Have you ever been at the gym and wondered if you should use a weight belt? What does it do? Is it cheating? No, it’s not cheating. Yes, you’re welcome to use them. This is a guide for how and why to use them for maximal benefit.
First understand that weight belts are a tool to be used to become stronger and more stable. They’re not meant to cover up an injury or a deficiency in technique. Weight belts provide support, and they CAN decrease the risk of injury while maintaining the rewards of heavy training. They can be an intelligent way of training so that your risk of injury is lower, you get stronger, and you have greater longevity in the gym.
Weight belts work by reinforcing the muscles around your core. When you wear a weight belt, it supports the structure of your midsection against the pressure created when lifting. To create the right amount of support with the belt, you should wear it above the hip bones and around the belly. Cinch it down until it’s very very snug. When it’s in the proper position, it’s comfortable and tight.
You should wear a weight belt when you start lifting 80% of your 1RM. You don’t HAVE to wear it. Not wearing it is a good way to practice stabilizing and strengthening your core manually. If you choose not to wear it, you will end up practicing and developing the ability to generate core stability. If you DO wear it, you’re choosing to prioritize strength gains, metabolic benefit, and lowering your risk of injury. It is both safe and desirable to learn to lift safely at the maximal ranges of your strength, with or without a belt. If you’re in a competition, belts are a good way to put up a good performance safely.
You should also wear a weight belt for the educational benefits. When you train with a belt, you attain a super-high level of core integrity and strength. The next time you train (belt-less), you can remember what it felt like and you can try to recreate it with your breath, abdominal tone, and focus. The resulting gains in core strength may not have been possible without the belted experience.
It’s normal to be able to lift more with a belt than without. But if the difference is significant it would be worthwhile to assess why. Are you able to generate core stability on your own? Do you know how to brace, move under tension, stay balanced, and apply pressure in a squat or deadlift? This is the practice of lifting.