt for bench press, there are two very popular opinions on why people suggest you shouldn’t wear one.
1. It’s easier to breathe
Some lifters feel that wearing a lifting belt while bench pressing makes it harder to breathe.
This is usually not the case when going for a single.
But if you have a set of 10 reps programmed, then some lifters don’t like to wear a lifting belt because they find they don’t get an adequate amount of air throughout the set.
2. It restricts the bench press arch
Wait, what? Didn’t I saw that wearing a belt supports your bench press arch?
Well, some people think the opposite.
These lifters believe that they can’t arch as much if they are wearing a powerlifting belt while benching.
I think there are two issues when considering whether a belt helps or hinders your arch.
First, you need to understand that even if you can arch more without a belt, the question is whether you can hold that arch under heavy load or fatigue.
It doesn’t matter if you can arch more without load if you start benching and your arch flattens then all of the benefits diminish. What matters is performing the arch under stress, which a belt can help achieve.
Second, you need to consider where you’re placing the lifting belt on your torso. If you haven’t yet experimented with the placement, then it’s something you need to do before saying a belt restricts your arch.
Most people will find that wearing a belt lower on their torso, around the low back, not the mid-back, will support their arch. What you want to avoid is placing it too high on your back.
What To Look For In A Lifting Belt For Bench Press?
There are specific belts that are designed for bench press. I’ll explain why you don’t need one of these belts though.
Bench press belts differ in one thing: the length of the belt.
Most powerlifting belts are 4-inches in length, which is the maximum approved length you can wear for powerlifting competitions.
However, bench press belts are 2-inches in length. This is because you don’t technically need support on the entire torso while benching, just a smaller section on the low back, which will stabilize your arch and keep your obliques strong.
An example of a bench press belt is the Omega Lever 2-Inch Bench Belt from LiftingLarge.com.
While a 2-inch belt might be slightly more optimal for bench pressing, the normal 4-inch powerlifting belts are not going to decrease performance whatsoever.
Notwithstanding, you should only own one powerlifting belt. Could you imagine needing to bring two lifting belts to the gym with you? It’s a bit overkill.
My top recommendation for a powerlifting belt is the Inzer Forever Lever Belt (click for today’s price on Amazon). This belt will be excellent for bench press, in addition to every other compounded exercise you’ll do in the gym.
How To Wear A Lifting Belt For Bench Press?
If you’re someone who hasn’t yet tried a lifting belt for bench press, then I have some tips on wearing one.
Wear a lifting belt for bench press for about 1-2 months before deciding whether it’s going to be something you stick with or not.
You can’t get a proper assessment of whether you like wearing it or not if you only use it for a single workout. It’s a new piece of equipment, and so there will be an adjustment period in terms of learning your own personal preferences.
A lot of lifters do not like wearing the belt super tight for bench press. I agree it will feel rather uncomfortable and you’ll have a hard time breathing and benching at the same time. If you can stick 1 finger between your stomach and belt then it’s probably tight enough. You’ll also want to make sure you know the difference between 10mm vs 13mm belts. For bench press in particular, you want a 10mm belt.
As I said, you want to start wearing the belt as low on your waist as possible. From there, you can play around with bringing it higher.
Wearing a lifting belt for bench press is a personal preference.
While most competitive powerlifters and top bench pressers wear a belt for bench press, there is still a group of lifters that say it detracts from the lift. This is why you should experiment with wearing a belt for bench press for a few months and decide whether you like it or not.
With that said, there are some tangible benefits to wearing a belt for bench press. Most notably, it can help stabilize your serratus anterior, give you more confidence under heavier weight, and support your bench press arch.
My favorite lifting belt is the Inzer Forever Lever Belt for bench press and powerlifting more generally.