Whether you’re a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, or a weekend warrior, a weightlifting belt can be helpful for achieving any number of fitness goals. The problem is that most people are not using a weightlifting belt properly. Let’s review the top 5 weightlifting belt mistakes that you are (probably) making, and how to correct them.
1. You Automatically Assume You Need a Weightlifting Belt
You’re hitting the weights so you need a weightlifting belt, right? Not necessarily. Whether or not you use a weightlifting belt depends on which exercises you are performing as well as the weight you’re pulling or pushing.
If you are focusing on compound and Olympic movements such as the barbell squat, deadlifts, and overhead barbell presses, then you should consider using a belt. Are you performing isolation exercises such as bicep curls? Will you be sitting down to complete an exercise? For example: when you sit at the leg extension machine or the bench press machine. If so, you definitely don’t need a belt.
Even if you are doing a compound movement like squats, that doesn’t mean you should automatically suit up with the belt. Look at your workout program and determine how much weight you are pulling or pressing. If you are using 85% or more of your one-repetition maximum (1RM), then you might want to use a weightlifting belt. Leave the belt on the ground if you’re using anything less.
2. You Don’t Use a Proper Belt
Take a look at your weightlifting belt. Is the back of the belt – the part that rests on your lower back – larger than the front? If so, you’re using the wrong belt. While it’s better than nothing – and barely so – that type of belt (big in the back – small in the front) is not designed to function like a true weightlifting belt.
What do you think a weightlifting belt supports? If you think it’s designed to support your lower back, you would be in the same camp as most people. The reality is that a weightlifting belt is designed for your abdomen. As we will discuss more below, your abs need something to push off of in order to move a heavy amount of weight in a safe way. When you use that belt with the skinny front, you aren’t doing your body, your gains, or yourself any favors.
Once you return your belt to the store, you’ll want to find one that is the same width all the way around. We highly recommend a weightlifting belt made with real leather – skip the fake stuff; otherwise, you’ll regret it later.
Check out our collection of insanely durable weightlifting belts that are made for powerlifting.
3. You Tighten Your Belt Like a Girdle
When you put on your weightlifting belt, tighter is better, right? We know you want that “X” shape with a tiny waist but strangling your core isn’t the way to get there. Overtightening your weightlifting belt can have unintended consequences such as bruising, bladder accidents, and injury from restricting the abdominal wall.
So how much should you tighten your weightlifting belt? It’ll vary from person to person but make sure there is enough space the slide in your hand with a little bit of effort. You want it to be close enough to your abdomen so your abs have something to push against during heavy lifts, but not so much so that the belt forces your air out.
4. You Aren’t Activating Your Abs
As we mentioned above, a weightlifting belt isn’t made to support your lower back – that’s a different type of belt called a back brace – but it is designed to help your abdominal wall.
As you descend for a squat or when you are trying to press a heavily-loaded barbell above your head, your core is at the heart and center of support. By taking a deep breath and loading up your belly with air, you’ll create extra pressure and support against the weightlifting belt, allowing you to rise back up from your lift.
5. You Rely Too Much on the Belt
You know which exercises require the belt, you’ve purchased a proper weightlifting belt, you avoid over-tightening, and you have mastered the art of breathing…so what’s the problem?
Even with perfect form and the best of intentions, some lifters rely too much on the belt. We’re not talking about wearing the belt at the water fountain then moving over to do a seated calf press (don’t do this); rather, a lot of lifters forget that the core needs to do its own thing, even during heavy lifts.
With that said, we recommend not using the belt during warm-up sets and the first few working sets. When your form starts to give a bit and you start to feel that your body needs that extra hand, then put the weightlifting belt on. The idea is to keep your core strong and stable, not dependent upon the belt.
Do You Use a Weightlifting Belt?
Have you made any of the mistakes we mentioned above? If so, which ones? Have you corrected them? Do you have any questions about using a weightlifting belt? Let us know in the comments below!