T Nation

Wearing a Belt Wisdom

First let me start by saying I know that the general consensus on when to wear a lifting belt is about when you reach ~70% or so in your squat and DL training. The reasoning behind this is that, somehow lifting without a belt below 70% will keep your “core” strong. That, if you use a belt on all your sets, also somehow your “core” will become weak because the belt somehow helps your “core” lift the weight.

Now…first of all, let me say that I don’t really understand that logic. The people who say that you will lose core strength if you use a belt on all sets always just say that, it’s basically an appeal to authority. I’m not aware of any studies which show that to be the case. But even common sense it doesn’t make sense. A belt helps you brace and increase IAP, it doesn’t actually structurally assist you in the lift like a bench shirt or knee wraps would. Your “core” is still lifting the same amount of weight with the belt on, and therefore should become just as strong whether you have the belt on or not.

Second, even if you are losing out on some kind of core development by wearing a belt on all sets, why not just do that to protect your back and then go hard on working your core with other exercises designed to work the core like abdominal work etc?

Third, I have seen it recommended by professional powerlifters to at least always wear a light wrist wrap when benching and even squatting. Increasing the tightness as you go heavier. Reason being to protect your wrists, and to lift how you will compete if you are competing using wrist wraps. I’ve also seen nothing bad said about wearing knee sleeves for all squat sets, even advocates of it, because it helps warm you up during your warmups, protects your knees, and if you’re going to compete in sleeves it’s good to train in sleeves.

So then, why doesn’t that logic apply to lifting belts? If I am going to compete using a belt, why wouldn’t or shouldn’t I wear a belt for the same reasons as sleeves and wrist wraps? To 1.) Protect my back, and 2.) To train that way because I will compete that way? Assuming “because my core will get weak” is not a valid answer that is…

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I just don’t need a belt with all my warm ups. It just makes it take longer to do the warm ups with the belt. I do a few latter warm up sets with the belt to get accustomed to it before my working sets. I wear knee sleeves for all my squats though.

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I definitely agree with your points.

The one anecdotal thing I’ve experienced myself is that some lifters (typically novice/lower intermediates) can depend on the belt so much that they forget (or don’t know how) to really brace and engage all their core stabilizers, and a tight belt can act as a temporary “band aid” for this. So removing the belt and re-learning how to get their core to work on it’s own MIGHT benefit in this situation.

However, simply reducing the belt tension might be a better option. Typically in this situation people have the belt cranked way tighter than they should. Loosening it to them will feel like it isn’t supporting, so it actually provides a proprioceptive feedback to cue them to brace and engage, since this will cause the loose belt to “tighten up”.

Just some thoughts.

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For reference, the main reason I bring this up is for the reasons in OP, but what prompted me to ask you guys about it is watching a Brian Shaw/Eddie Hall youtube bro video where they were doing squats and Eddie was doing all his sets with a belt on from 135lb to his final sets. I know that’s not proof of much, maybe he was having back issues that day or had some other reason for it…but it did get me thinking about the reasoning behind only wearing a belt after a certain weight and how much of that is just a reaction to the guys we all see in the gym with big guts walking around doing curls/bench/everything with a belt on and how much is legit. Yes he is an elite level lifter who has no issues with his core strength. But still.

Also another point is that while your core is definitely engaged during squats, the squat is not a core building movement. It’s for building legs and posterior chain. There are many other exercises designed to work the core muscles specifically which would be a lot more beneficial than trying to use squats to build your core.

Then you have those who do without…

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Sort of. He deadlifted without a belt but he squatted with a belt. If you compete without a belt, I imagine you would want to train without one also.

I don’t even wear my belt tight enough to act as it’s own brace - I can always fit 4 fingers in between my belt and my stomach. It only feels insanely tight if I am properly bracing by pushing my midsection out in all directions - so if it doesn’t feel that way, I’m not bracing properly. When I used to wear a belt real tight, I could do a weak brace and it would feel the same, so now I wear my belt looser and use a warm-up set or two to practice my bracing, then put it on after.

But of course - do what you feel is right. I do believe that a belt can let you get away with an improper brace though.

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I don’t believe this to be true. A compression shirt does just that, it compresses the muscles and “contains’” the muscle creating almost a spring-like resistance. The same goes for a belt as it compresses the abs.

I agree with your post. I don’t wear mine tight, or I can’t brace correctly. The belt is to give you something to push against, not squeeze so tight it makes it so you can’t move.

