There is much controversy on the use and function of a weightlifting belt.
That’s why we want to clear up a few myths about the weightlifting belt. Thus, you can decide for yourself how and when you want to use a belt.
There is still a belief among some coaches and athletes that wearing a belt will weaken the lower back and not develop core stability. A weightlifting belt does not stress the support function of the trunk. This would not train the back extensors and abdominal muscles.
Studies, however, have shown that there is no truth to this myth and that the belt only helps to use the core muscles more effectively. Wearing a belt is in no way a substitute for adequate trunk stability, which is necessary for virtually all weightlifting exercises. However, studies confirm that a belt, in combination with proper breathing, can reduce compression of the discs and thus reduce stress on the spine. 
What are the benefits of wearing a weightlifting belt?
Wearing a weightlifting belt increases intra-abdominal pressure, protecting the spine. Due to the internal abdominal pressure and the trunk muscles on the outside, the spine is stabilized in an all-encompassing way and the risk of injury during high stress situations is reduced.
However, you should never forget that these protective functions do not come from the belt alone. To take full advantage of the benefits of a belt, you must have sufficient core stability. Wearing a weightlifting belt does not compensate for a lack of stability in the center of the body!
Wearing the belt can lead to increased body awareness in some cases. The physical feel of a belt causes the athlete to think about their back position and what muscles need to be activated to maintain good posture.
Finally, wearing a belt is also a matter of personal preference. Some athletes wear a belt both in the snatch and the clean and jerk, while others wear it only in the clean and jerk. Then again, there are athletes who use it only in training for heavy squats and pulls in the maximum range.
For weightlifting, belts made of leather have proven themselves, as they are usually much more robust and durable. Weightlifting belts are usually narrower in the front area and wider in the back for the lumbar area as well as ergonomically shaped. According to the rules of the IWF, a belt in competition may not be wider than 12 cm and must also be worn over the lifter’s jersey.
Before using a weightlifting belt in competition, you should use it extensively in training and figure out for yourself how tight and where you want to wear it. As with all other equipment, there are no general recommendations.
Leather or neoprene? What’s best?
Leather offers the greatest stability and is also extremely durable. For lifting very heavy weights in the maximum strength range, a leather weightlifting belt is the best choice.
Neoprene offers a little less stability than leather, but a little more flexibility and comfort. Neoprene is a good alternative to leather and is often used in the fitness sector.
What are the types of closures?
Neoprene belts rely on quick-release buckles made of Velcro with the so-called hook and loop system. Quickly put on and open the belt between different exercises is quite simple.
Especially in the field of functional fitness, different exercises have to be performed in a WOD one after the other and often also for a certain time. Here it is quite useful to put on the belt for a strength exercise and then be able to open it quickly for a subsequent endurance exercise.
Leather belts are super suitable for the maximum strength range and feature a double thorn closure, which is not so easy to release. However, the focus here is on stability. Especially in weightlifting, there is enough time before and after an attempt to put on and open the belt.
How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt
- Tighten the belt around your abdomen. The position is individually different, experiment here until you have found the optimal position for you.
- Set up for the specific lift (e.g. Squats: Unrack the barbell from the squat stand)
- Take a deep breath, hold it and expand your trunk into the belt
- Perform one full repetition
- Repeat point 3-5 until the set is finished
- Lose the belt and prepare for the next set/exercise
TIP: The belt should be tight enough so that there is still room for a deep breath. The belt is only completely filled by the inhaled air volume in the abdomen.
1) Kingma I, Faber GS, Suwarganda EK, Bruijnen TB, Peters RJ, van Dieën JH.: Effect of a stiff lifting belt on spine compression during lifting. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Oct 15;31(22):E833-9
2) Harman EA, Rosenstein RM, Frykman PN, Nigro GA: Effects of a belt on intra-abdominal pressure during weight lifting. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1989, 21(2), 186‐190