Weightlifting & Powerlifting Belts
No, a belt isn’t just a belt. Some are best suited for weightlifting movements (Snatch, Clean & Jerk), and others are best for powerlifting (competition standard squats, bench press, and, deadlift).
A weightlifting belt will be wider at the back, and then thin out as it comes around the front. They will have a lot more give in them than other belts, this is because when a lifter drops underneath the bar to receive the weight, the last thing they want is the feeling of an object crushing their stomach. Weightlifting belts can come in Velcro or a Prong to tighten it. They will be very lightweight, and usually around 10mm thick, with a slight padding on the thicker area of the belt. Anything thicker could be more of a hindrance than a help for a weightlifter.
A powerlifting belt will be the same width all the way around, and will be 13mm in thickness. These belts are much stiffer and can be tightened by either a Prong, or a Lever Buckle. The powerlifts are performed with less speed than the weightlifting movements, so it doesn’t need to have as much give. The powerlifting belts are the quite a bit wider than weightlifting belts.
How to use a belt?
Now, one thing I want to stress, the belt is a tool that you can help improve your performance. The actual material will not protect your spine if you don’t use the belt properly. I tell all my clients/lifters, to imagine the belt is only there for you to push your abs/oblique’s/core, against it (create intra-abdominal pressure). You’re trying to intake a lot air (I like to inhale through my nose for this particular technique), and for that air to be forced down to your belly (you might have heard them term, 'Belly Breath'). Imagine if someone was going to punch you in your stomach, and you needed to tense your core to protect yourself. Basically avoid breathing in and expanding your diaphragm, this will expose your core, and limited the amount of tension you can create.
If you rely solely on the material of the belt to prop you up, and you don’t breath into it, and flex your abs/core against it, it will not help improve your performance.
Breathing against the belt is commonly known as bracing. You can brace without a belt, and you should, otherwise injury will definitely happen at some point. If you are new to weightlifting/powerlifting, and struggle to brace, you can use a belt as a tool to learn how too. It’s easier to brace when you have something to brace against.
Starting to use a belt
Whether your snatching, squatting, benching, or, deadlifting, these lifts are a skill. If you’ve only ever performed these lifts without a belt, then adding a belt is altering your skill.
Just like any other alterations to a lift, you need to add it in over time. I would recommend using a belt for your lighter working sets to begin with, and over a few weeks, start to use it when you’re getting heavier.
For some more in-depth information on using a belt here’s a couple articles I’d recommend: