When, Why, and How of Using a Belt for Lifting

I know I've talked about this before. A little over a year ago, I wrote about this, and you can read that  HERE.

Recently we were tasked with doing a three rep max in my class at San Francisco CrossFit. Jami Tikkanen, who does our strength programming, had us doing a gentle but consistent lifting program for the previous 6 weeks and now it was time to get a grasp of where we had progressed to.

At the beginning of the class, I pulled out my three belts and gave a quick spiel on when to start using a belt, why you should consider using a belt, which ones I like to use and which ones are popular with different people. Here is what I covered in a little more detail:

WHY?

Won't I get stronger/ won't my core be stronger if I keep lifting without a belt?

Not necessarily.

What a belt actually does is allow your core to brace against something, thereby actually creating MORE core muscle engagement than without a belt. That means your core can get stronger using a belt than not using a belt.

Now that your core is bracing against something and is better engaged (ie: GET TIGHT!) your body can put more focus on the task at hand, be that pressing, pulling, or squatting. That's a big reason that weights feel "lighter" when you put the belt on, bracing happens more fully and attention can be paid elsewhere.


WHEN?

Not for the beginner athlete. It's important for those new to training to learn position and proprioception and not rely on a belt to create that sensation for them.

And not all the time either. Even if you usually lift with a belt, it's good to lift without one occasionally and see if your strength gains are universal. For me they certainly are, and it's nice to test/know.

I tell people that they should start using a belt when they feel like they want to. They've progressed far past the point of a beginner's easy gains, and they are starting to feel the taxing nature of a consistent strength program.

Even then, I suggest they don't put on the belt until they are around 80-90% of their working weight for that session. I suggest this so that they both get the unbelted experience, and it's a nice mental relief when the belt goes on and the weights are already heavy.


HOW?

Tight. Not "cinch your body in half" tight, but you shouldn't have to distend you stomach at all to brace against the belt.

I suggest to first timers to hand tighten it around the smallest part of the torso, then push it down over the lower part of the stomach to make it a little tighter. Shove how ever much of a power belly you have over top of it.

If you're using a thicker belt, you might have to use a post to help get it undone simply because of how stiff they are. I never use a post with my thinner, more flexible belts.


WHICH ONE?

Side view FYI
Most women like the soft belts. The style by Schiek, above, is particularly popular. Because women have much less room between their hip bone and their bottom rib, and these belts are contoured, they won't pinch and leave bruises. Also, since they are a little wider in front than on the side, it feels like you have something more to brace against without digging into your stomach.
For those new to the belt game, this is the one I most often suggest. You can find it at nearly any sporting goods place for about $25. I bought one my first year of competitive weightlifting from a Sports Basement and it lasted me four years. When buying one, know that for weightlifting it can only be 4 inches wide in the back. This one, with the narrow front and side, should also not pinch ribs on short torsos and the leather gives some people feeling like they can brace better.
These are the types of belts you'll most often see worn by powerlifters and strongmen competitors. They are usually 10mm thick, very stiff, and the same width all the way around. Yon can get them in a prong style like a normal belt, or you can get the lever style (on the left) which allows you to quickly tighten and loosen. This one always leaves bruises on my hip bones and lower ribs.


Go forth and get swole!