How Tight Should A Weightlifting Belt Be: One Quick and Easy Test
When I got my first weight lifting belt I remember how excited I was.
I couldn’t wait to get it on and start using it in my regular workouts.
There was only one problem: how tight should a weightlifting belt be?
Weight lifting belts don’t come with a user manual. You’re expected to figure it out. After I figured out how to put on my belt, I had a challenge on how it should feel when locked.
My first workout I had the belt on too tight. My lifts suffered and I had trouble breathing. I decided to lay it back a little in my next session but now my lifting belt was too loose. I didn’t feel the right amount of bracing. Again, my lifts suffered.
So how tight should a weightlifting belt be? You should be able to run your finger across its length. Try squeezing one finger between the belt and your torso and move it across your abdomen. You should be able to breathe and brace properly without losing a step.
The first thing I did was check I didn’t get my size wrong. But, it turns out I measured and ordered correctly. Once you have the correct size, check that your belt is not fastened too tight. I'll explain the right amount of pressure you need to properly lift with your belt below.
How Tight Should A Weightlifting Belt Be?
Even if you have the perfect form in your lifting exercises, wearing a belt wrong will be dangerous. To understand why tightness is so important, we look at the purpose of a weightlifting belt.
If you’re a beginner trainee, you’re starting to master the Valsalva technique of breathing. An example of this is when you squat. At the top of the movement, you breathe in and brace your whole torso. Think of it as getting ready to take a punch in the abs.
You hold this brace and you breathe till you get to the bottom of the squat. As you start to move up in the lift, you can breathe out.
This sequence of steps involves increasing your intra-abdominal pressure by bracing. The purpose is to protect your all important spine. Carrying a heavy weight overhead risks injuring the lower back due to the force. But the bracing technique prevents this injury from happening.
A weightlifting belt helps further increase IAP and bracing power. Hence, you can lift more with a belt on. The key takeaway is we are protecting ourselves when bracing correctly. If your belt is not at the perfect tightness, you're creating a dangerous situation for your back.
What are some physical cues you should look for if the belt is too tight or not tight enough? Let’s talk about the two situations separately.
Is Your Belt Not Tight Enough?
This situation is rare since most lifters can feel it right away.
If your belt is loose on you it will move up and down your torso easily. In addition, when you brace during a lift, you don’t feel the belt pushing back.
This situation can give lifters unrealistic expectations during movements. Imagine, as you get ready for your squat you figure you can lift more because of the belt. So you add some weight and go for a new PR.
With a loose belt, your bracing power is only slightly more than without the belt. But now you’re lifting more weight than normal. Any lifter can potentially hurt their lower back in this scenario.
How to Know if Your Belt is Too Tight?
The more common situation I see in the gym is a very tight belt.
Strength trainees do it all the time. They take a big breath in and then tighten the lifting belt as tight as it can go.
Lifters think that a tighter belt means more bracing power. Although this statement is somewhat true, tightness follows the law of diminishing returns. That is, as you get tighter and tighter, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.
At a certain level of tightness, lifters can’t breathe in as much air as normal because the belt restricts them. This in turn reduces their bracing power and IAP.
These lifters also experience a decrease in range of motion. You’re not as mobile or flexible with a restricting lifting belt. Improper range of motion can lead to severe injuries and muscle imbalances.
Lastly, if you’re dealing with a Velcro or lever lifting belt, over tightening may cause the belt to fail. Velcro lifting belts can unfasten in high levels of bracing pressure. Further, if your lever buckle belt is years old, the chances it pops under the pressure is much higher.
The Finger Test
So we know if your lifting belt is too tight or too loose, but what is the ideal tightness?
An ideal answer would be anything that allows you to be comfortable and safe while lifting. But the problem with this response is it differs for everyone.
Well, there is a simple test you can use to help you find the optimal level of tightness. You’ll be using your instincts and certain physical cues I provide. During this test, you should only have two priorities: stability and comfort.
Step 1 – Mimic Workout Conditions
If you’re sitting at home to do this test, try to duplicate the gym conditions as much as you can. Wear your workout shirt or hoodie. Do this test after a meal or on an empty stomach as you were about to go to the gym.
Step 2 – Relax Your Breathing
Remember that your lifting belt will be flexible. Even the stiffest leather powerlifting belts are somewhat flexible. When gauging how tight your lifting belt should be you want to relax your abs. No tucking in the gut. And don’t brace as you would for a lift.
Step 3 – Put Your Lifting Belt On
Now you can put your weightlifting belt on your torso and tighten. Don’t breathe in or tuck in your stomach. Breathe naturally and tighten your belt until it feels good.
Step 4 – Do the Finger Test
This step is critical to finding your perfect level of tightness for the lifting belt. If you can place one of your fingers in between the belt and abdomen, it's perfect. Do this finger test across the length of the lifting belt. You can also breathe in and brace as if you were about to squat. If you finger presses against your belt while bracing then you hit the sweet spot in tightness.
Step 5 – Mark This Level On Your Belt With a Pen or Marker
If you’re using a prong belt you can mark the hole which indicates your ideal level of tightness. For lever buckle belts and Velcro belts , you can use a marker at the length of belt you pulled through the buckle.
If this test still causes your lifting belt to be too tight, please check out our sizing guide. The weightlifting belt may also need some time to break in, especially if it's leather. You can use our short guide to break in leather weightlifting belts quicker.
There are some fitness and strength athletes who think you can’t gain results without pain. But don’t confuse pain with discomfort. Understanding the importance of how tight your weightlifting belt should be will help you lift more.
You can ask anyone who has ever hurt themselves while lifting how important form and comfort is.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!