When first starting the olympic lifts, it’s hard to know when you should or should not use a weightlifting belt.
All coaches have different opinions on the matter so we thought we’d share ours since it’s the only opinion that is actually fact (kidding) ( kind of).
As a beginner, there needs to be a clear understanding that if one wants to become proficient in the olympc lifts, they MUST develop strength in their midline. This is a process that takes time and lots of accessory work, but keeping a belt out of the picture in the beginning stages of an athlete’s career is an easy, quick way to teach their midline how to fire on it’s own. It also allows the athlete to build confidence in their body, rather than feeling dependent on a piece of equipment.
With that being said, we’re (fairly) reasonable people and we KNOW that there is a time and a place for the belt! The belt is a great tool and a great tactile reminder for athletes to brace HARD during a lift. The minute we go to tighten our belt, it’s as if it’s telling us “Hey! Feel this area I’m squeezing? Brace there!”.
So, our rule of thumb is: athletes are allowed to use their belt at 85% or above.
The “85% rule” seems to offer enough volume at lighter weights to really make our midline work, but it also allows us to use the belt with the weights where we tend to need a little more support and confidence.
In short, don’t feel dependent on your belt. You should know that you won’t actually die in a training session if you forget your belt at home. BUT, don’t feel guilty if the belt brings you a little comfort with heavier loads.
Side note: When dealing with back injuries, belts can typically be used a little before 85% to protect the athlete from further irritating the area.