My $0.02 on belts as a non-competitor.

All of my best workout sets were done with a belt. I see it as a tool to lift more weight, not a key part of my structure when under load. I lifted beltless for a long time. I’ve squatted 500 beltless and deadlifted 585 beltless. I’ve never had any issue with beltless lifting. If I had any issue from it, it was leaving gains on the table.

My only significant injury from lifting came while wearing a belt. It was the last rep of 5 sets of 10 on a strict press of 95 lbs, which was under well 50 percent of my max. I got a sports hernia when my rectus abdominus went POP on that last rep. My bro brain tells me that without the belt I wouldn’t have produced the pressure needed to tear a muscle, but I don’t consider my bro brain very credible. There’s no way to know if I would’ve finished the set fine without a belt, but I definitely got hurt while wearing a belt.

In summary, learn how to brace whether you’re belted or not. It’s useful outside of the gym, especially if you end up becoming a lot stronger than your friends and own a pickup truck.

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He’s talking about a bench shirt though: not a compression shirt. With gear, you’re fighting the bubble and the material itself is contributing to the lift.

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I’m a big fan of belting all the time, some lifts depending on the day and my goal, sure no belt. But if it’s going to be heavy work I’m wearing a belt. I’m not a fan of heavy beltless work unless you just want to compete beltless.

As @tasty_nate said, I do think a “looser” belt is better than a tighter belt. 1) more IAP with more air 2) too tight of a belt can actually mess with your thoracic extension 3) really helps to cue overall tightness when you have to reach for the belt

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Thanks for a great thread on belts! Since my squatting has become increasingly heavy, I thought about adding a belt (today, in fact). Used belts in the 90ties, but the belts I borrowed at the various gyms I trained at, didn’t impress me much.

Since there are different brands, shapes and sizes - can anyone provide information on what to look for in a good belt?

May seem like a beginners question, but where to better ask for advice than here?

I have had an Inzer 13mm forever lever belt since 2011. Liked it so much I got a second one in a bigger size to use over my soft belt. Just a great product

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I do my main squat with a belt. I can’t bring myself to squat an empty bar with a belt, it usually goes on after the third set, sometimes for the third set. So well below 70% or whatever the magic number is

I do variations with no belt. My thinking is this makes the variations lighter and easier to recover from and it covers me on the core thing (not that I’m convinced the core thing is a real thing)

Get yourself one that is 4" wide all the way around. 10 mm or 13 mm thick. I really like the pioneer cut (0.5" hole spacing). I would stay away from a double prong belt. The extra prong doesn’t do anything that I notice, and makes it harder to put on.

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I have a Best Belts single prong 10 mm. I think it is the Athlete model.

No complaints at all, single prong works fine for my purposes. Made in the USA.

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I feel as though there is a strawman fallacy going on here. I don’t actually believe conventional wisdom, in the context of this forum, is that ‘you shouldn’t put on a belt below 70%’. I put mine on well below that number, everyone I lift with does, and it sounds like literally all the other people posting here do the same. I think if you were on bodybuilding.com or reddit or something, you might find some weird zealots who think this way, but that’s just conventional wisdom here in the first place.

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Well, here is an article posted on this very website: Do You Really Need a Lifting Belt? | T NATION

He frames wearing a belt against the context of people using a belt to ‘mask a weak core’. What I am saying is that the squat and deadlift, while they do engage the core, are not really ‘core exercises’ specifically designed to build your core.

Also he does one better in this direct quote: “However, the bulk of the training time should still be done raw, only using a belt when in the 85%+ range of lifting.”

So this guy writing articles for T Nation is saying only wear a belt over 85%. Also, maybe semantics but isn’t a belt considered “raw” in most competitions?

He also states that using a belt might weaken your core…again…something which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if you consider that squats and deadlifts are not core exercises and that there are many other things you can do to strengthen your core. He does also go on to say that if you “use your abs to push against the belt, you might actually strengthen your abs with a belt”. So he’s kind of all over the place with that.

I mean, it’s really a bunch of nonsense IMO. Bottom line is, Squat and deadlift are leg and posterior chain exercises, not core exercises. If your core is weak, do core work. Wear a belt if you compete with a belt or you have some minor back pain or an old injury or some reason you want to be extra safe. Doesn’t that make more sense?

Statements like this generally are silly. They don’t apply to everyone. Someone learning to use a belt? Terrible idea to wait until 85%. Powerlifter nearing competition, also a terrible idea in most cases.

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