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Wearing a belt is REALLY personal – me? I love my belt and wear it for the main compound lifts with my FAVOURITE lift being the deadlift…
Before we dive right in just remember that lifting weights can be dangerous if not done properly so if you are unsure or uncomfortable please speak with your doctor or coach to get tailored advice.
At a glance…
- Belts typically become useful when deadlifting around double your bodyweight
- You can still deadlift regularly and HEAVY without a belt – so don’t feel pressured to wear one if you don’t want to
- Belts are NOT safer and DO NOT prevent injuries. They are a TOOL we use, but we can still hurt ourselves if not careful
- Some people find a standard 4” belt too wide for deadlifts – try a narrower 3” belt instead if that’s the case for you
- Consult with your trainer or doctor if you are unsure of have specific health needs
When to start wearing a belt for deadlifts…
For most people I suggest thinking about wearing a belt when deadlifting from around double your bodyweight – this typically corresponds to something in the region of a “3 or 4 plate” deadlift for most people (140kg – 180kg).
Personally I was able to progress quite quickly up to that point but then I hit a plateau. I found from then on fatigue became more of an issue from workout to workout. Adding a belt allowed me to lower the overall stress ‘cost’ of deadlifting and meant I could keep progressing to heavier weights. After adding a belt my deadlift quickly began progressing again.
It’s important to use a belt as a TOOL when deadlifting, not a CRUTCH. Slapping a belt on will not miraculously cure any form issues or strengthen your core – instead it provides something we can brace our abdominals against and helps us maintain pressure when lifting.
In other words wearing a belt will not suddenly stop your back from rounding – your form should be well established before starting to use one.
Should you even wear a weight belt for deadlifts?
You should wear a belt when deadlifting if you want to lift the maximum weight possible with the minimum amount of fatigue to your body.
The vast majority of people will lift more weight with a belt compared to going beltless – although there are exceptions – so if weight on the bar is your goal then a belt is AT LEAST worth a try.
Of course you don’t have to wear a belt for EVERY deadlift set you do – for example I wear mine for work sets and heavier warm ups when conventional deadlifting BUT not for accessory pulls such as Romanian Deadlifts (RDL) or stiff leg deadlifts (SLDL). In these situations I deliberately want to keep the weight on the bar lower to reduce OVERALL fatigue, but while keeping the RPE of the lift sufficiently high to make it worthwhile.
Is it safer to lift with a belt?
It is not inherently safer to wear a belt when lifting weights. That said switching between belt and beltless variants can be risky if you do not warm up your body properly. For example if I wore a belt to pull 200kg conventional deadlift then decided to do backoff sets of 180kg without a belt with no previous beltless heavy pulls that day I would certainly feel ill prepared!
The purpose of the belt is to give us a loop of fixed circumference to push our core out against. This fixed radius means our inter-abdominal pressure increases as we squeeze the air in our lungs in to a fixed volume space constrained by the belt. All of this serves to lift MORE weight, not necessarily SAFER weight!
As long as your form is acceptable and you have warmed up properly to an appropriate weight on any given day then lifting with a belt is no safer than lifting beltless.
That said, and as commented on above, beltless work does tend to fatigue the body MORE so you may find yourself more worn out over the course of a workout.
Does the belt prevent injuries?
A belt will not stop you getting injured. It can help you brace your core, possibly help you manage fatigue across sets and reps resulting in less form degradation, BUT it is not a magic bullet to prevent injury.
By wearing a belt you are supporting one link in the chain – your core – but all the other links are still needed with grip strength etc. coming in to play.
I actually had a minor muscle tear in my lat deadlifting once with a belt on – so I can say first hand you still need to be suitably careful when wearing a belt in the weight room!
Can you deadlift HEAVY without a belt?
You absolutely CAN deadlift HEAVY without a belt – the lift just needs to be trained as any other lift does over time to build your ability and strength to do so safely.
Work carefully or with your trainer to ensure you are not overreaching too far when lifting and I am sure you can progress your deadlift up to some impressive figures with or without a belt!
What if a belt is uncomfortable when deadlifting?
It’s really common for people to find a narrower belt more comfortable when deadlifting due to the range of motion the lift puts us through. From basically bending over at the hips to standing up we create an awesome (or not!) pinch opportunity around our hips, ribs and core as we straighten up.
Depending on your specific body geometry you may find a standard 4” wide belt just too uncomfortable for the space between your ribs and hips. If so you can try a narrower 3” belt which offers largely the same support for an amateur lifter in a more comfortable package.
While I PERSONALLY love wearing a belt for deadlifting you may not – and training exclusively without a belt is still awesome.
If you are curious and want to give it a try then throw on a 3” or 4” wide belt for deadlifts when your pull is approaching 1.5x – 2x your bodyweight. This is a rough rule of thumb and you may want to try a little earlier if you find your deadlift stalling.