When To Use a Weightlifting Belt

WRITTEN BY Martijn Koevoets

Confused whether or not you should train with a weightlifting belt?

You might want to check out this thought provoking study before you run off to buy a Metal powerlifting belt or one of the Inzer powerlifting belts.

As a true iron warrior, you do heavy squats and deadlifts.

And since you only have 1 lower back, you’re considering investing in powerlifting belt.

But there are some nay sayers that are telling you that lifting without a belt is actually better.

That if you’re lifting without a powerlifting belt it’s better for your core. And because you’re forced to use less weight, and therefore your training will be safer.

Or so the story goes…

And seeing lifters like Konstantinovs pulling 426kg or 939lbs without a belt, there seems to be some truth in that.

But is it the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help you god?

Let’s start this blog post with looking at how powerlifting belts actually work.

What Are Weight Lifting Belts For?

A weightlifting belt is used to decrease the load on your lower back during heavy exercises.

By pushing your abs against the powerlifting belt during heavy lifts, you can increase the stability of your lower back.

In this way, you increase intra-abdominal pressure. The increased pressure in your stomach will make sure that your core can take some of the stress put on your back.

That way, you can lift more and lift more safely.

This is especially important during the later reps on your heavy sets. If you’re doing it right, you’ve exhausted a fair amount of muscle fibers.  And in that case you want all the support you can get.

But this is all well said… But is it true?

Fortunately for us there’s a study has been done in 1992 that gives us an answer.

weightlifting belt

The study is called “The Effectiveness of a weight-belts during multiple repititions of the squat exercise”.

As the title suggests, this study examines the effect of a powerlift belt during a heavy set of squats.

I know.  I know. One study doesn’t really say anything on its own.

But if you look at the lifters that participated in this study then you understand why this study is so interesting for powerlifters like us.

Let me explain.

Belt For Squats

For the study, five men of about 23-24 years old were collected. The lifters then did two sets of squats. 1 Set with a powerlifting belt and 1 set without a powerlifting belt.

An 8RM was used as weight on the bar.

On average that was 125,5kg or 1.6x their body weight. So yeah, these guys lift. They were definitely  NOT beginners.

That’s why the results of this study are so interesting for us.

weightlifting belt

During the execution of the squats, the researchers looked at:

Because so many aspects are examined, we get a clear picture of the effects of a powerlifting belt during squats.

And guess what?

What Does a Weightlifting Belt Do?

Other than making you look dead sexy?

Choosing A Weightlfiting Belt - Doing It Wrong

Well, since you asked…

During the analysis of images researchers noticed that during squats, the upward movement took most of the time.

We really needed a study for that… right?

But the set without belt took more time than the set with powerlifting belt. The lowering phase was just as fast, but the upward movement was a lot faster with the powerlifting belt. And therefore easier.

There was no difference in the force and pressure during exercise. They did notice that the subjects started to lean over more when the set progressed. They went from approximately 51 degrees to 46 degrees. There was no difference in the group that wore a belt or didn’t wear a  belt.

Personally I did not expect that. I find that I can stay upright when I squat with a powerlifting belt (but that might be due to a lack of stability).

Intra-abdominal pressure was 25% to 40% higher during the set with a powerlifting belt than during the set without a weightlifting belt. So the  stress on your lower back is greatly reduced.

Furthermore, there is no difference between the measured activity of the lower back muscles and outer oblique abdominal muscles.

What that means is this.

weightlifting beltWhether you squat with a weightlifting belt or without a weightlifting belt, in this study it does not make a difference.

A lot of lifters often say that the abs are worked harder when you squat without a weightlifting belt. And this is given as a reason to train without a weightlifting belt.

Well… this study says that is not true.

I do have to say that I’m making the assumption that the oblique muscles are representative of the rest of your abdominal muscles.

There is a difference in muscle activity in the vastus lateralis and hamstrings.

It seems that with a weightlifting belt you use your quadriceps and hamstrings more than without a belt. In particular at the sticking point and as the set progresses.

When To Use a Weightlifting Belt

Squatting with a weightlifting belt makes sure you can use more weight, or you can move a sub maximal weight faster.

Furthermore, squatting with a weightlifting belt makes the following happen:

  • More muscle activity in the hamstrings and quadriceps
  • More intra-abdominal pressure and because of that there’s less pressure on your lower back.

Squatting with a weightlifting belt does not cause reduced activity of the abdominal muscles.

The broism that your abs work harder by doing squats without a weightlifting belt does not seem to be true when we look at this particular study.

So to answer the question “when to use a weightlifting belt?”.

weightlifting belt

In my opinion you should definitely use a weightlifting belt on your heavier sets and attempts.

In this study an 8rm was used, so let’s say that from 80% and up you should definitely use a weightlifting belt if you want to move more weight.

You might even want to start wearing your belt sooner to save your energy and to keep fatigue to a minimum before you’re going heavy.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post about When To Use a Weightlifting Belt.

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Author: Martijn Koevoets
Martijn is head honcho of Powerlifting University, a powerlifter, author, blogger, online coach & extreme metal aficionado. He also loves a good whiskey. He has been featured on websites like EliteFTS, JTSStrength, JMAX Fitness and more.

Get your hands on my cheat sheet for setting up training programs that took a 132lbs. skinny weakling from not being able to bench the bar to deadlifting 3x his own body weight and winning silver at the nationals.



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