What do you need to wear when strength training? Strong Women investigates how weightlifting belts work, when you should wear one and whether you need one to lift heavier.
If you’re working out in a busy gym, it can be all too easy to pick up on what other people are doing. Whether you’re rolling your eyes at someone loudly dropping their weights, or making a mental note to try out a cool exercise you’ve seen someone else complete, busy gyms can be a hub of fitness inspiration.
And if you’ve worked out for more than a few sessions, you’ve definitely seen someone wearing a weightlifting belt.
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They can’t be missed, with their thick leather band and huge buckle fastening, usually slung across the shoulder of a seasoned-gym goer before they strap themselves in for an eye-wateringly heavy lift.
As someone who trains regularly and is pretty proud of their lifting achievements, I’ve always wondered what they actually do, and whether I should be wearing one too.
So I asked personal trainer and online coach Maria Moore of Moore Movement for her expert advice on weightlifting belts: how they work, what they do and whether you actually need one.
How do weightlifting belts work?
“Weightlifting belts offer us stability and help protect our bodies from injury when we are heavy weight lifting,” Moore tells Stylist. “They are a great accessory that we can use when we’re challenging ourselves in the weight room, helping us be more mindful of our form when performing lifts such as squats and deadlifts.”
It’s commonly assumed that weightlifting belts work by acting as an external support for your back that allows you to lift heavier; however, this isn’t the case.
The belt itself doesn’t strengthen your back. When you secure the belt around your waist and flex your stomach against it to brace, you create internal pressure in your core and torso that then allows you to perform heavy lifts more efficiently, and without injuring yourself.
What are the benefits of weightlifting belts?
The support around your core provided by a weightlifting belt helps keep your spine straight and in the right position to lift. A belt can also offer some support against the excessive arching of the lower back, especially in overhead lifts – like bench press. Many people will struggle to maintain a neutral spine, and pressing weight overhead with an arched back can lead to injury.
However, if you’re new to weightlifting, Moore advises mastering your technique before using a belt. “They can have their disadvantages,” she explains. “Instead of engaging your muscles and building a strong core that helps protect the spine, you could end up relying on the belt which will increase your risk of injury. We need a strong foundation by ourselves before introducing tools such as a belt.”
“If you’re not engaging your muscles yourself and practising correct form the belt won’t do this for you,” Moore adds.
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Can weightlifting belts help you lift heavier?
“The belt itself won’t help you increase your strength,” advises Moore, “however, having the support from it might give you the confidence to push for heavier lifts while knowing you are supported. It also makes you more mindful of maintaining good technique.”
Moore stresses that no gym accessory is a replacement for strengthening your body in order to help you move more weight. “Working with a personal trainer is a great way to gain an understanding of the way the body should be moving during different exercises and how they should feel,” she says.
“Train smart, be patient and put the work in first.”
When shouldn’t you wear a weightlifting belt?
A belt should only be used when you really need one, such as when there’s a heavy load on your spine during exercises such as squats, deadlifts, rack pulls and Olympic lifts like snatches.
In these exercises, force is being transmitted from the legs through the torso, and exercises where maximal core stability will contribute to the lift.
Most experts advise that you should wear a weightlifting belt when you are lifting at or above 60% of your one rep max – aka the heaviest weight you could manage safely and with good form.
For more ways to elevate your strength training potential, check out the Strong Women Training Club where you’ll find tips, training plans and workout videos.