I'm not a big fan of weight lifting belts. But please don't stop there. Continue reading so you understand why.
You might just decide to start using a weight lifting belt in specific situations.
And don't get me wrong here…
A weight lifting belt can definitely help in certain situations, BUT I've seen too many people wearing a belt ALL THE TIME.
I want you to remember one thing here: NEVER wear a belt 100% of the time when lifting weights.
If you decide to use a weight lifting belt, I ONLY want you wearing a weight belt on your heaviest sets.
I will define exactly what this means as I go throughout this page.
Mistakes People Make When Wearing Weight Lifting Belts
Many people get accustomed to the extra support a weight lifting belt gives them.
Yes, a weight lifting belt will help you to lift heavier weight. If you know me at all, you'll know that I highly recommend lifting heavier weight. Heavy weights do special things to your body. If you want to build muscle and change your body, lifting heavy weights is how it's done.
What I don't recommend, though, is using aids like the weight lifting belt to help you lift heavier weight with improper form and technique.
You should only lift the amount of weight you can handle without ANY extra equipment or spotters to spot you. I've seen too many people get hurt by doing this.
You can hurt yourself very badly if you're using a belt to help you lift heavier weight with bad form and bad technique.
A weight lifting belt will not fix bad form and technique. ONLY wear a weight belt if you know what you're doing on the best weight lifting exercises. I highly recommend you learn proper form and technique WITHOUT the aid of weight lifting belts.
Another mistake people make with belts is using them for lower back support.
A weight lifting belt is not designed to help support your lower back. That is NOT it's sole purpose. So please don't depend on a weight lifting belt to support your lower back. You need to build a strong lower back without a belt. Squats and deadlifts alone will do this for you.
Another HUGE mistake people make with belts is one that I already mentioned in this article, and that's wearing them 100% of the time for their weight lifting workouts. If you do choose to wear them, you should ONLY wear them on the heaviest of sets and ONLY on a couple of BIG compound weight lifting exercises (don't use more weight than you can handle just because you are wearing a belt).
If you wear a belt for 100% of the time of every weight lifting workout, you will weaken your abdominals and core. This is a guarantee. You don't want that.
You should ONLY wear a belt for squats and deadlifts on very heavy sets — again, that is if you choose to wear a belt. I'm not saying you need to wear a belt on these exercises and sets. I'm just giving you a guideline of when to wear your weight lifting belt IF you choose to wear one of them.
A good guideline is to take your one-rep max and multiply that weight by 75%. Use this one-rep max calculator. If you are lifting 75% or more of your 1-rep max weight, then use your weight lifting belt. If it's less weight than that, leave it off.
The Purpose of Weight Lifting Belts
A weight lifting belt should ONLY be used to make you a better weight lifter. How is this accomplished?
When you are doing squats and deadlifts you should take a deep breath while lifting (fill your stomach and not your chest) and then push your abdominals against the belt to help you lift the weight. This will tighten your core greatly and help you to lift heavier weights.
This creates more pressure which helps you lift the weight.
Using this technique with the weight lifting belt will protect your lower back during heavy squats and deadlifts and will help you to lift heavier weight.
The weight lifting belt on its own does not protect your lower back, but the belt with the deep breathing and pushing your abs against the belt is what protects you so well.
You need to practice using this technique with the weight belt and lighter weights before using it with heavier weights. But remember to not wear the belt all the time. You may start relying on the belt for any set that feels heavy AND that's not a good thing.
ONLY use the weight lifting belt on the heaviest of sets.
You still need to use your core during heavy sets without a belt. This makes your core strong and powerful. I am a big fan of functional strength, and you won't always have a weight belt when you're working outside and lifting heavy things. Again, you need to strengthen your core without a belt!
If you choose to ignore this, your core will become weak and you will become more fragile. Since you're lifting weights, I don't think you want that. You want to become strong and powerful. Yes, if used in the wrong way, a weight belt will make you fragile.
A WARNING About Weight Lifting Belts
As I said first thing in this article, I am NOT a huge fan of weight lifting belts.
I actually don't use one at all… even on the heaviest sets of squats and deadlifts. This is my preference only. I really don't like them at all because I want to be naturally strong without any extra help. I think this strategy is much better than using weight lifting aids (belts, knee wraps, bench press shirt, etc) to lift heavier weight.
Don't lift more weight than what your joints can handle. Your joints are VERY important to your mobility throughout life. You don't want to have bad knees, bad hips, a bad lower back, bad shoulders, painful elbows, and more. It's not worth that.
If you think you can use a weight lifting belt ONLY on the heaviest of sets to help you complete another rep or two with a weight you could have handled without the belt, I am all for that. This is fine, BUT don't get addicted to the belt because it helps you get an extra half rep.
And yes, this can be addictive. When you're serious about weight lifting and getting stronger ANYTHING that helps you perform better may be used too often. Again, using a weight lifting belt ALL THE TIME will not be beneficial for you. Please remember that.
Use of the belt takes some practice but don't become reliant on the belt while practicing.
You need to build your core strength without the belt and heavy squats and deadlifts will do this for you. DO NOT wear a belt on ANY other exercises except the squat and deadlift (and their variations) AND don't wear the belt 100% of the time for all sets of those exercises.
Rounding your lower back is something you don't want to do when squatting and deadlifting. Weight lifting belts can actually help you feel this better so this is one good thing about a weight belt.
You may need to work on flexibility before you can do full squats. Rounding the lower back is not recommended and a belt will give you an indicator of this. So this is another good thing a belt can do for you.
I would also only use a weight lifting belt on lower rep sets (less than 5 approximately) of squats and deadlifts. Breathing can be more difficult when doing higher rep sets so be careful.
Breathing properly while lifting weights is VERY important. If you aren't accustomed to a belt and breathing properly, start out with light weights first and practice proper breathing with the belt. Once you have that down, then you can use the belt for heavier sets.
I don't want you to start using the belt immediately on your heaviest sets and then fall over after you're finished due to lack of air. Yes, I've seen that before. It's very dangerous. Very heavy squats and deadlifts take just about everything your body has. If you don't breathe properly, you could pass out.
Be careful out there. Weight lifting accidents happen all the time and belts are the cause of some of them.
My Final Recommendation on Weight Lifting Belts
I hope you can see why I'm not a huge fan of weight lifting belts.
I would rather not deal with them at all and focus on getting my core much stronger without the use of a belt. Why use them only a couple sets here and there?
I was once called a “fantastic moron” because of my views on strengthening the core with only the big compound exercises like
If you follow the WLC System workouts, you'll know that I always have you start with light weights and increase the amount of weight over the course of several weeks.
You would only be using a weight lifting belt towards the end of most of these programs when the number of reps are low. I do have weight lifting workouts designed for pure strength that use lower reps throughout the course of the program. A weight belt may be very helpful during those workouts if you want to try one.
Many very strong people are huge fans of weight belts because they do help you to lift heavier weights. Again, don't become reliant on the belt.
I just want you to know that using a belt 100% of the time can really decrease your functional strength overall by reducing your core strength.
One of the reasons I highly recommend squats and deadlifts and NOT ab exercises is because the big compound weight lifting exercises strengthen your core much greater than ANY abdominal isolation exercise ever could.
If you start using a weight belt all the time, you lose this advantage from the big compound weightlifting exercises.
And make sure you get a high quality leather belt if you do. And wear it around your lower back and core. It doesn't go low on your hips. It should be tight and not loose. Don't make it so tight that it hurts. You may have to give it some time to break it in.
Please remember all of the advice I've given you here today, and the use of a weight lifting belt may take your strength to a completely new level. Just be careful with them.