Almost every powerlifter uses a belt when squatting or deadlifting. This is because wearing a belt can help maximize your performance and lift more weight.
So should you wear a belt? If your goal is to maximize the amount of weight that you can lift, then yes you should wear a belt. However, the belt is to help reinforce your core and is not a replacement for a proper brace. When approaching heavier weights, place a belt around your waist/lumbar spine while ensuring you are breathing and bracing properly, and then perform the lift as usual.
Putting on a belt sounds simple, but there is quite a bit of variance on when, where, and how to use it. Read further to find out how to maximize your use out of a belt and what belt options are out there.
Check out my top picks for both the mandatory and optional gear for powerlifting competitions.
What Does Wearing A Powerlifting Belt Do?
First off, the belt is a tool.
What this means is that it’s not a replacement for proper bracing mechanics.
If you don’t know how to breathe and brace properly to activate your core while lifting, then definitely read our step by step guide on how to breath properly in the squat.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t require a belt to be considered a powerlifter. However, utilizing a belt can help provide extra support during your lifts.
This is accomplished in two ways:
The first way this is accomplished is due to increased proprioception or body awareness. With a belt around your waist, you can actively breathe into and against the belt to create a powerful brace.
The second way is psychological. For some people, wearing a belt makes you more confident and comfortable with handling heavier loads.
However, be careful as to not be too overzealous just because you got a brand new belt. Managing and progressing your load in a smart way is still what will allow you to lift safely.
What a Powerlifting Belt Does Not Do…
As I said before, a belt is a tool.
It does not make you impervious to injury, and it doesn’t make your body suddenly function better or allow certain musculature to work harder. You still have to actually lift the weight as you would without a belt.
You must already know how to breath and brace properly using your own core before putting on a belt to get maximum benefit.
Related: Powerlifting vs Weightlifting Belts
How Do You Use a Powerlifting Belt?
Put simply, you place the belt around your waist and lumbar spine area and perform the lift as usual. Some people find that with a belt they are able to breathe out against the belt by actively pushing out.
As for where to put the belt exactly, that is up to your own preference and comfort. Right on top of your belly button is a good place to start. It should feel quite natural while you’re lifting.
As for how tight the belt should be, it should be tight enough that you can feel it, but not so tight that it’s impossible to breathe. Again everyone likes it differently so the key takeaway is to experiment and see what works for you.
For example, my own preference differs between squats and deadlifts.
On the squat, I wear my belt around the waist and like it tighter.
On the deadlift, I wear my belt a little higher, and a notch looser.
When you have the belt on, you should have an idea of how it feels when you approach the bar and setup. If it’s too tight you may find it hard to get in a proper starting position and if it’s too loose, you won’t feel it doing much if anything at all.
Read my complete guide on How To Fix Losing Tension At Bottom Of Squat (8 Tips).
When Should You Use A Powerlifting Belt?
Typically, you want to save the use of a belt for heavier loads.
The goals of your training session can also help dictate whether you should use a belt or not. If you are in the offseason working on more core stabilization, you will likely be doing more beltless work versus if you are peaking for a powerlifting competition.
In general, when performing more specific sport activities, such as when ramping up for a competition, you will be using your belt more often than not.
If you’re not a competitive powerlifter, then you should probably only wear a belt when the weight gets heavier for you. You’ll want to be mindful of not overly relying on the belt by doing some workouts without one.
Related: Top 10 Best Women Powerlifting Belts
Here’s a Sample Warm Up Of When I Would “Belt Up”
When I’m ramping up to my heavy sets, I only put my belt on within the last few warm up sets.
A sample warm up could look like this – let’s assume you want to work up to a triple at 185kg.
- 160kg*3 belted
- 175kg*3 belted
- 185kg*3 belted
The point is that you add the belt when you approach heavier loads. You can also add the belts for heavier sets of volume as well, or when fatigued.
Some people also find the belt helps them through certain types of injuries but be careful to not create an over-reliance on the belt. When used correctly, the belt can be a useful tool to advance your training.
Note: Sometimes wearing a belt too tight cause cause nosebleeds while powerlifting.
What Kind Of Powerlifting Belt Should You Get?
In general, all belts work the same, but there are various kinds.
The two main kinds in powerlifting are the prong and lever belt (click to check out my article comparing these two belts). There are also Velcro belts, but they are generally more flexible and loose and used in other activities as they allow more mobility.
The Prong Style Belt
The prong belt works like most normal belts where you simply select the notch of tightness you want and insert the prong through it. These typically have multiple settings that can be convenient if you like/need different settings.
The Lever Style Belt
The lever belt is usually set at a predetermined level of tightness, and you simply pull the lever to tighten the belt. You can usually adjust the lever, but it won’t be as convenient as the prong belt because you’ll need a screwdriver.
However, there are belts out there now such as the SBD belt that is an adjustable lever.
There are also a few others which are kind of a hybrid between prong and lever such as the Wahlanders.
With any belt, you can also choose between different sizes of thickness and of course, color. I wrote an entire article on the differences between a 10mm vs 13mm belt.
Regardless, all belts achieve the same effect. In general, I find that it is easier to get tighter setting on a lever because of the mechanism, whereas it is harder to achieve with a prong.
Rules For Your Powerlifting Belt
If you’re a competitiver powerlifter, keep in mind that depending on which federation you compete in, they have certain rules over what kind of gear you can use based on specifications and brand.
You can read more about the International Powerlifting Federation standards here.
For most people I recommend getting a 4-inch vs 3-inch powerlifting belt. Check out my other article where I explain the differences.
Okay, I want a powerlifting belt. Where can I get one?
If you are looking for a belt, check out this article for a comprehensive review of all different kinds of belts and where to get them.
Keep in mind a brand new belt may feel a little stiffer than usual but it should break in overtime. So once you get a new belt, commit to wearing it over several weeks of training.
One thing you may want to try doing is to go to a powerlifting gym and ask people to try on different kinds of belts and see what you like. You may even be able to buy a used belt off someone especially if you are on a budget.
Do I Really Need a Powerlifting Belt?
You really don’t need any piece of equipment to powerlift other than a pair of shoes and lifting attire.
However, if you are looking to lift the most amount of weight possible then it will definitely be a worthwhile investment.
You may see some examples of elite lifters out there that do not wear a belt that are crushing world records. For example, Yury Belkin, an elite Russin Powerlifter, doesn’t wear a belt for deadlifts, but he is definitely the exception, not the rule.
Think of it this way:
If you were a sprinter, you can run just fine with some regular shoes, or even barefoot. But with spikes, you might be able to be a little bit faster.
You can imagine a similar analogy with soccer cleats.
The point is that if you can get a positive performance effect out of it, and it helps you to reach your goals, then, by all means, it can be a worthwhile investment depending on what you value.
At the end of the day, be sure to not create a reliance on the equipment. If you show up to the gym one day and forgot your belt, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. It’s just a tool, not a requirement to lift some weights.
A powerlifting belt can help reinforce your breathing and bracing technique while squatting and deadlifting.
You certainly don’t need a belt to be successful; however, if your goal is to lift as much weight as possible, it’s almost inevitable you’ll need a belt to maximize performance.
About The Author
Clifton’s most notable achievement is winning the 2017 IPF Classic World Championships in the Junior 66kg class whilst setting an Open World Record Deadlift. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Chiropractic.