You buy your first leather powerlifting belt and you put it on.
There’s a problem.
Did you order the wrong size? Are you wearing it too tight?
It could be neither of these problems. In fact, your leather lifting belt may need time to break in. It can take weeks to months for your powerlifting belt to soften and feel comfortable. But nobody got time for that.
Here we breakdown easy ways to break in your prong or lever lifting belt. With these tips, your belt will be ready to use and only take a few days to become comfortable. First let’s talk about why your leather powerlifting belt is stiff in the first place.
What’s in Your Powerlifting Belt?
As we discuss in our weight lifting belt guide, one of the main factors to consider for your belt is material. The best lifting belts are leather but there are nylon and in a few cases neoprene types. But only leather weight lifting belts need breaking in.
The best leather lifting belts use top grain leather from the hide of either cow or buffalo. The process of leather production leads to different levels of stiffness. If you’ve ever stayed under the sun too long and received a sunburn, you’ll know how stiff your skin becomes.
Tanned leather is the main factor why your lifting belt will be stiff. Most belts contrast the stiffness with a soft suede on the inside to help with comfort. If you’re wearing your belt correctly, you will feel rigidity in your belt when you first put it on.
Thickness of Your Belt
Any weightlifting belt will have a thickness ranging from 4mm to 13mm. The thicker the belt, the stiffer it will feel. In general, a 13mm belt is perfect for elite powerlifters who will gain the most from such a thickness.
Any other lifter will do well with a 10mm belt. At this level of thickness and leather material, your belt will feel like rock. Try to bend your belt with your hands and it will give you an idea of how much pressure it can handle.
But not everything is bad about this thickness. Once you’ve broken in your belt the thickness will provide stability and bracing power. With a softer belt and good level of thickness you’ll be able to lift more with each wear.
Structure of Your Powerlifting Belt
Most good weight lifting belts have one piece of leather with uniform width. However, some cheaper quality belts have multiple pieces of leather put together. In addition, these belts will have different materials put together to achieve thickness.
The problem with these layers is the resulting stiffness. These belts tend to be rigid. Sometimes, these types of belts will be stiffer than the genuine leather counterparts. Make sure you get yourself a high-quality leather lifting belt that will last and work.
How to Break In Your Lifting Belt
Knowing why your powerlifting belt is stiff will better help us determine ways to break it in. So, let's get into how to soften your weightlifting belt and break it in.
1. Wearing Your Belt Often
The best way to break in your lifting belt is to wear it as much as possible. Think of your belt as new shoes with the perfect fit. The shoes are stiff at the beginning. But, start to feel way more comfortable after the first week, especially if you wear them every day. Similarly, try to wear your lifting belt every day.
On top of workouts, some lifters also wear their belt during regular home activities. Although this level of dedication isn’t necessary, it will certainly help. If you can’t wear your belt everyday, try to use your belt at least 4 times a week during your heavy lifts.
Now those first few lifts will be painful. Embrace the pain. Wider weight lifting belts will bruise you and cause discomfort. But every time you put on the lifting belt it will feel more comfortable. The leather will become more and more flexible as you wear your belt frequently.
2. Use Some Elbow Grease
If you can’t get to the gym and wear your belt as often as you would like you can use your hands. To mimic the wear and use of your lifting belt you can manually bend it in all directions.
Strength legend, Mark Rippetoe provides an excellent video of how to do this here.
Start off with rolling up your lifting belt in a tight spiral. Think of it as wrist training. If you have a prong belt make sure you start on the side without the buckle. The prong should be facing inwards.
For a lever belt, you should break in your belt before assembling the buckle. You can also disassemble your belt and bend it accordingly.
Besides spiralling, you can also bend one side over itself and roll it out for its full length.
All these tips involve physical manipulation of your lifting belt. Bending it. Twisting it. Stretching it. They all imitate using the belt during a workout.
3. Sweat More During Workouts
When you are using your lifting belt during your workout make sure you break a sweat. The moisture from your sweat will soften the leather and make it more flexible. You’ll notice the belt fitting better and hugging to the curves of your torso.
Let your lifting belt air dry after your sweaty workout. Don’t speed up the drying process with a hair dryer or any other heating equipment. When your leather belt dries too quickly it will cause it to crack and reduce durability. Instead, let it hang in your closet and dry naturally. You can also try to bend it in multiple directions while wet to open the pores and absorb.
You may be thinking more moisture is better, but you’d be wrong. The moisture must be warm, think of the heat from a sauna. The heat and sweat combined allow the belt to break in and soften. Don’t pour water over your belt hoping it will become flexible overnight. Light exposure to moisture and heat will gradually make your belt more pliable.
4. Heat is Your Friend
We talk about this tip briefly in the previous one. Heating up your leather lifting belt will make it more flexible. Once nicely heated, you can bend it in many ways to mimic breaking in movements.
Just like your skin, heating up the surface opens the pores of the hide. You can use this fact to stretch your leather lifting belt and make it flexible.
But, what’s the best way to heat your lifting belt?
If you live in a hot climate you can leave it outside and keep an eye on it.
You can also use a hair dryer on low heat and a safe distance. Heat up the whole belt uniformly for the best results.
My personal favourite for heating up a leather weight lifting belt is a dryer. Put your dryer on low heat and let your lifting belt spin for one cycle. I like to spritz my belt with a little warm water before putting it in the dryer.
The heat and moisture will soften your leather lifting belt right up. The spinning movement will also stretch the leather out and break it in better.
5. Grab Some Olive Oil
Olive oil is a great way to not only take care of your lifting belt but also soften it. This healthy oil is a traditional way to treat any leather product since it has so many benefits. Using olive oil once a month will also condition your belt to prevent cracking.
Step 1 Pour olive oil into a cup for easier use.
Step 2 Dip a piece of cloth into the oil and start to work in the oil into the belt.
Step 3 Once every leather part of the belt has oil, start to bend it in different directions. The bending will open up pores and allow the oil to absorb better.
Step 4 Let it sit for 45 minutes.
Step 5 Wipe off any excess oil with a clean rag.
Conditioning your belt in these steps will help soften the leather quickly. You will also notice the belt will last longer and crease less.
Breaking in your belt is an important step for any new strength trainee. As a belt breaks in, you will start to enjoy lifting with it on and progress more.
Using these tips, you’ll be on your way to a more comfortable lifting belt. If you have any other tips, let us know!