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If you’re trying to decide on which kind of lifting belt to get, you’ll have most definitely come across the fact that there are differences between a powerlifting and weightlifting belt.
So, what are the differences between powerlifting vs. weightlifting belts? A powerlifting belt is 4-inches wide constructed of rigid leather. It is used for squats and deadlifts. A weightlifting belt is made of flexible nylon and is wider in the back than front (tapered from 5-inches to 3-inches). It is used for snatches and cleans & jerks.
Deciding between a powerlifting and weightlifting belt is going to depend on the types of activities you plan on doing in the gym, both now and in the future. In this article, I’ll discuss the key differences between these two kinds of belts, and what you need to consider before buying a lifting belt.
In a Hurry? Here Are My Top Recommendations
In case you just landed here for a quick belt recommendation, here are my top picks for powerlifting and weightlifting belts.
My top pick for powerlifting belts is the 10mm Inzer Forever Lever Belt (click for today’s price on Amazon).
This was the first belt that I purchased for powerlifting and I’m still using it today. It’s strong, durable, and will last you a lifetime. Both beginner and advanced powerlifters use this belt because it’s something that can continue to work as you get stronger.
My top pick for weightlifting belts is the Schiek Sports Model 2004 (click for today’s price on Amazon).
While I’m not an Olympic weightlifter, I spoke with several international-level weightlifters who said this is the best belt you can get. It’s American-made, provides the necessary lumbar support while also being flexible in nature, allowing lifters to get into the necessary positions for the snatch and clean & jerk.
4 Main Differences Between Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting Belts
Shopping for a lifting belt is much like any other gear that you need to perform at a high level in the gym.
For example, when looking to invest in squat shoes, there are a ton of features that exist depending on whether you have wide feet or flat feet, notwithstanding the differences between heeled vs flat-soled shoes.
When it comes to lifting belts, there are several choices as well.
You’ll see all sorts of designs and sizes, all of which depend on the type of activity you choose to do in the gym.
If you’re someone who plans to lift heavy in movements like the squat and deadlift, or you’re a competitive powerlifter, you need a powerlifting belt.
If you’re someone who plans to do movements like the snatch and clean & jerk, either because you’re an Olympic weightlifter or Crossfitter, you need a weightlifting belt. Many bodybuilders and physique athletes prefer weightlifting belts as well.
So, let’s dive into the 3 main differences between powerlifting and weightlifting belts!
1. Material: Rigid vs. Flexible
A powerlifting belt is rigid. A weightlifting belt is flexible.
The material of the belts will determine how rigid or flexible they are when being worn.
Powerlifting belts are almost always made of leather, although you will see some that are made of vinyl as well. Both of these materials are non-stretch so if you pick up a powerlifting belt you’ll notice that you have to actively wrap it around your body because of the stiffness.
Weightlifting belts are almost always made of vinyl, but there are some belts that are made of leather too.
The vinyl belts are the preferred option for many Olympic weightlifters. But, if you see a weightlifting belt made of leather, it’s usually a thinner leather compared with a powerlifting belt, making it more flexible in nature.
Put simply, powerlifters are handling heavier weights than weightlifters.
While both powerlifters and weightlifters want to lift as much weight as possible, the squat and deadlift incorporate much heavier weights compared with the snatch and clean & jerk. Therefore, a more rigid belt is needed for powerlifters.
2. Design: Straight vs. Tapered
A powerlifting belt is the same width all the way around. A weightlifting belt is tapered, being wider in the back and thinner in the front.
A powerlifting belt will usually come with a width of 4-inches. This is the width that will be consistent all the way around the belt. The reason why the belt is constructed like this is that powerlifters need to have equal support all the way around the torso.
This is mostly a function of how powerlifters are taught to brace into their belt.
Powerlifters aim to create 360-degrees of tension around their torso prior to squatting and deadlifting. The result of this breathing technique creates a neutral alignment of the thoracic and lumbar spine, which is the optimal position to maximally produce force.
A weightlifting belt is usually 4-6 inches wide in the back and tapered to 3-4 inches in the front. The reason why a weightlifting belt is tapered is that it will allow the lifter’s hips to move a bit more freely into deep end ranges of the snatch and clean & jerk. Some belts specifically for bench press are tapered as well.
The proper bracing technique is still important for weightlifting; however, optimizing for mobility is more critical in executing the movements effectively.
3. Buckle: Belt vs. Velcro
A powerlifting belt will use a belt buckle, either a prong or lever mechanism. A weightlifting belt will use velcro.
A powerlifting belt will fasten using a buckle that is either constructed with a prong or lever.
A prong buckle is similar to how any normal belt works when you wear pants. You pull the strap of the belt through the loop and pick a hole that fits your torso. A lever buckle uses a clamp system.
A lever belt is slightly more secure, while a prong belt gives the option to wear the belt looser or tighter depending on the lift. I prefer the lever belt for heavy lifting, as you actually want to wear the belt pretty tight under heavy weights.
On the other hand, a weightlifting belt will use velcro to fasten the belt, although you will see prong-style buckles on the occasional leather weightlifting belt.
The goal of having a velcro system to close the belt is to have as little material in the front of the body as possible.
This is because weightlifters will throw the bar overhead in the snatch and clean & jerk. When they do so, they want to keep the barbell as close to their body as possible. If there was a big buckle on their belt, they would risk clipping the buckle throughout the execution of the movement.
