This is a question that I get asked surprisingly often, so I thought it might be a good idea to write out a proper post about how to decide what you need. Although the title here specifically says “powerlifting”, think of it as how to buy a belt for any hard resistance training.
There are a set of questions you’ll need to be able to answer in order to decide what sort of belt you’d like.
Question 1 – Do you need an approved belt?
The IPF and IPF affiliates have strict regulations about what is considered acceptable equipment, right down to and including the brand of the belt. Here is the most up-to-date IPF Approved List. At the time of writing, that limits you to Iron Tanks, Best Belts, Lifting Large, Wahlander, Eleiko, Bukiya, Beast Genetics, Strengthshop, SBD, Metal, Titan, and (my choice) Inzer.
Approved belts are usually way more expensive than non-approved belts, but a good belt will probably last longer than you will, so it can be worth investing up front. If you’re even thinking about competing, it’s probably worth double-checking the requirements of your local federation before you drop any money.
If you don’t need an approved belt, save your cash and get an unapproved one. If you happen to live in New Zealand, the Kiwi Strength Belts are well priced and good quality.
Question 2 – 10 mm or 13 mm?
Honestly, I don’t think this makes too much difference, but these are the two standard thicknesses. 13 mm is usually slightly tougher and might bruise your ribs a little more, and take longer to soften up. At a guess, I’d say a 13 mm belt probably has a slightly longer life-time too, but that’s just speculation. Not all belts are offered in both thicknesses so it might be a case of taking the available options!
I chose a 10 mm belt.
Question 3 – Tapered?
Sometimes belts are tapered (the front is narrower than the back), which reduces the amount of surface area you have to brace against. Unless you’re really short, you probably want to avoid getting a tapered belt, as there isn’t really any benefit. If you’re looking for a bench belt (used for keeping your bench shirt in place only), some companies (Inzer and Titan, I think) produced 5 to 7 cm wide belts for that purpose. (I just bench in my regular belt.)
Unless you’re really short or looking for a bench belt, you probably want a belt which is 10 cm wide through the entire length.
Question 4 – Lever or Prong?
There are pros and cons of each, so it largely comes down to personal preference.
Lever – Easy to get consistently tight (huge plus), and super quick to put on and off. Downside? You need a screwdriver and a few minutes if you want to change the setting.
Prong – Harder to get consistently tight, and can be hard to get in and out of if you like to wear it tight. On the flipside, if you like to adjust your belt a lot (e.g. you’re losing a lot of weight, or wear it looser for deadlifts) it’s much easier to do so with a prong belt.
If you go down the prong route, you’ll need to make a choice between a single and double prong. In theory, a double prong belt provides more support, but in practice I’ve never seen a belt fail because of the prong before, plus double prong belts can twist and make it really hard to get out of them (true story, I got stuck in a double prong belt for this very reason before.)
SBD makes a snazzy belt which tries to combine the best of both worlds by having an adjustable lever mechanism, but honestly I’m unconvinced. I’ve seen them pop open a couple of times, and that seems even worse than needing 2 minutes to change the setting.
I wear a lever belt, because I like the consistency, and I just carry a small screwdriver in case I end up too bloated for it to be comfortable.
Question 5 – What about those velcro belts?
In all seriousness though, I can see why these are attractive. They’re cheap and readily available, and probably much more comfortable than a thick piece of leather. Unfortunately, they don’t provide any wear near as much support as the other belts I’ve talked about. These velcro belts might be more appropriate if you’re doing more dynamic workouts (e.g. Crossfit or Olympic Lifting) because they’re lighter and don’t restrict your mobility as much but for traditional resistance training, they aren’t the way to go.
I wear a black 10 mm Inzer Forever Belt, with a lever. I’ve had it about 2 years now, and aside from the buckle becoming a little tarnished, it looks essentially like new. I honestly think it’s one of the best belts on the market, and has a Forever Warranty (not even “lifetime!”). Realistically, if I ever decide to go up a weight class, I’ll need to replace it, and will probably buy either the same belt again, in the 13 mm version.
My only complaint with this belt is that Inzer has the worst customer service on the entire planet, and it took 3 months for my belt to arrive. Caveat emptor. Too bad they make such a high-quality product.
If you’ve got any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below, and I’ll see if I can answer them. If you already have a belt, what do you have? What do you think of it? Hope everyone’s training is going well!