How to Properly Use a Lifting Belt

How to Properly Use a Lifting Belt

What do you think is the most common mistake made in the gym?

Squats? Deadlifts? Pull-ups?

Or maybe it's not knowing correct etiquette...

Not putting weights back? Not wiping down your bench after use? 

While all of the above are prevalent issues that newbies will have to traverse, they also pale in comparison to the shit-show that is weightlifting belts. 

Most people have absolutely ZERO idea what they're doing when they strap that belt around their waist and about 99% of them couldn't even tell you the purpose behind the use. 

So let's dive in starting from ground zero:

Why use a lifting belt to begin with?

Contrary to common practice, it's not to make your waist smaller...

To really get a good idea as to the mechanisms behind the belt, let's backtrack to a quick physiology lesson—Our torso can be thought of as a large hollow vessel. When we take a big breath in, that vessel becomes pressurized due to the volume of our lungs expanding and all of our organs having no place to go (i.e. Boyle's Law for my nerds out there). This is what is referred to as intra-abdominal pressure and it is responsible for creating rigidity through the structures of your trunk, especially the spine. 

So if we had a way to reduce the volume of the vessel further, wouldn't that mean that the pressure would increase thus creating more rigidity?


Adding the belt around our midsection will restrict the expansion of our abdominal wall when we take that deep, diaphragmatic breath which will then create 1) more trunk rigidity and 2) a safer environment for our spine. 

Ok but how are we supposed to actually get those benefits when using the belt? 

The key here is twofold:

First, you want to make sure that you are using the right type of belt for your anatomy and your goals.

Second, and this may seem obvious, the belt has to be worn properly.

The right type of belt is going to really come down to width and thickness—The wider and thicker the belt is, the more support it's going to be giving but at the expense of mobility. If you really need to be locked into position without much extraneous movement (i.e. powerlifting), your belt will need to be stiff and cover a lot more surface area to create more pressure. Conversely, those that are performing a broader spectrum of movements and need to be able to breathe for longer duration sets (i.e. bodybuilding or CrossFit) will be better served going with thinner, more flexible options. 

And now onto the fun part—making sure the belt is actually worn the right way...

Just because you're used to cinching up your jeans doesn't mean you're ready for the Big Leagues of belt usage. We're not trying to squeeze our insides through our mouths like a tube of toothpaste. There is really an art to this! And it always helps to refer back to the why behind wearing the belt in the first place...

If we want to increase our intra-abdominal pressure to protect our spine, we also have to be able to take that pressurizing breath! We can't breathe if we're wearing a corset! So the tightness needs to be just right. I typically like to aim for the second-to-last notch so I can still fit a couple of fingers between my belly and the belt when I'm relaxed. This allows the belt to be used as a cue and not a crutch! We want it to be supportive but not restrictive (at least for those of us not too worried about testing our 1RM on squats). 

You'll see an infinite number of ways that people try to optimize their belts. I've seen them worn really low, super high, and I've even seen a few people wear two belts at the same time! And while a lot of this may look goofy from the outside, all that really matters is that you understand the why and how...Beyond that, find what works best for you and run with it!

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