One of the few items you really need as a serious strength athlete is a good weightlifting belt.
There are various weightlifting belts for sale, but regardless of brand there are a few things to look for when buying a belt:
1) Equal width all around
2) Should be as thick as possible/comfortable.
3) Single prong or lever to secure the belt.
4) Is made from high quality leather.
You wear a belt for your abs, not (directly) for your back
In a minute I will tell you why you need the above points in a good weightlifting belt. But first you should know why you need a belt. Most people think a weightlifting belt supports your lower back.
And indeed, a good weightlifting belt supports your spine by making it more stable under heavy loads. This is because of the pressure your abdominal muscles generate while pressing against the belt. This in turn enables you to squat because with more weight, because your spine is more stable.
Belts that are a lot wider in the back than in the front do not work as well just for this reason. These belts do not have as much surface in the front to press your abs against.
People are afraid belts will make their abs weaker. Based on what we know now, more than likely there won’t be much difference, and theoretically belts *may* strengthen your abs once you learn how to press out against the belt properly
A good belt has equal width all around. 10cm is for most people the maximum width that sits comfortably between their ribs and hipbone. 10cm is also the maximal allowed width in most, if not all, powerlifting federations.
Now you know why a good weightlifting belt needs to be of the same width all over, there has to be enough surface for you abs to push against. That is also the reason why a belt should be firm and stiff. The thicker your belt, the sitffer it will be.
A belt should be just stiff enough so you can put it on and it stays in place during exercise. The thickest and most durable belts are 13mm thick. Again, this also the maximum allowed thickness in powerlifting federations. But thickness is not the only aspect that makes a sturdy and durable belt. I’ll tell you more further in this article.
Prongs or levers?
Normally you secure a weightlifting belt with a:
1) single prong
2) double prong or
There is not much to say in favor of double prong. It just causes an additional step during your heavy attempts. In these moments you need to focus on your performance and not on securing your belt. Especially when you pull your belt really tight, it can be a real hassle to secure that 2nd prong. That is why single prong is better.
More expensive belts have a lever with which you secure your belt in one simple movement. Your belt will always be at the same tightness.
However, your bodyweight, the clothes you wear, even your hydration level can influence how tight you can pull your belt, forcing you to adjust the lever, which can be a hassle.
In my opinion, single prong is the way to go.
The best leather
Leather is used frequently for clothing. Especially where durability is important. That is why a lot of shoes, jackets and pants are made of leather.
A weightlifting belt is made of top grain leather or split leather, most commonly as suede. Top grain leather is the top of the hide of the animal. The fibers in the top layer are much closer and therefore more durable. Suede is less strong and less durable.
The best weightlifting belts are made of top grain leather.
Making sure your belt fits right
Now you know which qualities to look when purchasing a weightlifting belt. Learning the proper use of a weightlifting belt requires some practice. The belt needs to be just tight enough and positioned just right.
To find out where that sweet spot is, you can use the following tip. Put on your weightlifting belt and put it on tight enough so that it will stay in the same place. Not too tight! Now assume your squat stance, and squat down. The belt will move into the position where it will be of most use to you.
While deadlifting, I prefer to place the belt a little higher on my stomach. Otherwise the belt is in my way when I drop down to grab the bar.
Now that we have covered where to wear your belt, we can move on to the subject of tightness of a belt. You actually can put on a belt too tight. When that happens, your abdominals will not be able to push out maximally.
You have to experiment a bit yourself to figure out how tight you can wear your belt. Just put on the belt and push out with your abs. You will quickly find out when the belt is on too tight. And with heavy weights a belt that is too tight is worse than no belt.
With all the information above, you know how to pick a good weightlifting belt.
Even more tips
Perhaps you have some tips as well. Please leave them behind below this article so everybody can read them. I’m sure that will appreciated.
(Cover photo is Dutch Strongman Niels Gordijn. Photo credit to Doetze Hovius)