Lifting belts are meant to help you maintain pressure around your core, but the key is to get just the right level of tightness.
So, how tight should a lifting belt be? A lifting belt’s tightness may vary slightly by exercise, however, in general, you should have about a finger width of room between the belt and your torso so it’s tight enough where you feel it around your waist, but are still able to breathe comfortably.
While many wear their belt with a relatively consistent tightness, sometimes you may feel like you need to adjust based on the exercise you are doing, how you are feeling that day, or based on the type of belt you are wearing.
In this article I will go through factors affecting a belt’s tightness, how to determine your sweet spot, some mistakes to avoid and some general guidelines based on different exercises.
Haven’t bought a belt yet? Start here: Powerlifting vs Weightlifting Belt: Which One Is Best?
Factors That Affect A Belt's Tightness
A belt will provide a different level of tightness based on the type of belt you are using.
The belts that have the potential to feel the tightest or most rigid will be thicker (13mm) and wider (4 inches) lever or prong belts when compared to something like a nylon velcro belt.
In addition to material, the way you close your belt will become a factor in its tightness. For example, a velcro belt is not limited by the prong placement or lever position and can be tightened to exactly the point where you want it for the day. In contrast, a prong belt can sometimes be tougher to fasten and a lever belt is limited to the position where you screw it in.
Since the prong belt can be sometimes tricky to get into a tight position, the lever belts really shine through in giving you consistent tightness session to session. However, with that, comes the acceptance that you won’t likely be adjusting its tightness between lifts or training sessions.
Often with lever belts, the tightness for the day is determined by how much food or water you may have consumed that day as bloating will make it definitely feel a bit different, something to keep in mind when training in the morning vs evening.
Finally, leather belts can feel a lot tighter when you first buy them simply because they haven't been broken in yet but this will change over time.
Looking for more info on types of belts and which would be best for you? Check out:
- Lever vs Prong Belt: Which Is Best? (5 Considerations)
- 10mm vs 13mm Belt: Choosing The Best Belt For You
- 3 or 4 Inch Powerlifting Belt: Which One Is Best?
How To Determine The Ideal Belt Tightness
To determine the ideal belt tightness you will need to learn how to put on a belt properly and then practice bracing into it a few times.
First, grab your belt and place it around your waist, making sure not to hit the bottom of your ribs or the top of your hip bone. Take a deep belly breath in and then clasp the lever or the prong and fasten the belt in place, leaving some wiggle room between your torso and your belt.
From here you should be able to exhale properly and expand your belly into the belt without your exhale feeling shallow or without any visible space around your torso once you’ve exhaled. Try bracing your core a few times as if you are going to do whatever lift you wish to perform and see if you feel the walls of the belt adequately.
If you are still unsure, try loosening it slightly or tightening it slightly and feel the difference it makes. You should be able to feel that the looser it gets the less it does to support you, whereas the tighter it is, the harder it becomes to brace because there isn’t enough space for your intra-abdominal pressure to expand your core.
Learn how to put on a weightlifting belt here: How To Put On A Weightlifting Belt? (Step-By-Step)
Belt Tightness: 4 Mistakes To Avoid
These are some common mistakes to make when choosing how tight to make your belt:
1. Wearing the Belt like an Article of Clothing
If you have no problems wearing your belt buckled up between your sets, it’s probably too loose.
The belt should not be worn like an article of clothing or like a belt that you use to hold your pants up.
This is likely to occur if you dont breathe in when you tighten the belt and are instead just measuring it based on your waist circumference at rest. Make sure to take a big breath in every time you put the belt on.
2. Not Leaving Room to Breathe/Brace
When putting on your weightlifting belt you want to make sure that you aren’t clasping it tight while you are inhaling because you need space to breathe out and fill out the belt.
Therefore, you want to clasp the belt while your stomach is somewhat relaxed and your breath is partially exhaled.
Otherwise you will not have enough room to create tension and brace and may even constrict your diaphragm and potentially affect your ability to breathe.
3. Not Accounting for Bloating
While our egos can get emotionally attached to one specific setting on our belts, it’s important to be realistic with yourself and understand that your waist size can fluctuate significantly within a single day.
For those with prong or velcro belts, adjust your setting based on your actual size that day and not your “usual” spot.
For those with lever belts, you may have to suck it up unless you bring a screwdriver along, but to mitigate this try to stay consistent with the time of day you go to the gym and eat the same foods before training.
4. Not Accounting for Digestive Issues
While having a tight enough belt is important, having it too tight can either cause you to feel heartburn or indigestion or can make these things worse if you already walked into the gym not feeling great.
While your lifts are important, consider loosening your belt just by a notch on days when you feel off or have acid coming up during your reps. The extra squeezing isn’t great for your digestive tract in these situations.
Note: If this happens frequently, visit a doctor to ensure there isn’t something else going on as this can be a sign of a hernia.
How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be For Squats?
Squats are one of the lifts where most people do like the belt on the tighter side of things.
This however can be different from person to person. One reason it will feel tighter is that with squats most people prefer to wear the belt a bit lower on the torso, towards the hips bones, and away from the ribs.
Because of this, you will want to see how much your belly splays out when you are at the bottom of the squat because if it’s too tight you may lose tension in the hole as your abdomen expands.
Related Article: Should You Wear A Belt For Squats And Deadlifts?
How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be For Deadlifts?
Deadlifts are a bit different than squats and most lifters like a slightly looser fit. This is partly because of the hingeing nature of the lift and it can feel really uncomfortable to have it super tight in this position.
Many lifters also prefer to wear their belt up higher, under the ribcage, and closer to the natural waistline when deadlifting for this reason as well.
Check out this article to learn How To Break In A Lifting Belt (5 Methods)
How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be For Bench Press?
Wearing a belt when bench pressing is not a very common practice in powerlifting, some do to the restrictive nature of it for when creating an arch. However, some lifters do still wear it and for bench you can go pretty tight since there is no folding or bending of the torso
Related Article: Should You Wear A Lifting Belt For Bench Press (8 Benefits)
How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be For Snatch?
The snatch is a very dynamic movement and so you may want to opt for a slightly looser fit than you would for a heavy squat just to allow for more breathing and to allow for different positions.
You will also want to opt for a nylon belt so that the buckle doesn’t get in the way, meaning you’ll have more flexibility for adjusting the tightness setting based on your comfort.
How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be For Clean & Jerk?
A clean and jerk is a very dynamic movement like the snatch; however, it requires that you essentially front squat the weight up and there is more direct spinal loading than when compared to the snatch. Therefore you may want to go a bit tighter on a clean and jerk than a squat but ultimately will vary between individuals.
A belt should be comfortable enough for breathing and bracing but uncomfortable enough that you can’t wear it during your resting time between sets.
While it is meant to provide a rigid wall of support and not be worn casually, it also shouldn’t compromise your respiratory or digestive system either.
Looking for a powerlifting belt? Check out: Best Powerlifting Belt: In-Depth Guide & Review (2022)
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.