Q: When should I wear a belt? Do I need to?
A: Lifting belts and other supportive gear, like wrist wraps and neoprene knee sleeves, can play a valuable role in your training; however, you need to know why you are using them and, more importantly, when to use them. Belts are used to help create intra-abdominal pressure for when you lift; they DO NOT support or keep your back tight, as some rumors would have you believe. Regardless if you are wearing a belt or not, you still have to keep your back tight and provide the internal support your body needs on your own. To create this support, use your abdominals to tighten up and flex on a belly full of air, creating large amounts of pressure. This will allow you to keep your spine neutral and create a strong stable foundation for the correct motion needed to move heavy loads. I like to call this the correct way to build a 6-pack. The belt essentially gives you fake abs; the fake abs allow you to flex against the belt and help create intra-abdominal pressure.
There are a few correct ways to use a belt: 1) Use them as a teaching tool to learn how to breathe and flex your abs to create pressure. 2) Use them to over-accentuate the ability to create pressure. If you have a pre-existing tweak, this will allow you to keep training. 3) Use them in normal training for lifts of 85% or higher, on max effort sets, and AMRAP sets. In my opinion, you do not NEED a belt. You have abdominals for a reason. A belt is a good tool if they are used for the correct reasons and in the right ways. If you feel better using it, then go right ahead; that’s perfectly fine. Just avoid the pitfalls that come from thinking that because somebody else is using one means you need to use one as well.
On a side note, there is a correct way and a wrong way to wear a belt. First, a belt only needs to be about four inches wide and have a consistent width for its entire length. There is no need for a belt to get wider across your back. Second, wear the belt around your belly; crossing your belly button should be a near-perfect position. Finally, keep in mind that you want the belt to be tight enough so you can still breathe in a large amount of air, and flex your abs hard against the belt to create that intra-abdominal pressure.
Now that you know how and why to use a belt, go ahead and have fun with your training!