Woman tightening the Hybrid Lifting Belt.

Deep dive into lifting belts

Rodney Corn·13 min read·Guides

Lifting belts have been shown to have scientific validity. They can provide beneficial support to the trunk, and when used properly, can promote a better lifting experience. Learn what belt(s) is right for you and how to use the belt(s) properly.

Why Use a Lifting Belt?

A lifting belt can enhance your lifting experience by augmenting your body's natural abilities to support itself and can be a feedback tool to help cue proper bracing technique. While a belt does not make you stronger it can, when correctly used, support your training and help you become stronger.

How a Lifting Belt Works

It's all about stabilizing your trunk with your belt on. Proper trunk stabilization, with or without a belt, actually has two components to it – abdominal hollowing and bracing. Both have been shown to be effective for enhancing the stabilizing mechanism of the trunk and spine (2,11,15,18,19,22).

Researchers have suggested that they may work together on a continuum to create optimal trunk stability (9,18). Hollowing provides deep spinal stability at each of vertebrae in the low back and lower thoracic spine. Bracing provides overall trunk stability by stabilizing the ribs and pelvis on the spine (9,22). Collectively, they provide a stable spine and trunk to accommodate the increase in progressive force and load demands of lifting.

Proper trunk stabilization is quite possibly the most important reason a belt can benefit you. When performed correctly, abdominal hollowing and bracing produce what is termed intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). This is simply pressure in your abdominal cavity that your body naturally uses to create 'stiffness' and support for the spine. The use of a belt has been shown to increase this abdominal pressure during various lifts (4,10,13,14).

Pressure in the abdominal cavity is produced through the collective activation of the trunk muscles and enhanced by holding your breath. Muscles involved in abdominal hollowing include, the diaphragm, tranverse abdominis (TA – the deepest abdominal muscle, which circles the trunk like an internal weight belt), and the pelvic floor muscles.

These muscles form an enclosed 'cylinder-like' container within the trunk. Think of a soda can. On top is the diaphragm acting as the lid, the transverse abdominis is the wall or sides, and the pelvic floor is the bottom of the container.

When you take a deep diaphragmatic breath, hold it, and activate the TA and pelvic floor, you trap air and pressure inside, which increases the pressure in this abdominal container. This is intra-abdominal pressure, or IAP (6).

Bracing involves the activation of the musculature that attaches the ribs to the pelvis on top of the hollowing muscles. These muscles include the obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae muscles, and lats. When activated correctly, they provide an added layer of support.

When you wear a belt, it acts as another layer of added support, further stiffening the trunk, increasing the IAP and supporting the spine.

Because the abdominal pressure is trapped within this container and cannot get out the top or bottom, it pushes horizontally (outward) against the spine. This in turn, creates a vertical lift that is able to reduce compressive forces on the discs/spine. The spine now has enhanced stability (4,10,12,13,14,16).

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Lifting belts are not just for your biggest lifts but can cue your training and support your overall strength journey.
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A couple of points of interest with IAP:

  • Squats and deadlifts have been shown to have the highest IAP in lifting (1)

  • IAP positively influences hip extension, and "a sufficient increase in IAP directly leads to an enhancement of hip extension" (20,21).

Lifting Belts Improve Bar Path and Speed

Research has shown that using a lifting belt positively influenced the bar path and velocity of motion during 90% of 1RM barbell squats (23). This means the bar was able to move a greater distance, potentially providing a better mechanical advantage and do so with a faster speed.

It has also been shown that the use of a lifting belt produced faster self-selected repetition speeds (8), especially in the later repetitions of a set of 8 reps (13). This was also related to higher IAP and increased EMG of the vastus lateralis (quad) and biceps femoris (hamstring) muscles (13).

Intra-Muscular Pressure (IMP)

IMP is the stiffness a muscle is able to create in response to force or pressure placed upon it. Think of "action-reaction". Research has shown that using a belt was able to increase IMP in the erector spinae muscles, which could provide enhanced stabilization of the spine and trunk during maximal lifting exertions (17).


An underestimated and overlooked aspect of using a belt is the positive perception it can provide you. In a study by Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the foremost spinal stability researchers in the world, it was shown that while lifting belts did enhance IAP, those wearing a belt also reported they perceived or felt like they had improved trunk stability (16).

