You’ve seen powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters wrap a belt around their waists before attempting a big squat or a clean and jerk, and you’ve probably wondered if they’re worth the investment for a non-competitor like yourself.

They are.

When used correctly, and at the right times, a lifting belt can help you better brace before a big lift, creating a safer environment for your back. But before you start blowing cash on some new gear (belts can cost upwards of $150), refer to our guide on how to select a quality belt and learn how to properly put it to use.

Belt breakdown

When: Before any compound lift that’s more than 75% of your one-rep max.

Why: Wearing a belt allows you to brace your abs harder. This intensified bracing creates added support for your lower back, helping keep you neutral, which is key for moving big weight and keeping you injury-free.

How: Wrap the belt tightly around your waist. Exhale deeply into your belly and push against the belt. Hold that position for the duration of the lift.

Material: Choose an American-made leather or suede belt—they’re more durable than the cheaper nylon type. It may cost you more upfront, but if you take care of it, it’ll be the first and last belt you’ll ever have to buy.

Lever vs. buckle: A lever belt—which snaps into place as opposed to a buckled belt—is easier to get on and off, but adjusting it to fit requires a few minutes and a screwdriver. Also, cheaply made levers will sometimes pop off mid-lift, which can lead to injury. Buckled belts are easier to adjust and harder to break, but be warned, you will need to break it in. To loosen it up, continuously roll it and unroll it for 30 to 40 minutes.

Make: There are two types of weightlifting belts: training and power belts. Popular among Olympic weightlifters, training belts are thinner in the front so they don’t interfere with the lift. Power belts, on the other hand, are usually three inches thick all around. For general lifting, stick with the power belt, as it will give you more surface area to brace against.

Know the difference

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Courtesy Images

Courtesy Images

Use a training belt (top) for Olympic-style lifting, and a power belt (bottom) for powerlifting.