Weightlifting belts have been around since the beginning of time. Well, weightlifting time.
Did you know that Thor, the legendary Norse God of Thunder, wielded a belt in addition to his Hammer? Also known as Megingjord, the belt when worn, doubled his strength.
Could the same be said for modern weightlifting belts?
Walk into any gym and you’ll see a plethora of people wearing belts, lifting weights, but do YOU really need one?
The super educated answer that will blow your mind is:
At least in some point during your lifting endeavors, you will need a belt.
But because we like to provide you with legit details, we spoke with Jim Royce, USAW Weightlifting Coach and CrossFit Level 2 Coach at BackCountry CrossFit, and head coach for BackCountry Weightlifting Club, to get the low down.
Think of all the times your coach yelled at you to get those ab exercises done.
He (or She) was on to something, dude.
A strong core can help get a strong lift. And that’s exactly what a weightlifting belt will help you achieve.
NOTICE: We said help – a weightlifting belt won’t do the work for you!
You cannot put the weightlifting belt over a weak core and expect to PR everything.
You have to have the foundation work there, even if you have a “weak” core, you can still hold your breath and flex your abs right? Try it.
Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Feel that?
Now exhale, but focus on keeping your core tightly engaged. You shouldn’t really be holding your breath while lifting, but controlling your breath works wonders.
That tight feeling you feel? Congratulations, you have washboard abs.
Just kidding. But really, that’s the feeling you should have when going to take a lift. A strong core will help you in every single fitness-y thing you do.
According to Jim, “Belts are a very useful tool aiding in the core and midline stabilizers being overwhelmed by the force of heavy loads”
But what is heavy? No worries, we’ll discuss that later on.
How to choose a weightlifting belt
There’s pretty much 2 different types of belts: Leather and Neoprene/Nylon/Rubber Blends.
Both will essentially get you prepped to bear down for a lift, but each has it’s recommended uses.
Leather Belts are the stiffest on the market. Of course more stiffness can definitely make you feel more protected and stable, but they can get uncomfortable in a CrossFit or Metcon style workout. The alternative is more flexible and can be adjusted easily, while allowing for more flexibility of movement.
Just FYI, you’ll want to have a leather belt, less than 3″ on reserve if you ever plan on participating in any kind of powerlifting meet. Kris and I found that out the hard way, read more about it here (coming soon).
When choosing a belt, you want to think what a majority of your time spent with the belt strapped up will be.
Sure, you can head straight to Amazon and buy the cheapest belt on there. But will it serve Its purpose for you?
The average nylon belt on the market is about 5-6” wide, which is too wide to wear during a powerlifting or USA sanctioned weightlifting meet.
Certain rules exist in these sports to create a standard of size. Current requirements for Powerlifting require no bigger than a 3” width or a 10 cm width, depending on the federation you are lifting in (see the IWF rulebook and the USA Powerlifting rulebook).
Essentially, both of these federations use the same rules in regards to belts, wrist wraps. and knee sleeves.
Alternatively, USAW allows for a 4.72” belt (IWF rulebook) and a little bit more flexibility on the allowances in your outfit.
This basically means you will not be allowed to compete wearing a belt that doesn’t fit these guidelines. If you don’t plan to sign up for a sanctioned meet, then the width of your belt isn’t the biggest concern, as long as it’s:
- Not too big
- gets you PRs
- Bonus if it’s got a rad design on it.
Kidding about #2. But not really.
Your belt should be tighter than you think it should be. Take a normal breath in, THEN strap the belt in place. You should feel your core pushing on the front of the belt.
Maybe you’ll also feel like a stuffed sausage. That’s ok too. Just make sure your stuffed-sausage-self can breathe… a little.
To get the correct size belt for your body, you’ll want to measure the area in which you’ll wear it, which is right over your navel. Our size chart provides the measurement reference here:
You can adjust placement as needed depending on the lift, and depending on how you feel.
We understand, you’re kinda wondering if you even need one.
Do you lift weights? Deadlift? Squat? Snatch? Clean and Jerk?
Then a belt could help you on your way to greatness (in my best Sorting Hat voice).
Once you’ve started using a belt in your training, you’ll WANT to use it all the time, because it’s badass. But, you should exercise a little caution and only use it when you NEED it.
This is the part where we want to define what HEAVY is. And to be honest, there isn’t a hard-core (see what I did there?) definition, but it’s likely in relevance to YOUR personal heavy.
For example: you probably don’t need your belt while warming up, or really until you’re hitting about 80/90% of your max lift. It is personal preference of course, but I find myself holding off on using the belt until about 90% and up.
I delay using the belt for as long as possible because I KNOW it helps me lift better at my 90% and up, but if you’re feeling good hitting 90% (good position, strong lifts) then you can wait to use it. Or some days you will need it soon than 90%, and that is A-OK.
Our belts are designed first and foremost with COMFORT in mind.
Leather (faux leather, duh) wasn’t our first choice in designing our belts because a majority of our customers use them for weightlifting competitions and metcons. We wanted them to meet the standard of comfort first.
It wasn’t hard making sure our belt designs matched some of our most popular designs for knee sleeves and wrist wraps, but we also wanted to be in compliance with USAW/IPF guidelines.
As it stands, the sport of weightlifting requires certain items of lifting gear fall under certain guidelines, such as: Belts may not exceed 120mm in width, knee sleeves may be worn as long as they don’t cover your whole leg, and wrist wraps may also be worn.
At this time, lifting gear can be of any brand or color, so long as none rules are broken.
And we’re damn stoked about it.
We have to commend the sport of weightlifting for encouraging members to be expressive in what they wear on the platform, rather than requiring a certain brand or outfit to be worn.
Unless the belt had magical powers for increasing PRs. If that’s the case, I’ll take 10.
So to sum it all up, yes, if you want to be just like Thor, throw on your magical belt and double your lifting strength*.
Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.-Clint Eastwood
*seems silly, but we have to put the asterisk because we will, inevitably, get messages about how the belt did not double your lifting strength. So sorry, but if you become a Norse God, this might be possible.
Malia is the owner, and mamapreneur, of Lifting the Dream. When she’s not lifting heavy weights, she’s doing some fun shit outdoors with her family or taste testing local ciders. She is a Cali girl born and raised, with salt water in her veins and sunshine in her heart. She and her family now reside near Denver, Colorado, soaking up the 300+ days of sunshine and breathtaking (literally, altitude) views.
Bee Tee Dubs (BTW).
CROSSFIT, INC DOES NOT ENDORSE, SANCTION, APPROVE OF, OR SUPPORT THIS WORK OR ANY OPINION EXPRESSED HEREIN.