The velcro is not as secure as a prong or lever-style belt, but it mitigates any technical error of hitting your belt with the barbell while lifting.
4. Rules: Powerlifting vs. Weightlifting
Powerlifters and weightlifters are required to follow certain rules around belt specifications by their governing sporting bodies.
This point only applies if you plan on competing in powerlifting or weightlifting, but it’s still important to mention as a lot of belt manufacturers like to follow these rules anyway.
For powerlifters, the belt rules are:
- Must be made of leather or vinyl
- There can’t be any additional foam padding or bracing on the belt
- The buckle must be prong or lever (no velcro)
- Max width 10cm (4-inches)
- Max thickness 13mm
For weightlifters, the belt rules are:
- Max width 12cm (4.75 inches)
As you can see, weightlifters don’t have as many rules as powerlifters. If you’re curious to know more about these differences, read my article on how to switch from powerlifting to weightlifting.
Choosing Your First Lifting Belt
Now that you know the differences, you might be wondering how to choose which lifting belt is best for your particular situation. Let me give you 3 tips to help you decide.
1. Type of Activity
Whether you get a powerlifting or weightlifting belt will depend on the type of lifting you plan on doing in the gym.
Are You More of a Powerlifter?
If you’re a powerlifter, you’re going to be lifting a lot of weight in the squat and deadlift, which requires you to maintain torso rigidity throughout the movement.
In these exercises, breathing and bracing into your belt is a well-known technique that increases spinal stiffness and pelvic control. Therefore, you need a more rigid belt to support your bracing technique.
You can also use a powerlifting belt for other heavy compounded movements, such as overhead pressing, barbell rows, and bench press.
Furthermore, if you walk into any sport performance facility, you’ll see a lot of young players wearing powerlifting belts in the gym, like the Inzer Forever Lever Belt. This is the preferred belt style for many hockey, football, rugby, and baseball players who are using the powerlifting movements more frequently.
Are You More of a Weightlifter?
If you’re a weightlifter, you’re going to be performing movements like the snatch and clean & jerk. While you’re still going to be lifting heavy in these exercises, the absolute load won’t be as heavy as a powerlifter.
Therefore, a rigid belt is not necessarily needed. Although there is no harm in using a more rigid belt if that’s what you prefer.
What I would recommend is if you are doing mostly weightlifting movements and only some powerlifting movements in your training program, definitely get a powerlifting belt as it will be more functional.
However, if you’re going to be frequently performing weightlifting movements because you’re on a specific Olympic weightlifting or Crossfit program, I would buy a weightlifting belt, like the Schiek Sports Model 2004.
This is because as you refine those movements, you’ll want to get into deeper ranges of motion. With a more flexible belt, you won’t have any mobility restrictions to carry out these movements effectively.
Further, many bodybuilders and fitness athletes prefer the more flexible, velcro-style belt as they like to wear a belt for all exercises in the gym, not just a few heavy movements.
Personally, I don’t think you should wear a belt for every exercise in the gym – just your compound movements. This is because you also want to develop natural core strength to support your lifts.
Check out my full review of the Schiek Lifting Belt.
The size of your belt will change whether you go for a powerlifting belt or weightlifting belt.
Powerlifting Belt Sizes
If you’re considering a powerlifting belt, then you should stick to the 4-inch wide powerlifting belt.
The 4-inch belt will fit most body shapes and sizes and is the maximum width that a powerlifting belt can be if you plan to compete.
However, If you have a small torso, you might want to consider a 3-inch wide powerlifting belt. This would be the case if you are a small woman or teenager.
There aren’t many 3-inch powerlifting belts available, but the 3-inch Rogue Ohio Powerlifting Belt (click for pricing and description) is the most popular.
Weightlifting Belt Sizes
If you’re considering a weightlifting belt, then you have a range of sizes that you can pick from. However, just remember that if you want to compete in weightlifting you can’t have a belt wider than 4.75 inches.
This is why my go-to pick is the Schiek Sports Model 2004 (click for pricing and description) because it fits the specifications for competitive lifting.
Most lifting belts will cost between $50 to over $100.
While this is not a trivial investment, here’s what you need to know: lifting belts last forever!
I’ve had my Inzer Forever Lever Belt for 15 years and it hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear. I’ve competed at 3 World Championships, 4 Arnold Sport Festivals, and wear it every day in training. So for the amount of money that you spend now, trust me, you won’t have to buy another one.
I wouldn’t make a decision based on cost, but rather, consider the activities you are doing right now in the gym, and what do you plan on doing in the future.
If you get a belt that fits your activity goals, then the price is secondary in my opinion.
Unlike a pair of squat shoes that you might need to replace every few years, you’re not going to replace your lifting belt, whether that’s a powerlifting belt or weightlifting belt.
The main differences between a powerlifting and weightlifting belt are the material, design, and size.
Powerlifters use a rigid leather belt that is the same size from back to front (4-inches). Weightlifters use a flexible nylon belt that is tapered from being wider in the back to smaller in the front (5-inches to 3-inches).
For most general gym-goers and powerlifters I would recommend a powerlifting belt. My top pick is the Inzer Forever Lever Belt.
For Olympic weightlifters and cross-fitters, I would recommend a weightlifting belt. My top pick is the Schiek Sports Model 2004.
Check out our other belt resources: