Lifting Belts: Should You Use One?

Shocking news: The internet has an ongoing debate.

The topic of said debate? Lifting belts. Particularly, whether lifters should wear one or not.

If you read various forums and blogs, you will quickly realize that the opinions on weight lifting belts range from, “Only weaklings wear belts!” to “If you’re not using a belt, you’re not lifting heavy enough!” and every stage in-between.

Anytime I find that there is such a wide variance of opinion on a rather narrow topic, I usually find the the answer is somewhere in the gray area between the black-and-white extremes.

Let's start by clarifying why a belt might be needed, what kinds of belt are on the market, who might benefit most, and when to appropriately use a belt.

The Safety Myth

First off, let’s dispel a widespread myth. The most commonly cited reason for wearing a belt is for safety, the assumption being that the belt helps support the spine while lifting heavy loads. Obviously, safety is of importance to most lifters (gotta be able to keep on lifting, right?), so wearing a belt in response to safety concerns makes a hell of a lot of theory, anyway.

At this time, however, there is not sufficient peer-reviewed scientific data to support the assertion that belts improve safety. Studies done on industrial workers who routinely lift heavy loads while wearing belts has shown little to no safety benefit.

A belt is unlikely to improve safety by any measurable degree, and therefore is not a compelling reason - on its own - to use a belt. There are, however, other valid reasons for using a belt.

Types of Belts

There are a few different types of weightlifting belts on the market, each with its own purpose:

  • FringeSport carries the Fringe Sport Commercial Belt, which is lightweight with Velcro closure. This is not a sport-specific belt but is great for everyday use and can serve several purposes.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are powerlifting belts which (surprise, surprise) are specifically designed for the sport of powerlifting. These belts tend to be the same width all the way around, much stiffer than Velcro belts, and are made out of heavy-duty leather.

Image by Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes

  • In that middle ground between Velcro belts and powerlifting belts are the more traditional leather belts commonly seen in globo-gyms all over. These are also thicker and sturdier than Velcro belts, but less so than powerlifting belts, and have more width in the back than in the front. These belts are often used by bodybuilders and more “traditional” lifters.

Sport-Specific Use

There are, however, some compelling reasons to use a belt aside from safety - depending on your sport of choice and the type of training you’re doing.

The primary reason for using a lifting belt is simple: Research consistently shows that most people can lift 5-15% more when belted than not. That’s a huge benefit for most training styles, assuming it is used appropriately.

Image by Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Hurd

  • Powerlifting - Are you a competitive powerlifter? Then you will want to wear a belt for some of your training (particularly for the big lifts at maximal loads). Belts are certainly called for in a powerlifting competition. And hey, if your sport is all about lifting the heaviest weight need that extra 5-15% to be as competitive as possible. In this case, a belt is a fundamental tool.
  • Olympic Weightlifting - A belt can assist with performance in the Olympic lifts, provided it works for your body. Thick belts may impede range of motion (say, for a deep squat in a heavy clean), so individuals will want to try different belts to see which works best for them. Assuming range of motion is uncompromised, an Olympic lifter will see similar benefits to using a belt as would a powerlifter.

Image by Javid Nikpour via Tasnim News

  • Bodybuilding - Similar to powerlifting, bodybuilders will likely benefit from the strategic use of a belt. While bodybuilders aren’t as concerned with maximal loads like powerlifting, they are focused on both volume and intensity. That extra 5-15%? Yeah, that’s super helpful here. Or they can lift for more reps per set at the same weight, or simply with less perceived get the idea. All of this can be key in progressive overload. Even so, belts should still be limited to “bigger” lifts (like squats) and taken off for accessory work (like curls).
  • WODs - Most WODs do not necessitate the use of a thick leather belt, since loads are typically lighter and the belt may impede range of motion or speed. A lightweight belt like the OneFitWonder Commercial Belt can be useful if “big” lifts are featured in the WOD. For any heavy strength component, refer to the powerlifting, Oly, or bodybuilding guidelines as appropriate.

Image by Rose Physical Therapy Group

Most importantly, no matter your sport or intent, a belt should only be used occasionally, as appropriate. The benefits of using a belt kick in when lifting very heavy loads, typically 80% of your 1RM and higher. There is little performance enhancement at lighter loads, but it can also discourage lifters from learning how to properly brace without a belt.


Clearly, belts have their place. But as with all things, there are pros and cons to consider...and consider them, we should:

  1. There are a couple demographics for whom a belt is contraindicated: If you have blood pressure problems, then do not use a belt, at all. If you have a hernia or other issue related to increased intraabdominal pressure, do not use a belt. The risks outweigh the rewards in these cases.
  2. Dr. Stuart McGill, renowned expert on spinal biomechanics, is vocally opposed to the use of belts across the board. He asserts that, in order to obtain the benefits of the belt, the lifter must inherently lose proper form, and that if proper form is maintained, then they will not see the benefits of the belt. Quite a catch-22, huh? 🤔
  3. Like with most tools, the belt can become a crutch if used excessively or improperly. A belt should never mask poor technique or lack of intrinsic stabilization. One tell-tale sign that a belt is a crutch: If your belted and beltless max vary by more than 10-15%, you’re probably relying on the belt instead of developing the necessary strength.

Other Considerations

  • Training techniques will change when wearing a belt versus not. Most lifters will benefit from training both.
  • Generally, it is wise to have new lifters start off unbelted so they can fully understand proper breathing and bracing mechanics with and without a belt. New lifters may be more inclined to rely too much on a belt, so building up confidence and strength in both training scenarios is key here.
  • Always test-run your tools. The last thing you want to do is train solely beltless, then go into competition and use a belt. Practice the way you intend to compete.

To sum up: There is no simple right or wrong answer here. Context matters a lot, but overall, most lifters will benefit from using an appropriate belt for heavy loads while also training beltless at other times.


For more great information on the best lifting belts, check out this article from

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