When is the Right Time to Start Wearing a Weightlifting Belt?

Strength Training 6 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

A friend from high school asked this question recently.

I sent her a short response, and I promised to go more in-depth here.

To fully answer this question, one must understand these two concepts:

– When you should begin wearing a weightlifting belt in your strength training journey
– When you should begin wearing a weightlifting belt in a workout

And to be thorough, I will cover the answers to more common weightlifting belt questions.

Before you know when to wear a weightlifting belt, it helps to understand what a weightlifting belt does.

Let’s dive in.

Get your Mechanics Down First

Weightlifting belts are enhancers. They will let you lift more weight than you might otherwise be able to handle by increasing your ability to use your core muscles.

That part in italics is essential because putting more weight on your back than the rest of your body can handle is a recipe for disaster. Overloading your body can lead to bulging discs, pulled muscles, and torn ligaments.

Typically, in a well-trained weightlifter, the core muscles are the limiting factor in a lift like a deadlift or squat. Core muscles are a limiting factor because the torso is the medium through which your legs transmit force to the barbell. If that medium (your core/spine) doesn’t allow for an efficient transfer of energy, then you will not be able to lift as much as possible. In this scenario, wearing a weightlifting belt improves the transfer of force, and more weight is lifted.

In an un-trained weightlifter, there can be many muscles that are the limiting factor. In this situation, wearing a weightlifting belt can allow you to get into a position that the rest of your body is not strong enough to get out of safely.

As always, with good strength training, make sure you learn great mechanics before you try increasing the amount you can lift.

When to Put The belt On

Once you’re sure you have great mechanics, you need to know when you should wear a belt. Below are some general guidelines.

First, you should know with which exercises a belt can help. These exercises are those where force is transmitted from the legs through the torso and exercises where maximal core stability will contribute to the lift. The most common strength training exercises will be squat variations, deadlift variations, and the overhead press.

Second, you need to know when to wear a weightlifting belt in your workout. For example, I recommend you wear a weightlifting belt when squatting or deadlifting at or above 60% of your 1RM, or when lifting at or above a 7 RPE.

RPE stands for Rate of Perceived Exertion. RPE is measured on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is no effort, and 10 is the maximum effort you are physically capable of. In strength training, it can be helpful to think that an RPE of 10 means you couldn’t get another repetition if your life depended on it. An RPE 9 would mean that you could get one or maybe two more reps. You get the idea.

You may be deadlifting at only 50% of your 1RM, but if it is an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) set, the RPE will be 10. It will be tremendously helpful to wear a weightlifting belt to get more reps as your core will most likely be the limiting factor.

How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt

First, watch this video below on how to wear a weightlifting belt. Most things are easier to see than to read.

A weightlifting belt should be situated in the soft part between your hips and ribs, where your belly has the largest circumference. Weightlifting belts should be worn very tight.

To maximize the effectiveness of the belt, you need to take a huge breath into your belly and push your belly out against the belt as hard as possible. Imagine trying to bust the belt off just using your stomach. If the belt is worn tight and you press out hard, you will usually hear the material flex. That is an excellent sound.

What Weightlifting belt Should You Get?

There is a more in-depth article about which weightlifting you should get, but I’ll give some brief information here.

2POOD makes a great nylon/velcro belt that changed my opinion on nylon belts. They provide a lot of support, are easy to adjust, take on and off, and are cheaper than leather belts.

I recommend starting with a 2POOD (they aren’t sponsoring me, I am just a fan of their belts) belt, and if you get to a point in your strength training that feels like you could use more support, buy a leather belt.

A 10mm thick, 4″ wide, single prong weightlifting belt will provide the best support for most men. Thicker than 10mm isn’t necessary, and neither is the double prong option.

For most women, a 10mm thick, 3″ wide, single prong weightlifting belt for smaller framed people will provide the best support. However, if the belt is too wide, it will dig into your hips/ribs and distract you during the lift.

A Word of Caution

Weightlifting belts are fantastic. They will let you lift more weight in the squat and deadlift for more reps. But this is not a license to ignore core training. Why? Because you may have the luxury of wearing a weightlifting belt in the gym, but you aren’t always wearing one in everyday life (that would be incredibly abnormal).

And when do most people get injured? Life outside the gym.

Wear a weightlifting belt to help train the rest of your body harder. Follow a good core training program to bulletproof your midsection.

Download The Serious Guide to Core Training

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.