Walk into any gym these days, be it a CrossFit box, Olympic Lifting gym, or even your standard Gold’s Gym, and you’ll see a variety of different weightlifting belts being used. For those new to lifting, you might wonder if you should be using a belt at all, while others who have been lifting for a few years now might be considering switching from velcro to leather.
Which belt is best? And do you even need a belt?
Should You Wear a Belt?
Let’s start off with whether or not you should be wearing a belt when you lift, and debunk some of the common myths that are out there about using belts.
Some may think it’s more “manly” to not have to use a belt when they lift heavy, or that it means they are more athletically advanced than people who use belts; while others think the usage of belts allows the lifter to be “lazy” and not have to properly brace their core on their own. There’s also the myth that using a belt will “turn off your abs” as you lift.
However, when paired with good mobility, core strength and lifting mechanics, lifting belts can help provide a stronger, more stable lifting position for athletes. A study was conducted by Miyamoto, et al. to evaluate the effects of abdominal belts on lifting performance, muscle activation, intra-abdominal pressure and intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles.
The results showed that “Intra-muscular pressure of the erector spinae muscles increased significantly by wearing the abdominal belt during Valsalva maneuvers and during maximum isometric lifting exertions.” 
Essentially what this study is saying is that you can create a safer environment for the spine through better core stabilization by increasing the pressure in the abdomen. Better spine and better core can potentially help you lift heavier weights.
Just remember; the belt should never be a crutch for poor positioning.
Weightlifting Leather Belts
The traditional style of weightlifting leather belts are less than 10mm thick and are padded at the back. Since they are wider in the back and tapered in the front compared to powerlifting leather belts, these types of belts are ideal for Olympic lifting, as a wider front can interfere with the bar path during lifts. Leather is becoming increasingly popular in both Olympic lifting and CrossFit when athletes are working on strictly strength components, as there’s no risk of the belt “popping off” under heavy load and pressure, as can happen with unsecured velcro belts.
Powerlifting Leather Belts
The features of leather belts make them ideal when you are squatting or deadlifting heavy weight. These belts, which are a minimum of 10mm thick, are designed to be heavy duty, stiff and the same width all the way around, which gives more surface area for your abs to be in contact with. Athletes who use a leather belt over a velcro one prefer the fact that leather belts come with a buckle, so you can pull the belt as tight as you want without the fear of it coming undone mid-lift. The tighter the belt, the more internal pressure build up. More pressure equals more stability, which can potentially mean more weight lifted.
Out of all the style of belts, the velcro belt is by far the easiest and fastest belt to get on and off. This makes them very attractive to CrossFitters, who may have to wear a belt during the strength portion of a MetCon but have to quickly loosen or take off the belt during the gymnastics or endurance portion of the same MetCon workout. These types of belts are also great for stone loading and Olympic lifts when you already have pretty decent core strength and just want that little bit of added support.
However, compared to leather belts, velcro belts fall short in terms of providing internal pressure and stability of the core. The fact that velcro belts are often worn by professional strongmen underneath their regular leather belts says something about the lack of support they provide on their own.
Which Should You Wear?
When it comes to Leather versus Velcro, what type of sport you are doing and the trade off between mobility/comfort and stability/internal pressure can be the deciding factors on which type of belt you choose to wear. A thick powerlifting belt may help you PR your front squat, but if you are doing a workout that calls for heavy front squats from the floor mixed with 400m sprints, having to loosen or take off the powerlifting belt between the movements may annoy an athlete and slow down their workout time. Of course, you can choose to wear the thick belt while you are sprinting, but I think most athletes will find that quite uncomfortable.
We did a poll on Facebook to see what the majority of CrossFitters and Olympic Lifters preferred: Traditional Weightlifting Leather or Velcro. We asked folks to “thumbs up” if they preferred Leather and to “heart it” if they preferred Velcro. If we based the poll solely on likes versus hearts, Leather won by a landslide with 207 votes to Velcro’s 59.
Which type of belt do you prefer?
 Miyamoto, K., Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Feb 1999, Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10619094