Another study looking at lifting belts in recreational weightlifters found that lifters had a significantly lower rate of perceived exertion (RPE) when wearing a belt which was associated with shorter deadlift completion times or faster movement (8).

Various Lifting Belts

It's important to know that there are different types of belts that can be used for lifting. Lifting belts can be made of different materials, thicknesses and widths, and fastening mechanisms.


The most common materials are leather and synthetic materials such as ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA. Depending on thickness, leather belts will generally provide a more sturdy and supportive structure for a belt. EVA belts also provide high levels of support and are generally more flexible.

Depending on what type of lifting you are doing, leather is not necessarily better. It will be about comfort, fit, and how well you know how to use the belt, which we will discuss shortly.

Thicknesses and Widths

The width of a belt refers to how wide the belt is across your low back (between the top of your tailbone and lower ribs). This commonly ranges between 9-13 cm or 3.5-5 inches with 10-12 cm or 3.75-4.75 inches. Wider does not mean better!

The thickness of a belt, or sometimes referred to as the height, is how thick/tall the belt is when fully opened and placed flat on a surface and dependent on how many layers of material are used. This commonly ranges between 8-13 mm or 0.3-0.5 inches. Thicker can be better depending on your body type, range of motion, and lifting preference, especially in heavier Powerlifting lifts.

If choosing a wider belt is your preference, it can be extremely beneficial to make sure the belt tapers down and becomes narrower in the front to help avoid impingement in the hips. This will optimize your ability to flex your hips helping your performance in the squat, deadlift, snatch, clean, and/or versions of bent over rows, etc.

Fastening Mechanisms

This is just a fancy name for how the belt buckles. There are hook and loop buckles, which involves looping the belt through and around a buckle then pulling the belt to tighten and secure. There are also single- and double-pronged buckles where the prong(s) fasten into a hole(s) on the belt. Double-pronged fasteners tend to be more secure.

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Depending how and what you train: choose a belt that supports your way of training.

Finding the Right Lifting Belt for You

The right belt will be based on the type of training you enjoy and your desired look and feel.

Leather belts are a bit firmer; synthetic belts, like our EVA belt, are more flexible and give with your body's movement while still providing good stability.

Next, assess what type of training you prefer or engage in and the loads you most often use – Powerlifting dominant, Olympic Weightlifting dominant, Crossfit, Bodybuilding, or just all-around strength training, with low to moderate loads, moderate to heavy loads, mostly heavy loads, or a wide variety of loads.

If you are a serious lifter mainly using heavy loads, especially squats and deadlifts, and want a leather belt, the Eleiko Powerlifting belt approved by the IPF may be the right choice for you.

If you're into Olympic Weightlifting, Crossfit, and even Bodybuilding using moderate to heavy loads and like the look and feel of leather, choose one of the leather Weightlifting belts. If you want a more flexible belt, choose one of the EVA lifting belts.

Many people will often have a couple of different belts. Those who prefer leather may choose the Powerlifting belt for more maximal lifts and a weightlifting belt for more moderate ones. Others may choose to have a leather and an EVA belt so they have a firm and flexible belt depending on the lifting and loads they use.

Shop Powerlifting Belts

How to Use a Lifting Belt

Perhaps more important than finding the perfect belt is to know how to use the belt you have. Wearing a belt and making it work for you involves much more than putting it on and buckling it up. Questions that should be addressed include how tight a belt should be fastened, where a belt should be placed on your trunk, and how you make a belt work for you.

How Tight Should the Belt Be?

Contrary to what is often seen, a lifting belt shouldn't be cinched up as tight as possible around your waist. This method can be very restrictive for breathing and may interfere with your body's ability to create adequate abdominal pressure.

Instead, the belt should be tight enough so it doesn't sag or slide on your trunk, allowing you to take a fairly deep breath. A good way to do this is to take a small breath (inhale) before you tighten your belt. This will be important to make it work properly for you.

Where Should a Belt be Placed on Your Trunk?

