How to Use a Belt for the Olympic Lifts (hint: there is more to it than just putting it on)

November 25, 2017


When I first used a belt in weightlifting… I thought you just had to put it on. Luckily, I had a coach that quickly showed me there was more!

Let me tell you a story about the day I first realized there was more to a belt than just putting it on. I was back squatting 206kgs (453lbs). I remember it like it was yesterday. This was not my max weight for a squat and as I lowered for the squat all seemed well. But then when I went to drive out of the bottom things fell apart. I started to collapse so I bailed.

At that moment a coach approached me and asked, “how are you using that belt?” I responded with a horrified look of confusion. At that point he said, “you need to push out against it.”

We re-racked the weight and I tried his cues, and to my amazement I made 206kgs with ease! I then went on to squat that weight for five more singles. When I first started I was just putting the belt on and expecting it to work. No one took the time to give me any instruction around using a belt. Luckily there was no injury, but I was missing some big weights.

The Core – Simplified

I encourage you to watch this video. You’ll be much more successful with a belt if you can see it:

Lets simplify the core into three parts.

  1. The Diaphragm (top)
  2. The Abdominal Wall (sides)
  3. The Pelvic Floor (bottom)

Now these three parts have the opportunity to create a cylinder. And we can pressurize this cylinder using our breath!! This technique gives us the opportunity to support huge weight.

So what does the belt have to do with this?

The belt helps to add an extra barrier to the abdominal wall. Allowing us to create even more pressure than we would be able to do without it.

Two Ways to Use a Belt for the Olympic Lifts

Method 1: Using a belt for technique

When we use a belt for technique we’re not looking to replace the abdominal wall. We’re looking to help you “feel” how to breathe. You won’t tighten the belt, as you would for a max effort lift. It will be snug and have a little give.

Your focus will be to feel yourself breathing 360 degrees into the belt. Once you can do this then you must hold that pressure while going through a movement. A couple key movements are squats and deadlifts. (Olympic style deadlifts not powerlifting deadlifts) 

*Note –In the video I show how to use a towel to help you breathe toward the spine. *

Method 2: Using a belt for maximal effort

When we fatigue and when we approach a max effort lift, our abdominal wall starts to struggle. The abdominal wall starts to fail at holding the intra-abdominal pressure that we’ve created. 

Now we can use a belt to help us keep this pressure and not fall into a poor position. We must put it on tight and still breathe into it. It should not be comfortable (you would not want to walk around and talk to people with it on).

How to Use a Belt Successfully for the Olympic Lifts

Here is the key for success - you must breathe into the belt and hold that pressure through the movement.

Unfortunately, many athletes do the exact opposite. The athlete approaches putting a belt on by sucking in their stomach and breathing up into the chest. You’ve just turned your "core" into a weak link.

Check out the video above as you can actually see an athlete “breathe into a belt”. Also, check out this great article How to use a belt (properly) by Dr. Richard Ulm. He works with our athletes at Project Lift and inspired this video.

This is a guest post from Drew Dillon, head coach and co-founder of Project Lift during his lifting career as
 an athlete Drew placed as high as 4th at a USA Weightlifting Nationals and is a personal coach to 2012 Olympian Holley Mangold. He is also know as a weber grill snob and will routinely ask you "what is for dinner" during training. You can follow Drew on Instagram and YouTube.

Weightlifting Belt.. Good or Bad #crossfit