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 their more basic velcro to leather.
Which belt is best? And do you even need 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.
In other words, wearing a lifting belt can help increase your athletic performance, allowing you to lift more weight on the platform or at the gym. How much exactly is hard to say but it is not uncommon for a lifter to increase their squat or deadlift by 5-15% with the proper belt and bracing technique.
How does wearing a weightlifting belt help your lift?
A study in Clinical Biomechanics studied 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 by wearing a belt as you lift, you can increase intra-abdominal pressure. When you perform a squat or deadlift, you typically want to “brace” your core, which involves tightening up the muscles surrounding your abdomen.
Many individuals will hold their breath, expand their core (aka “stomach”) and then flex their abs. The combination of all of this increases the pressure and stiffness in your core. This is beneficial because without stiffening up your midsection, your back is liable to "fold" under the weight you're lifting and impair performance.
By wearing a belt, you increase your intra-abdominal pressure because you are bracing against the belt. The stiffness of the belt is exerting (good) pressure back towards you.
This is why when you wear a belt it feels like it's "supporting" you and the midsection feels more stable. The extra intra-abdominal pressure creates extra stiffness in your midsection, allowing you to more easily transfer the force of your leg muscles into lifting the actual bar.
Generally speaking, leather lifting belts are durable, heavy, and rigid in order to provide support during workouts.
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.
Leather weightlifting belts are also popular as the front is tapered and allows greater flexibility of positioning versus the velcro counterparts.
There are two types of leather belts that are common: weightlifting belts and powerlifting belts. There are obvious and subtle differences between both. We describe each below:
What type of lifting are leather weightlifting belts used for? 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.
Construction and Buckles: The traditional style of weightlifting leather belts are less than 10mm thick and are padded at the back.
The buckling system is similar to your normal leather belts. They are made out of strong materials such as stainless steel so they remain durable.
What type of lifting are powerlifting belts used for? As the name implies, these types of belts are best for powerlifting. The features of leather powerlifting belts make them ideal when you are squatting or deadlifting heavy weight.
Construction and Buckles: These belts, which are a minimum of 10mm thick (and a maximum of 13mm), are designed to be heavy duty, stiff and the same width all the way around. The result is more surface area to be in contact with your abs.
This becomes more relevant if you are looking to maximize the weight you lift with squats and deadlifts. Some lifters, however, prefer the contour and fit of a leather weightlifting belt.
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.
Powerlifting belts can be uncomfortable if you’re starting out and may take some time to break into.
What type of lifting are velcro weightlifting belts used for? Out of all the styles 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.
Construction: 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.
Velcro belts also face the problem of spontaneously “popping” off when too much pressure is exerted by the lifter, which might be problematic during key lifts.
They come in a wide range of designs and colours
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, it may not work. Having to loosen or take off the powerlifting belt between exercises 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 also did a poll on Facebook to see what the majority of CrossFitters and Olympic Lifters preferred and leather weightlifting belts decidedly beat velcro belts (almost 3:1). The increased support, tapered front and ease of removal were key deciding factors for the leather weightlifting belt.
This result didn't surprise us as being avid lifters, we've tried every type of belt out there. The classic leather weightlifting belt has been used for decades with good reason; it works really well.
There is one small problem; in an age of cutting costs, it has become hard to find a genuine well-crafted leather weightlifting belt... until now. We've spent the past year refining and perfecting what we believe is the perfect weightlifting belt.
Check out our newest product: The Leather Weightlifting Belt from Position USA.
 Miyamoto K, Iinuma N, Maeda M, Wada E, Shimizu K. Effects of abdominal belts on intra-abdominal pressure, intra-muscular pressure in the erector spinae muscles and myoelectrical activities of trunk muscles. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1999 Feb;14(2):79-87. doi: 10.1016/s0268-0033(98)00070-9. PMID: 10619094. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10619094
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