What exercises to use a weight belt for?

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Knowing when to use a weightlifting belt is the rung below rocket science in complexity terms… Just joking 🙂

I’ve been there though – knowing which exercises to wear a belt for and when to go without can be a tricky. Let’s dig in to it here.

What exercises to use a weight belt for?

At a glance…

  • Weight belts are best for powerlifting exercises or any others where achieving maximum weight on the bar is the goal
  • A belt is less important where goals are not based on absolute weight lifted – hypertrophy for example
  • A belt can still be helpful in this situations as another tool to manage fatigue
  • By providing something firm to brace against a belt lets us achieve higher pressure in our core when lifting
  • This higher pressure better supports our body during lifts

Do weight belts actually help?

A lifting belt forms a stiff loops around your midsection that your body then is constrained by. This means when you take a deep breath or brace your core there is a loop around your body that keeps everything compressed together.

This means muscles are mega tight and any air in your lungs from a valsalva cannot push OUT, so instead it’s held at a higher pressure INSIDE your torso.

All of this combines to give us a tighter and more supported mid section through any given lift. The impact is tangible even to a novice lifter. So much so, many (including me) would class a belted and beltless squat as two COMPLETELY different lifts…

Put simply, I can lift more weight in any like for like scenario when wearing a weightlifting belt compared to when I go beltless.

Top exercises I use a weight belt for

My training incorporates belted and beltless work. I tend to go beltless on secondary movements and accessories leaving the belt for the primary compound movements.

The exercises I will wear a weightlifting belt when performing are:

  1. Squat (low bar) – my top movement. Bracing against the belt keeps my core in better shape throughout the movement with less tendency for rounding at the bottom. The bent over nature of low bar vs the more vertical high bar and front squat variants is more fatiguing on my lower back and a belt helps mitigate this.
  2. Deadlift – possibly my favourite lift, I wear a 4” 13mm lever belt when conventional deadlifting. Similar to low bar squatting the belt helps me keep shape and reduce overall fatigue when my body is more horizontal (so more notable at the start of a deadlift)
  3. Overhead press – less crucial than for squats and deadlifts, wearing a belt when doing standing press work is still a pretty easy way to add weight to the bar! The tighter contraction in your mid section helps keep a stable body position throughout the lift. This helps for heavy strength work where absolute strength is needed, but also in high rep Hypertrophy sets where fatigue and a bit of form slip can occur and it can be easy to twist or tweak something if unsupported.
  4. Bench press – yes, I wear a lifting belt when I bench press and there is nothing you can do to stop me! Seriously – try it out! It makes a difference and helps transmit that leg drive to the barbell
  5. Barbell shrugs – yep, bet you didn’t expect to see this in here! When hitting high rep, hypertrophy focused shrugs I want to really hit my traps and minimise the fatigue throughout the rest of my body. Wearing a belt is an easy way to mitigate the strain elsewhere in my body and lets me focus on a really good contraction in the movement itself.

So now, why do I use the belt for SOME and not ALL lifts? Let’s find out…

Is it good to workout with a belt?

Based on the above a belt simply allows higher inter abdominal pressure to be held through a lift.

So a lifting belt helps with every lift, right? Yes and no.

Wear a lifting belt when:

  • You want the maximum absolute weight on the bar. Powerlifting competitors take note!
  • You want to reduce the fatigue of an exercise (like for like). Squatting 150kg with a belt would be at a lower RPE than without for most trainees. This is why I wear one for shrugs, for example!
  • You simply prefer wearing a belt

Don’t wear one if:

  • You are trying to compensate for poor technique
  • You prefer not to!

When shooting for the heaviest lift possible wearing a belt is important. If your goals are something else – hypertrophy for example – a belt becomes personal preference.

Conclusion

In my experience a belt is an excellent tool to have and I use mine every day, BUT I spend more time lifting WITHOUT it on than I do WITH!

If you’re new to using a belt in the gym you should start by wearing yours for ‘the big three’ – squats, deadlifts and bench pressing.

After that try and experience the and work out what you prefer.

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