Should You Use A Weight Belt For Squats Even If You're Not A Competitive Weightlifter?

When you watch weightlifting competitions, you'll notice that most entrants are wearing weight belts. This isn't simply a style choice—weight belts can help lifters squat with significantly heavier weights. Competitors looking for an edge will use them on any lift that benefits from tensing the abdominal muscles. Squats are one of these lifts.

What if you're not a competitive lifter? Even if you're not seeking to break any records, using a weight belt when you squat can help protect you from injury. If you've seen other lifters using belts and wondered what the benefits are, read on to find out how they work and what you should look for in the perfect weight belt.

How Does a Weight Belt Help You Lift Heavier Weights?

When you perform a squat, regardless of whether you're wearing a weight belt, it's important to tense your abdominal muscles. Tensing your abdominal muscles during a squat helps to transmit power from your legs, allowing you to successfully support the weight of the heavy barbell you're lifting.

Weight belts work by allowing your abdominal muscles to exert more force—they're extremely rigid and give your abdominal muscles something to push against during the lift. As a result, you're able to generate more intra-abdominal pressure when you lift with a belt compared to when you lift without one. The increase in intra-abdominal pressure allows you to lift heavier weights during your squat. When you lift heavier weights, you're able to make faster gains in strength. In this way, weight belts are useful even for people who aren't competing.

Does a Weight Belt Help Protect You From Injury?

Increasing the amount of intra-abdominal pressure you generate during a squat has an important additional benefit: It helps to protect your spine. Tensing your abs and creating a stable core helps to offload more weight onto your abdominal muscles rather than your lower back.

When you're squatting with extremely heavy weights, it's important to protect your spine. If your spine bears too much of the weight, it can cause one or more of your intervertebral discs to herniate. Unfortunately, herniated discs are rather common among weightlifters, and the pain from a herniated disc can be debilitating. Using a weight belt every time you squat helps to reduce your risk of sustaining a back injury while you're working out.

What Should You Look for in a Weight Belt?

Weight belts should be thick, rigid, and made of leather. Leather weight belts are stiffer than ones made of nylon, which means that they provide more resistance to your abdominal muscles when you're squatting. This helps you generate the maximum amount of intra-abdominal pressure.

You should avoid weight belts that fasten using a hook-and-loop strip since the force of your abdominal muscles can cause these types of fasteners to become undone. Choose a weight belt that fastens using a prong and a buckle (like a traditional belt) since this a much stronger method of fastening the belt.

Overall, weight belts can help you squat using heavier weights while also protecting your lower back from accidental injury, so it's a good idea to use one when you're working out. Gyms that cater to clients who lift using free weights often have weight belts available for gym members, but it's usually better to order a custom weight belt for your own personal use. Old leather weight belts can become frayed from repeated use, which hampers their ability to provide adequate resistance to your abdominal muscles. Custom weight belts can be sized to your physique, which allows you to push the benefits of using a weight belt even further.