The 10 Best Lifting Belts
Choosing Your Lifting Belt
Traditional lifting belts were made out of leather -- usually several strips layered over one another, in fact -- and featured a large metal buckle with multiple adjustments made possible by pre-formed holes.
A thick, rigid belt that is not all that comfortable but which holds your body in proper posture during a power lift is a better choice than a softer belt you practically forget you are wearing.
If you have spent much time in and around gyms where people are lifting weights, you have likely seen your share of lifting belts. These are the broad, rugged bands that weightlifters often wear wrapped around the lower torso while completing squat lifts, military presses, and other exercises. Just as a support brace can help protect a person's spine and lower back when he or she is lifting heavy loads at work or at home, a lifting belt protects the body during the use of heavy weights, reducing the chance of injury and helping to maintain proper form.
Traditional lifting belts were made out of leather -- usually several strips layered over one another, in fact -- and featured a large metal buckle with multiple adjustments made possible by pre-formed holes. It is still easy to find many weightlifting belts in just this style, and for many athletes the classic approach will serve best. Leather's inherent strength and rigidity allows these belts to offer plenty of support to the wearer's core and spine, though they can be less comfortable than more flexible options made using different materials and featuring more ergonomic shapes.
Many modern lifting belts are designed to follow the natural curves and contours of the human body, with a shape that is slender above the hips, broad across the middle of the back, and that can be easily adjusted across the belly. Materials such as neoprene and nylon offer more flexibility than leather, while belts that secure using hook-and-loop closure (frequently referred to by the brand name Velcro) offer a more customizable fit. Some lifting belts feature built in layers of padding and/or are made from materials that offer excellent moisture wicking properties and breathability, both of which are ideal for wearing as you sweat your way through a workout.
All of that said a more supple, more comfortable lifting belt might not be your best choice; lifting belts are not designed to be worn for extended periods of time, and frankly their primary purpose is not comfort, but rather safety and support. A thick, rigid belt that is not all that comfortable but which holds your body in proper posture during a power lift is a better choice than a softer belt you practically forget you are wearing.
Basic Safe Weight Lifting Techniques
A weight belt is only intended for use during standing exercises such as deadlifts or squats. If you are engaged in any other form of workout, even one that uses a great deal of weight, such as a bench press, you should remove your lifting belt. These units can only create the abdominal and spinal support for which they were designed when you are on your feet, and can in fact cause injury when worn improperly. This is especially true if you are exercising in a manner that rotates or bends the torso, such as riding a bike or doing crunches.
This is especially true if you are exercising in a manner that rotates or bends the torso, such as riding a bike or doing crunches.
These belts should also be removed even for standing exercises wherein you are not nearing your maximum single repetition limit. Using a weight belt when lifting weights light enough that your body can easily support itself without assistance may hamper the development of the very muscles you are targeting. A weight belt can limit the strength development of the lower back in particular; its regular use should be offset by exercises targeting the lat and oblique muscle groups.
In short, remove the belt when you don't need it. But when you are about to complete "maximal" lifts -- a set of low repetition, heavy weight squats, jerks, or barbell rows, for example -- strap on and secure that weight belt before you ever touch a weight.
Proper leg positioning is critical for safe and effective lifting of heavy weights. It's also important that you choose proper footwear. Heavy weightlifting merits the use of shoes with soles that will not compress; eschew the air pocket-filled soles of running shoes for sneakers with solid rubber bottoms, such as Converse or even basic wrestling shoes. The air-filled soles can reduce your stability and lessen the transfer of power from your body to the lift.
Also make sure to keep your torso aligned with your legs and as upright as possible, heeding the old adage to "lift with your legs, not your back." Your head should always be upright and your chest slightly raised.
And though it should go without saying, never attempt to lift more weight than you are certain you can safely manage. It is easy to incur a sudden, serious injury when working out with heavy weights even under safe circumstances; minimize the chance of hurting yourself by keeping the weight within your range of capabilities and, whenever possible, by not working out alone. (Training with a certified instructor can give you the knowledge to exercise safely on your own -- consider investing in several sessions
Other Gear to Aid Proper Lifting
As noted above proper shoes are important for safe and proper weight lifting. That topic brings up little debate in the exercise community. What you should have on your hands, however, is another story entirely. Many "purists" will say that wearing gloves while exercising is a bad idea, as they can reduce the control you have over the weights. Gloves also reduce the buildup of callous that will provide natural grip and protection over time. Ultimately, it is a personal decision whether or not you choose to wear gloves while lifting.
What you should have on your hands, however, is another story entirely.
Wrist wraps are generally accepted as a smart accessory. These wraps helps support your wrists and prevent the over-extension injuries that can be caused by lifting heavy free weights. Most such wraps do not cover the palms or fingers, and thus won't inhibit development of callous. Gym chalk can aid your grip primarily by minimizing the moisture (a.k.a. sweat) on your hands while still allowing for a natural feel of metal against skin.
Also don't forget how much strain lifting heavy weights can put on your knees; as you squat beneath hundreds of pounds of weight plates, your knees are subjected to incredible amounts of pressure. Just as a lifting belt can help prevent damage to your back, knee braces can reduce the risk of injuring these critical joints. Consider a compression-style sleeve or an actual solid brace that prevents certain articulations of the knee.