Do I need a Lifting Belt?
Buying equipment as a new lifter is confusing. Buying your first lifting belt is one of the more intimidating things since there is a lot of misinformation, misuse, and poor quality products being thrown your way. Let us help you figure it all out!
Do I need a lifting belt?
First of all, for brand new lifters, a lifting belt is not recommended. The reason is that you should be spending that extremely valuable time building up a base. Using a lifting belt before you've properly built up your stabilization muscles in your core area may result in imbalances and a missed chance to build up those vital muscles that support your lower back during your big lifts. This means you could be more likely to injure yourself down the road and also miss out on making the gains you so deserve. Personally, I wouldn't recommend even considering a lifting belt until you have at least 8 months of consistent lifting and you finally understand what it means to "brace your core" and feel like an invincible ninja turtle. A general guide might be to not consider a belt until you can squat your own bodyweight and deadlift more than your bodyweight. If you are someone with a lower back injury and you want a belt for support, I would still recommend building up those muscles first before you engage in heavy lifts.
All of that being said, it's all up to the individual and when the time comes to invest in a lifting belt it can be a great asset to any lifter's routine. The primary purpose of the belt is to offer additional support that helps you stabilize your core and reduce stress on the spine. It essentially gives you a hard surface to push your abdomen into which can create a solid base during heavy lifts and help you both maximize bracing your core and ultimately maximize your power.
When to use a lifting belt
When you decide to start using a lifting belt save it for your heavy lifts. There's no need to use it all of the time. Don't bother warming up with it, there's no benefit. It's a tool for lifting not a crutch. The lifts you use a belt for are primarily squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and olympic lifts. Don't use your belt while bench pressing, curling, or using machines. Remember the purpose of the belt is to stabilize that core for the big lifts, it's not a fashion accessory and won't do you any favors with other lifts.
What kind of belt should I get?
First I'll tell you which belt not to get. One of the most common designs you see in stores is the one with a large padded strap at the back and a thin strap in the front. Don't get this belt.
Since the point of a weightlifting belt is to help us better cue our torsos to brace for heavy lifts this shape isn't ideal. Not only does it not give enough surface area in the from to push on it also is a bit too large in the back which can interfere with lumbar extension, meaning that it can compromise ideal positions during lifts like squats.
Luckily, there are tons of designs that are uniform in size all the way around. Most lifting belts are 3 to 4 inches in width all the way around. The best way to see which one you prefer is to try it on since the difference between the two is primarily what fits your torso better. Most people find 3 inches to be good. Usually you wear the belt directly over your navel but in general you can shift it where it's most comfortable. For instance, during deadlifts you may wear it a bit lower than strict press since bending over might cause it to dig into your ribs.
Which Material is best?
One of the most common cheaper belts is a nylon fabric belt with velcro enclosure. The benefits of these belts are that they are rather comfortable, easy to carry, and easy to put on. The draw backs are that there's always a risk of velcro popping open during a big lift, velcro doesn't have longevity of other closures, and it doesn't give as much support as a leather belt. It's a style of belt that a lot of people begin with and for some people it's perfectly sufficient.
The other most common style of belt is a leather belt. You may also come across cheaper versions with synthetic leather, I advise against these, don't waste your money on something that will crack and stretch over time. Leather will last you a lifetime. Leather belts vary considerably in their thickness, usually from 10-13mm. I would recommend getting the thickest one. Although a thicker belt takes a bit longer to wear in, you'll really enjoy the benefits of having a thick wall to push your core against. However, this may come to personal preference and you'll still have great benefits with a thinner belt.
You'll see that most leather belts have either a prong buckle or a lever. The benefits to a lever is that they are easier to put on and take off but require a little more fiddling when you need to adjust it. You have to actually screw the lever in place but this doesn't need to be adjusted unless your waist measurements change or for some reason you need to adjust the tightness. Personally, I prefer the lever but some people enjoy the immediate flexibility of buckles. Buckles are great for anyone who wants to regularly change tightness or just prefers to use some dang buckles. Maybe you even prefer the way it looks. Either way, both are great and it's mostly preference.
Overall, the benefits to a leather belt is longevity, security, better fit as it tends to mold to your body over time, style (they look cooler come on now), and they can handle a lot of abuse.
How to Wear It
As mentioned previously, the lifting belt goes directly over the naval but can be adjusted depending on the lift. As for tightness, this is something that takes practice. Most people tend to have it a bit too loose at the beginning and you may also need to readjust your belt over the months as you break it in (if it's a lever type). In general, have it as tight as possible but make sure it doesn't interfere with your ability to breathe. Having your belt too tight will likely result in getting dizzy or even blacking out during the lift, so it's usually pretty obvious if it's too tight. Having it too loose just means you aren't getting the proper support so you aren't optimizing on the belt's capability. Ever on the side of tighter is better. Don't worry about looks, nobody looks great in a belt as they tend to push every ounce of fat and loose skin to the perimeter. The purpose is power!
You will also notice different sizes, such as s, m, l, xl. Simply measure your waist at your navel to determine size. If you have any questions you can always contact the manufacturer for a recommendation. We'd be happy to help you out too!
Where Do I Buy a Belt?
There are a ton of places online and maybe even in your town to get a belt. One good reliable place to get yourself a lifelong belt in a cool color is Inzer. They are guaranteed forever, custom made to order, and have a bunch of cool designs all at a good price. This is where we bought our belts and we couldn't be happier.
A lot of people really enjoy Rogue belts as well. The Ohio lifting belt is a very popular choice and comes in a sexy leather. Rogue also has a bunch of nylon belts that come in fun colors.
As for nylon, the only one I've tried is Grizzly which I got from Bodybuilding.com and it served me well until I upgraded to my Inzer. When traveling, I will still sometimes pack my nylon belt because it's nice and light and serves it's purpose in a bind!