When is it appropriate to use a lifting belt?

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Today’s Question is: When should I wear a lifting belt?

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++++++_ ANSWER ++++++_

tl;dr – whenever you want!

Here’s what the current research has to say about using a lifting belt:

  • Wearing a belt helps improves your performance by 5-15% on average for trained individuals
  • There’s no real significant difference in muscle activation when comparing belted & unbelted squats & deadlifts.
  • It helps us increase intra-abdominal pressure, on average 15-40% depending on the movement.
  • Wearing a belt during a training session increases blood pressure, much like the valsalva maneuver. If you have high blood pressure, see a doctor before you start lifting weights.

The purpose of the belt is to add an external layer of wrapping around your torso to allow you to brace better. Being able to drive up that pressure inside the torso helps create a more rigid frame which equates to less power loss during a movement.

From a planning perspective, I don’t think you should wear a belt if you don’t yet understand how to breathe and brace correctly. When you’re still learning the movements and have under 6 months of training under your belt… then a belt isn’t that necessary.

There are a couple of things that affect my recommendations for a belt:

First off, For the big compound lifts (squat, deadlift & overhead press) I like to consider belted lifts as different to un-belted lifts. This means you should be doing both when appropriate. Ideally you shouldn’t have a discrepancy higher than 20% between your belted squat and unbelted squat.

Secondly, when I’m warming up for my belted squat, I won’t use a belt for the start of the warmups, and I’ll start using the belt once I’m in a 60% 1RM range. That way I can get used to the motor pattern of using a belt for the heavier loads.

I like to perform most of my accessory lifts without a belt. For the most part, your accessory lifts are going to be lighter than your main compound lifts, you’ll probably be doing more reps of those accessory lifts. Which should mean you shouldn’t need a belt to lift maximal weights, and you’ll be able to practice correct breathing and bracing with more reps at submaximal loads.

And again it’s not that black and white, some heavy row variants feel better with a belt than without a belt, so again it depends.

If your wearing your belt from when you walk into the gym until you walk out of the gym, you’re doing it wrong. As long as there is some balance between belted and unbelted lifts, you’ll be fine.

Of course, if the belt is masking some sort of pain that allows you to train, then probably see a doctor.

So at the end of the day, wear a belt whenever you want because it ultimately won’t make that big of a difference. If you’re purely focused on performance, then a belt will definitely help. If you’re not breaking world records, it probably doesn’t matter so do what you want.


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