A weight lifting belt can be a valuable addition to your training program, provided you choose the right size and material for you and you use the belt correctly. The right belt will help stabilize your lower spine and back by providing extra support for your abdominal muscles. This added stability can protect you from injury and allow you to use maximum force when lifting free weights; some athletes see an increase in the amount of weight they can lift after switching to a belt.
How Weight Belts Work
When you wear a weight lifting belt, your abdominal muscles press firmly against the belt material, providing you with extra support. This added support in front ensures that your core and abs are doing a lot of the lifting work – and protects your lower back from injury. The added pressure of the belt helps to stabilize your spine and provides added balance and stability while lifting heavy loads. Since the abdominal muscles need to press firmly against the belt for it to work, choosing a model with the right width, length and closure is a must.
Finding your Width
The width of the lifting belt you choose matters; it needs to be thick enough to support your abs and back, but not so thick it cuts into your ribcage or becomes a source of irritation when you squat. A 4” belt may be the best place to start and will work for most men of average height. If you are much taller than average or have a long torso, you may prefer a wider, 6” model.
Nylon or Leather Lifting Belts?
Both leather and nylon belts are suitable for weightlifting and personal preference may come into play when you choose your belt. Your belt will not be worn against your skin, so you don’t have to worry about chafing or discomfort with either material. The main difference is in the “give’ or flexibility of the material; in general, leather is thicker and stiffer, with less give; it is often chosen by athletes training with heavy, lower rep squats and deadlifting. Nylon is a little more flexible and allows for a more complex range of movement; Crossfitters who use the belts during a metcon often prefer the flexibility of nylon.
Weightlifting Belts Clasps and Closures
There are several different types of clasps or closures to choose from. It’s important to choose the right one for the right application. The most important feature is strength; when you wear the belt, your abdominals will put a significant amount of pressure on the belt to stabilize and support your back. A belt that snaps open or stretches under pressure won’t do – and can actually cause an injury if it releases unexpectedly.
A heavy duty pin type closure, like the buckle on a regular belt provides strength and stability and multiple holes ensure a perfect fit. Some models also offer a heavy duty plastic quick release style that is easily adjustable but stays securely in place once fastened. The actual clasp style is personal preference and often dictated by the use. Pin style closures are great for pure strength training where you don’t’ need to loosen or tighten the belt; often the plastic clasps are perfect for metcon style workouts where you move from movement to movement and sometimes you don’t want the restriction of a tightened belt. The most important feature is that it won’t slip or snap under pressure.
How to Measure Belts for Weight Lifting
Good fit is essential; if your weight belt does not fit properly, you won’t get any of the benefits listed above – and it could cause an injury. To ensure a proper fit, wrap a tape measure securely around your waist, even with your navel. Pull the tape so it lies flat against your waist without cutting into your skin. For best results, measure over your usual workout gear and make sure your abs are at rest; you don’t need to flex or hold in a rigid position. The resulting measurement is the size belt you need. A belt will fit a range of sizes; if your measurement is 34”, the belt you choose will likely work if you slim down to 32” or bulk up to 36”. Re- measure if your size changes dramatically to ensure a precise fit.
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