You want to start using a weightlifting belt, but the biggest question on your mind is, "how tight should a lifting belt be?" Although wearing a weightlifting belt can be beneficial, it is important to ensure it's worn correctly.
If you'd like to learn more about how tight a weightlifting belt should be (for various types of exercises) - this article is for you!
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How Tight Should A Lifting Belt Be? (Explained For Common Exercises)
A weightlifting belt serves two functions. It prevents hyperextension of the lower back during overhead lifts and minimizes strain on the lower back while lifting in an upright position. To reap the benefits of using a weightlifting belt, you need to ensure you’re wearing it correctly.
Start by positioning the lifting belt just above your hip bone. Breathe in slightly and fasten the belt. The belt should be snug, but you should still be able to fit your index finger between your back and the belt.
If you can fit two or more fingers between the belt, you should reposition the belt and tighten it more. However, if the belt is too tight, it can prevent you from being able to breathe sufficiently. In addition, it can also stop you from being able to properly brace your abdominals.
Before you lift, take a deep breath into your belly, filling in the space between you and the belt. Engage your abs and lower back muscles. Perform your lift, ensuring you maintain this form for the entire duration of the lift. Breathe out and relax before repeating the process in the next rep.
Different exercises can influence how tight a weightlifting belt should be. Let’s take a closer look!
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When it comes to squats, I like to wear the belt up high (just below the diaphragm). This allows me to generate even more intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and get the most out of my lift.
In addition, I find this placement far more comfortable to squat with, and it also doesn't get in the way or limit my range of motion when doing a deep squat.
A recent 2019 study found that, out of all the other exercises, squats illicit the most intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). For this reason, I prefer to wear my weightlifting belt on the tighter side.
While this will be primarily personal preference, I find that having a more snug belt when squatting is helpful. However, with that said, the belt shouldn't be so tight that you cannot breathe in properly. You should be able to get in around 90% of your usual breath.
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When doing deadlifts, the type of deadlift changes my preference for the belt position. For a conventional deadlift, I like to wear the belt higher up (like I do for squats) with a tight fit.
You should still be able to slide a finger in between you and the belt. I find that wearing the belt higher up for a conventional deadlift is more comfortable since it doesn’t get in the way when hinging forward.
Added to this, second to the squat, conventional deadlifts generate the highest intra-abdominal pressure levels. A tight weightlifting belt helps support the trunk, and you'll be able to lift more effectively.
For sumo deadlifts, on the other hand, I tend to position the belt slightly lower down with a looser fit. Although this is largely personal preference, I find this more comfortable, and I tend to get my best lifts in with this configuration.
For Bench Press
Since intra-abdominal pressure is generally lowest when doing bench presses, wearing a weightlifting belt isn't an absolute necessity.
However, many lifters prefer using a lifting belt when bench pressing. Some people like using the belt to help support their back arch, which can be really useful when doing high reps.
Another reason is that it can be used to remind you to maintain your form. Since it's mostly used as an aid, you won't need to wear the belt as tightly as you would while squatting.
However, if you wear a weightlifting belt for a bench press, be sure to use a 10mm belt, rather than a 13mm belt. This will be more comfortable and won't take as long to 'break in' a new lifting belt.
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You may have noticed professional lifters at the Olympic Games don't frequently wear a belt while doing their snatch. While they usually wear one for the clean and jerk, wearing one while doing a snatch often gets in the way of your lift.
In order to do a proper pull of the bar, chances are the bar will catch on your belt and ruin your finish. For this reason, it’s generally advised not to wear a belt at all when doing a snatch.
However, with that said, many lifters still feel that wearing a weightlifting belt will help you to increase your 1 rep max, allowing you to lift heavier without the belt thereafter. If you do want to wear a lifting belt for the snatch, I’d recommend wearing a smaller/low-profile Velcro belt with a looser fit.
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For Clean & Jerk
A clean & jerk is a movement that requires the torso to be in an upright position, even more than the squat requires.
Additionally, the clean & jerk causes a more direct load on the spine and is also associated with an exceptionally high intra-abdominal pressure. Wearing a weightlifting belt during this exercise can provide added support throughout the movement and help you to achieve heavier lifts.
Like with the snatch, you should opt for a low-profile weightlifting belt that won’t interfere with the lift.
However, you can opt for a tight fit - the same as what you’d use for a squat. Don’t forget that you should still be able to fit a finger between the belt and your back. If you can’t, it’s too tight!
