A Beginner's Guide to Buying a Weightlifting Belt

If you’re serious about lifting barbells, sooner or later you’re probably going to want a belt. Belts don’t prevent injury as people sometimes assume, but they do help you to lift more weight. This helps you to squat and deadlift heavier—thus get stronger—so they’re standard equipment for a lot of strong people.

We have a guide here to understanding what belts are for, how they work, and who needs them. But once you get the basic idea, you’ll probably still have questions. So let’s dig in.

When should you buy a weightlifting belt?

Every coach has their own opinion on when is the right time for a new trainee to buy a belt. Some might want to see you lift a certain weight first, or demonstrate a certain amount of skill at the big lifts. But the truth is, there’s no agreed-upon dividing line between people who need a belt and people who don’t. A belt is a tool that anybody can use, at any point in their lifting career. It doesn’t make up for not knowing how to brace, so it makes sense to learn how to brace first. But a belt can help you learn how to brace, since you can feel your belly pushing against the belt when you’re doing it right.

In my opinion, if you’re wondering whether you should get a belt, it’s probably time to get a belt. A lot of the good ones need to be ordered online, and some have a lead time of several weeks, so you might not actually get the belt until a month or two after you decide you’re ready—in other words, you may want to order your belt sooner rather than later.

Which kind of weightlifting belt should you get?

If you search for “weightlifting belt” online, you’ll get tons of results, many of them marketed to gym goers who want to look cool but who don’t really understand what a belt is for. Let me cut through the marketing to say: There are only a few kinds of belts that strength sport athletes commonly wear.

A velcro belt

First, there’s the 4-inch velcro belt. I’m starting here because it’s a good all-purpose belt, cheaper than the leather ones we’re about to talk about, and it’s arguably easier to adjust and wear, too. I have one from 2Pood, which is a popular brand among Olympic weightlifters and Crossfitters. These belts are 4 inches wide, they close with a velcro strap, and they have a locking mechanism around the strap so that it won’t pop open even if the velcro fails mid-lift. The velcro will wear out over time, although mine has put up with more than three years of frequent use and it’s still going strong.

Velcro belts will generally run you between $30 and $70, depending on the brand and any special features, like custom colors.

A leather single-prong belt

Next are leather belts that buckle like, well, a traditional belt. These look like a comically large version of a regular belt: either 3 or 4 inches wide, and made of a thick leather that is usually either 10 or 13 millimeters. The buckle is enormous to match. (When I got my first belt in the mail, I laughed. I couldn’t imagine wearing it out in public. But now I just see it as a normal piece of gym equipment.)

There are double-prong belts, which look cool, but they can be really annoying to operate. Remember, you’ll be taking it off and putting it on (or loosening and tightening it) between sets. The second prong doesn’t make the belt any more secure, but it does make it fussier to fasten.

In addition to my velcro belt, I have a single-prong leather belt as well, and mine is a Pioneer cut with offset holes. This way, instead of choosing between two holes that are an inch apart, I can adjust the belt in 1/2-inch increments.

A leather lever belt

Instead of a buckle, you may prefer a lever belt. Instead of placing a buckle prong through the hole of your choice when you put it on, you use a screwdriver to install the lever into the appropriate hole in the belt. Then you simply close the lever to lock it closed, and pop it open when you’re ready to take the belt off. The “pop” can be satisfying after a big lift—see this clip of Jessica Buettner for an example. (I do not have a lever belt. I am slightly jealous of people who do.)

These belts are available in the same common sizes as the good single-prong belts: 3 or 4 inches wide, 10 mm or 13 mm thick. Pioneer, the same company that makes my adjustable prong belt, also sells an adjustable lever that gives you a little bit of room to fasten the belt tighter or looser without having to take the lever off with a screwdriver. (Pioneer isn’t paying me to shill for them, I just happen to like their adjustable designs.) For an example of a non-adjustable, Inzer’s Forever lever is a popular and durable design.

Good quality leather belts, both prong and lever, cost more than velcro. $100 to $150 would be a typical price range, with the thicker belts usually being more expensive. (Again, custom colors and designs will run you a bit more.)

How to buy the right size

Your waist measurement will tell you the length of belt you should order; refer to the sizing chart on the belt company’s website to find the right size. If you’re between sizes, consider whether you’re likely to get bigger or smaller over time. For example, if you know you’ll be losing weight, you may want a belt that will still fit if you get a bit slimmer. On the other hand, it’s normal to gain muscle mass as you get stronger, and you may want to have the room to get bigger without having to buy a whole new belt.

When it comes to the width, 4 inches is standard. (The maximum width allowable in competition is usually 4 inches for powerlifting and 12 centimeters, or 4.7 inches, in weightlifting.) The advice I got when I was a beginner is that almost everybody likes a 4-inch belt for squatting, but that some people prefer a 3-inch belt for deadlifts. I ended up getting mine in a 3-inch size, and it fits well for both lifts. Some people prefer a 4-inch belt for both lifts, but wear it higher on their waist for deadlifts. If you’re not sure, see if you can borrow a belt to try on.

The next thing to decide, if you’re buying a leather belt, is whether to get your belt in a thickness of 10 millimeters or 13 millimeters. If in doubt, get the 10 mm. Thirteen is very thick, and many people find it makes the belt uncomfortably stiff, especially at the edges. If you are an enormous person and already very strong, you might need the 13 mm. But in that case, you will probably come to that conclusion through experience over time. If you’re reading this, that’s probably not you, and you want the 10 millimeter.


My top picks for each type of belt:


Which kind of weightlifting belts to avoid

So are there belts you shouldn’t buy? Arguably, yes:

  • Double prong belts are fussier to open and close, and they aren’t any stronger than single prong. If you want a buckle, most people will be happier with the single prong kind.

  • Velcro belts without a lock can pop open mid-lift. Look for one that has a locking mechanism that holds the strap in place, like those from 2Pood or Gymreapers.

  • Tapered belts, with a wide back and a narrow front, used to be popular among Olympic weightlifters. They aren’t used as much anymore, though; velcro belts have largely replaced them. Most tapered belts you’ll see online are lower quality ones aimed at people just trying to look cool in the gym. Fine as a fashion choice, but they wouldn’t be my first pick. That said, if you already have one, might as well use it. It will be fine.

Really cheap weightlifting belts (like the $20 ones you might find on Amazon) won’t last as long and might not perform as well, but they honestly aren’t terrible. If you aren’t sure whether you need a belt at all, I wouldn’t blame you for buying the cheap thing first and upgrading later.

With that information, you should be well equipped to buy a belt that meets your needs. A locking velcro belt or a 10 millimeter straight leather belt, depending on your preference, will be best for most people. Now, whether you want a plain black belt or a custom colored sequin design, that’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself.

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