Where you decide to pace the belt will be more of a personal preference based on body type and the lift(s) you are performing than any scientifically validated exact spot on your trunk. Most people wear a lifting belt about a finger-width above the hip bones so the buckle covers the navel. This position allows the belt to be in good contact with both the front and back of your trunk and keeps the belt from hindering your hip and trunk flexion during most lifts.

Some lifters choose to wear the belt a little higher, above the navel to allow more freedom in lifts requiring flexion of the trunk and/or hips, such as the squat and deadlift. This position is not typically recommended, but it's not "wrong". Learning how to breathe correctly with the belt in this position will be vital as it can restrict the rib cage from moving and can be uncomfortable on the ribs.

If you feel pinching or discomfort in the hip bones on your sides or front of your body, it may be too low. If you feel pinching or discomfort on your ribs, it may be too high. If you cannot adjust the belt either up or down on your trunk, it may be too wide of a belt for you. This is why the placement of the belt will be a matter of feel and preference.

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Leather or synthetic lifting belts is a matter of personal preference.

How Do You Make a Belt Work for You?

A lifting belt is to be used as an added layer of support. It should work with your trunk muscles, not instead of them. Here is some guidance on how to make a belt work for you.

Performing a good trunk activation strategy is important for enhanced trunk stability. However, it is a skill much like lifting and needs to be practised in order to perform it correctly, as well as coach others to perform it correctly. Here is a simple process to help you do both:


Step 1: put your belt on loosely and find a neutral spine

  • Lumbar – place hands on hips so fingers are on the front of your pelvis and thumbs at the back; try to lift your tailbone up so your fingers lower in front and thumbs raise in the back; now do the opposite and tuck your tailbone under; now position yourself in between the two extremes

  • Thoracic – slouch your shoulders all the way, then stick your chest out and pull your shoulders back as far; now position yourself in between the two extremes

  • Cervical – flex your neck all the way; then extend your neck all the way; now place it in between the two extremes

Step 2: Exhale; pretend you're trying to stop yourself from urinating and slightly draw- in your lower abs (below your navel); keep breathing normal

Step 3: Maintain that drawn-in position and now inhale with a small diaphragmatic breath, hold, and tighten your belt to where it feels snug against your trunk, but not restrictive.


Step 4: when you're ready to perform a lift, take a deep diaphragmatic breath – filling your trunk against the belt – hold your breath and tighten, or brace your trunk like you're about to take a punch in the stomach, without moving your trunk. Your ribs should not drop down like you're doing a crunch.

What Exercises Require a Lifting Belt?

In general, the belt can be of assistance to you in any ground/standing-based lift, such as squatting, deadlifting, Olympic lifts, overhead lifting, curls, rows, etc.

As a helpful tip, wearing your belt in a tightened position during your whole training session is unnecessary. When performing a lift or set that does not require your belt, removing it can be a good idea. This avoids having your belt hanging loosely around your trunk, where it may interfere with proper movement or get caught on something that may lead to/cause an unnecessary injury.

When do I start to use a Lifting Belt?

Lifting belts are able to provide beneficial assistance to lifters. Also, since lifting belts are worn on the body, they can provide feedback to the nervous system. For many people, this could be helpful for them to achieve better postural alignment. In turn, this can help promote better technique and better muscle activation, as seen in research with shoulder braces (3,5).

In reality, a lifting belt can be used whenever it's needed. You determine when it's needed.

Eleiko Lifting Belts

With more than 60 years of experience in strength, we have developed a wide range of lifting belts for anyone who wants to improve their performance in sports or for life. Our belts are co-developed with some of the strongest athletes in the world, with user-friendly features and long-lasting materials to achieve the ultimate lifting experience.

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Eleiko's belts are co-developed with some of the strongest athletes in the world.


Lifting belts have been shown to have scientific validity. They can provide beneficial support to the trunk and, when appropriately used, can promote a better lifting experience. Lifters should understand what belt(s) is right for them and how to use the belt(s) properly. This requires practice and should not be taken lightly.

A lifting belt should not be used as a replacement for strengthening the trunk muscles. Beginning lifters should never assume that a belt will make them stronger and capable of lifting heavy loads. A proper training and programming strategy should always be used to progressively increase strength. A lifting belt is an assistive piece of training gear. Train smarter so you can train harder and become a stronger version of yourself.


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