Factors Affecting The Tightness Of Lifting Belts
When looking at the factors that affect the tightness of weightlifting belts, there are a number of aspects to consider.
Firstly, the exact same weightlifting belt can offer two very different levels of tightness to two different people. A large-sized belt on a small-framed person might not be able to achieve the desired fit, even in its tightest setting, and vice versa.
Depending on the style of weightlifting belt you're wearing, it will provide a varying level of tightness too. In general, lever or prong lifting belts are often larger, both in thickness and width, compared to a Velcro-style weight belt. These weightlifting belts usually offer the tightest fit and are also the most rigid.
Similarly, an elasticated weightlifting belt is unlikely to provide the same level of tightness compared to a non-elasticated or leather belt. To achieve an increased intra-abdominal pressure, you ideally want a weightlifting belt that offers the most level of resistance to brace against.
Aside from the material of the belt, another factor to consider is the actual type of fastener used. While a Velcro-style weight belt might not offer the same level of resistance compared to a leather belt, the Velcro straps allow for a customized and tailored fit.
On the other hand, the lever-style or prong-style weightlifting belts can only tighten in the increments of the holes within the belt. When comparing lever belts with prong belts, lever belts are significantly easier to tighten and loosen, making them a popular choice.
However, both provide the same level of tightness, and neither is particularly better than the other.
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How To Know If Your Belt Is Too Tight? (+ How To Fix It)
When it comes to the tightness of a weightlifting belt, I regularly see many people wearing their belts far too tight. They take a deep breath, expanding their chest while pulling in their abdomen.
Then, they fasten the belt as tight as possible. While a snug-fitting belt is certainly good to have, a belt that is too tight will be detrimental to your lift.
As mentioned earlier, you want to still be able to breathe in about 90% of your usual breath. If you're not able to breathe sufficiently, you're not going to be able to achieve the necessary strength in your brace.
As a result, your intra-abdominal pressure won't be as optimal, and your 1rep max lift won't be achievable. Additionally, a belt worn too tight will also restrict your range of motion. This means you're not going to be able to sit back enough in your deadlift or drop down low enough in your squat.
Why is that a problem? An impaired range of motion negatively impacts your potential muscle gains and can lead to muscle imbalance.
According to a 2020 study published in SAGE Journals, weightlifters who performed exercises with a full range of motion increased strength and muscle size compared to those who performed exercises with a partial range of motion, even when their loads were 25% lighter. If you find yourself desperately needing to loosen your belt after your workout, it's probably too tight.
The best way to fix your belt tightness is to perform the simple 'finger test' I mentioned earlier. Position the belt where you'd like it to be. Stand in a neutral stance without sucking in your gut or taking a large breath in.
If you're using a lever or prong-style weightlifting belt, find the setting that just fits - without feeling snug. Then, tighten the belt to just one setting tighter than what it's currently on.
You should be able to slide your index finger in between your abdomen and the belt. If you can fit more than 1 finger, tighten the belt once more. If you can't fit even just one finger, the belt is too tight, and you need to loosen it slightly.
Related Article - What Size Lifting Belt Do I Need?
Frequently Asked Lifting Belt Fit Questions
Can a tight belt cause back pain?
It shouldn’t. A weightlifting belt is supposed to help your ability to lift, not cause pain. If you’re experiencing back pain while wearing your weightlifting belt, it’s possible that you’re not wearing it correctly.
Additionally, using a lifting belt too often can cause your core muscles to weaken over time. This could cause back pain in the long run.
Is deadlifting without a belt bad?
No, it’s not. In fact, you should start deadlifting without using a weightlifting belt. Once you have perfected your form and have built a good foundation of strength, then you can think about using a lifting belt.
When you start to reach between 1-1.5 times your body weight, you can start incorporating the use of a weightlifting belt in your workout.
Do lifting belts make your waist smaller?
No, they don’t. Weightlifting belts can sometimes temporarily cause a reduced appearance in waist size. Usually, this is only while you’re wearing the belt and for a short time thereafter.
Although weightlifting belts appear similar to corsets, they are not the same thing. In order to obtain a smaller waist, you should follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
That wraps up this informative article on how tight you should be wearing a weightlifting belt.
Now that you know how tight it should be for various exercises, what factors can affect the tightness, and how to know if your belt is too tight - you can continue to lift safely and achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!
Last Updated on June 28, 2022
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