Weightlifting Belts: A Guide to Choosing and Using

Introduction

One of the first pieces of equipment a trainee will want to consider is a weightlifting belt.  I recently bought a new one (more on that later), so I thought this would be a good time to write about this topic.

The “Weaken Your Abs” Myth:

Some believe wearing a belt weakens your abdominal muscles.  This is not true–a belt gives your abs something to push against, so they are very much involved in a belted lift.  I would, however, advise you to only wear a belt during: squats, deadlifts, and military/overhead press.  Putting one on as soon as you walk in the gym is counterproductive.

Let me add something else here: I would also advise you to train “beltless” for your first few months.  Just work on your form and start building your foundation before using any equipment.  After that you may want to consider using one (more on how to use it later).

Why Use a Belt?

As I’ve mentioned, wearing a weightlifting belt while training gives your abs something to push against, which raises your intra-abdominal pressure during the lift.  This increased pressure adds stiffness to your trunk and gives you more stability.1 There’s also some evidence to suggest a belt can reduce compression on your spine when used properly (when you inhale in order to push your abs against it).2

Here’s the bottom line: most people find they can lift more with a belt than without.  All things being equal, pushing or pulling more weight will accelerate your gains in size and strength.

There are two more benefits I’ll mention before moving on:

Awareness:  having a belt on may help you be more aware of your posture and body positioning while training.  This is kind of hard to explain, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you experience it–you simply have a better “feel” for your stance, position, etc.

Back Warmth: I like to wear a lose belt even during my warm-up sets for the squat and deadlift.  It helps get my back warmed up (and keeps it that way).

Types of Belts and Buckles

Width

Weightlifting-Belt1
Not the style I recommend.

Start training in a typical gym and chances are you’ll see a belt that looks something like this: wide in the back and narrow in the front.  This is a very common style, but it’s not what I would recommend if you are wanting to get the maximum benefit.  I would encourage you to invest your money in a powerlifting style belt–one that is a uniform 4-inch width all the way around (you’ll see pictures of this style below).  Remember something I said earlier: a belt gives your abs something to push against.  A powerlifting belt is perfect for this purpose.

Thickness

You’ll see two thicknesses available if you start shopping around: 13 mm and 10 mm.  The thicker (13 mm) belts are going to be stiffer and take longer to break in.  Most lifters (including yours truly) go with the thinner 10 mm belts–13 mm is overkill for the needs of most trainees.

Buckles

Now let’s talk about the most commonly available types of buckles: lever, single prong, and double prong.

Lever Belts

Lever Belt
Lever Belt

Pictured here is the first powerlifting belt I ever owned, and as you can see, it a lever belt. I bought this one almost twenty years ago and it’s still holding up nicely (the site I bought it from no longer exists).

The biggest advantage of a lever belt is the quickness with which you can tighten and loosen it.  One quick motion and you’re either ready to lift or ready to rest after your set.

The biggest disadvantage of a lever belt is the fact that you need a screwdriver to adjust it.  This may not be a big deal, but it’s something to consider.

One more thing: I’ve heard people expressing concern over the lever breaking (due to metal fatigue, etc.), but I’ve never had this problem. You could always buy a replacement if this happened.

Single-Prong Belts

Single Prong Belt
Single Prong Belt

I recently ordered this single prong belt from bestbelts.net, and so far I’m really happy with it.

The advantage of a single-prong buckle is the relative ease with which you can adjust the waist size.  Right now, for example, I’m at my “winter weight”–about ten pounds heavier than I usually am during warmer months.  I can just pull the belt a little tighter as I get leaner.

There may be times that you need to adjust the belt tightness more frequently than seasonal weight differences.  You may, for example, want to experiment with what feels right for a particular lift or even a particular day.  This is what I’m enjoying about a single prong belt.

Needless to say, the disadvantage of a prong belt is that it’s a little more difficult to tighten or loosen it (compared to a lever belt).  But so far this hasn’t been a big deal at all for me.

Double-Prong Belts

Two prongs theoretically increase stability and add to the life of the belt (since the stress is distributed over two holes).  But the extra prong makes these belts more difficult to use/adjust, and I doubt it it is worth the extra hassle for most trainees.  But if you if you just have to look like “the Wolverine” when you train . . .

HT_hugh_jackman_working_out_weight_lifting_thg_130802_16x9_992

Using a Belt

As I mentioned earlier, I would recommend you only use a belt for lifts that put compression of the spine: squats (including front squats), deadlifts, and overhead/military press.

How heavy should you go before putting it on?  There’s no hard-and-fast rule for this, and you can experiment and see what works for you.  I usually put mine on loosely even for warm-up and lighter sets on the before-mentioned exercises.  This doesn’t give any real support, but it does help get my back warmed up.  I wait and tighten it up for heavier sets.  As a general rule, for example, I tighten up my belt when squatting over 300 lb (maybe a little heavier for deadlift).

The tightness and positioning of your belt is something you’ll also need to experiment with.  I’d recommend you tighten your belt snugly, but not so much that you can’t inhale and brace hard against it with your abs.   I tend to wear mine a little lower on my waist for squats and a little higher for deadlifts (a subtle difference, but one I can feel when training).

Final Thoughts:

A solid powerlifting belt is a great investment.  It will help you lift heavier weights and should last for years (if not decades).  Hopeful this article has helped those who are thinking about buying and using one.

References:

1. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1999 Feb;14(2):79-87. Effects of abdominal belts on intraabdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles.

2. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2006 Oct 15;31(22):E833-9. Effect of a stiff lifting belt on spine compression during lifting.

Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) Training Jason Maxwell; Mike Samuels

TheDUPMethodReviewI’ve had an opportunity to check out a new program called The DUP Method (from Jason Maxwell and Mike Samuels). I’ll start this review by explaining what you get if you decide to invest in this program:

DUP Method Program Components:

#1 The DUP Main Manual

This document serves as a starting point, explaining the overall training philosophy and science behind the strategies you’ll be using.  It will give you an overview of the program as well as some different options for training frequency (anything from 2-5 days).  Once you’ve read this you’ll have a basic understanding of why this method should make you stronger.

#2 The DUP Method Nutrition Guide

Needless to say, you can’t get big and strong without a good eating plan.  This document will show you how to set up your diet/nutrition in order to maximize the benefits of your training.  You’ll be guided in calculating your daily caloric intake as well as macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbohydrates).  Be sure to look over this carefully–many trainees fail to reach their goals because they don’t put much thought or planning into their diet.

#3 The Optimal DUP Workout Log

According to the author, the ideal setup for this program is to train five days per week.  That may sound like overtraining, but you have to remember that the volume (number of sets and reps) is adjusted so you’ll be able to adequately recover.  Anyway, this workout log is convenient because you can print it out or put it on your smartphone.  Either way you could bring it to the gym with you.

#4-Day Per Week Workout Log

As the name implies, this workout is designed for those who can only train four times per week.

#5 The “Busy Man’s” Workout Log

This one is for those who can only train three times a week.

#6 DUP For Beat Up Lifters Workout Log

This is a program variation for lifters who are a little older and/or training around old injuries. Some trainees, for example, may have back issues or joint problems that require them to make some adjustments in their exercise selection, etc. This would be helpful for men (or women) in that situation who want to keep getting stronger while avoiding re-injuring themselves.

#7 DUP For Hypertrophy Workout Log

As the title implies, this program is set up for those who are primarily concerned with building muscle (vs. those who are only interested in strength/powerlifting).

#8 DUP For Fat Loss

Last but not least, these workouts are set up for those who are interested in maximizing fat loss while also benefiting from the strength aspects of the training.

Bonuses:

You’ll also get some nice bonus material if you decide to order.
BONUS #1: Bench Press Tutorial Video
BONUS #2: Squat Tutorial Video
BONUS #3: Deadlift Tutorial Video
BONUS #4: Bigger Bench Checklist
Bonus #5: Customization Guide
Bonus #6: DUP Arms Specialization

Deadlift Tutorial
Bonus Material (Deadlift Tutorial)

I think you’ll find the video tutorials especially helpful. You can watch them online or download them onto your hard drive (I’d recommend downloading them).

Additional Products (Upsells):

Here are additional program packages you can add on to the basic package. You do not have to purchase these, but you can if you are interested:

The Accelerator Package:
This includes a manual for diet, training, supplementation and complete workouts for those who want to do an all-out, 6-day per week training schedule.

The Done-for-You Package: This includes spreadsheets for all five of the workouts in the basic package.  You just put your one rep max in and it calculates it for you.  A nutrition spreadsheet is also included.

The Specialization Package: This includes specialization guides for bench press, deadlift and squat. These programs would be useful for those who really want to focus on improving one of these lifts.

REVIEW:

Have you ever noticed how many guys go to the gym and lift the exact same weight for the same number of reps week in and week out?  The reason is pretty simple: they are training like newbies.

Beginner trainees will usually get a little bit stronger every week, regardless of training methodology.  But linear progression (adding a little weight to the bar each workout) will only get you so far.  You will eventually reach a “sticking point”–a lesson I learned the hard way back in the 90’s.

This is where periodization comes in–training in a way that works with your muscular and neurological system.   Daily Undulating Periodization is a unique variation of this strategy that can be very effective.

Keep this in mind: this way of training is not like the typical bodybuilding type split you see in the magazines (and gyms).  But I think you’ll find it to be a refreshing change of pace–one that is backed by science.  One study, for example, found that the DUP method was superior to linear methods (like 5×5) for building strength in those with significant training experience.1

I believe the DUP Method can teach you how to start making progress again if you find yourself stuck in a rut of no noticeable gains.

*Intermediate to advance trainees who want to break through plateaus in their overall strength.  This includes increasing your max in the bench press, squat, and deadlift.

*Athletes who want to increase their strength in order to be more competitive in sports.

*Guys (or girls) who want be strong in addition to looking strong.

*Trainees who are willing to commit to a different style of programming than what they may be used to (especially those who have done a traditional bodybuilding split).

If any of these descriptions fit you then I think the DUP Method would be a worthwhile investment as part of your training library.  Just CLICK HERE if you’d like to order this program or learn more.  Don’t delay because the price will be going up soon. 

Reference:

1. J Strength Cond Res. 2002 May;16(2):250-5. A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength.

Deadlifting without Calluses

francodeadlifting

I’m a big fan of the deadlift.  It’s one of those foundational strength and mass builders that packs on muscle like few exercises can.  This exercise has a tendency to give me calluses on my  hands, and that used to be fine with me: I considered them a badge of honor in my younger days.

But my wife hates them, and this has changed my attitude considerably.  I started wearing training gloves (something I never did in my single days), but that didn’t seem to help very much.

That’s when I ran across this helpful tip: try gripping the bar in a slightly different way.  Grabbing it in the middle of your palm (like you are going to bench press) really doesn’t make much sense because it will pinch the skin as it pulls towards your knuckles.  Grab the bar lower in your hand (where it’s going to end up as you pull) and you’ll avoid calluses.  I tried this today and it works–I didn’t notice any reduction in grip strength and it drastically reduced the pinching/callusing.

The point of the deadlift is to build strength and muscle–not nasty, bleeding hands.  Check out the video below for a visual.