Don’t be that guy in the gym who straps on a weight Lifting belt while doing sit ups.  Lets clear up the confusion a little bit on weight lifting belts and look at why and how we should use them.

…That way we can avoid the awkward, “Do you even lift bro?” when someone spots you wearing one for bicep curls…

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The What?

Weight lifting belts can be great accessories to heavy lifts when used properly.  What a weight lifting belt does is sometimes contrary to what many people may initially think.  If you were to ask most lifters who wear a belt, “what does it do exactly?” you would probably get answers ranging from “it supports my lower back” to “it makes me look cool brah!”  While both statements may have slight validity to them

the main purpose of a weight lifting belt is to provide a wall for your abdominal muscles to press up against when performing heavier lifting movements.

The added force in a limited space means increased pressure and stability to the core and overall lift.

When searching for a proper belt to purchase, shoot for one that has a uniform width throughout the entire circumference.  While it is a tendency to think that a wider back portion will add to back stability, this is not necessarily the case and we need to allow proper room for the hips and rib cage.  A belt somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 inches in width will do just fine.

weight-lifting-belt-comparison

There also is no need to wear a belt a majority of the time.  Unless we are performing close to 90% or higher of our one rep max it is completely fine to go without one.  There is much debate in the fitness community as to when a weight lifting belt is needed.  But in my experience, by not wearing one on less intensive lifts, we are training our core to stabilize these loads without the aid of an accessory item such as a belt.  As a general rule of thumb, never wear a belt on any lift where you are sitting or laying down.  Only use one on heavy compound movements such as a squat and deadlift.  Whether you choose to wear one all the time or not I will say this; a belt will most definitely reduce the risk of injury under heavier loads, as well as increase lifting performance.