What is a Drop Set?

What is a Drop Set?

A drop set is an advanced lifting technique that involves taking a set to failure and then with no rest, “dropping” the weight, performing an additional set to failure, and repeating 2-4x.

Bodybuilders have been incorporating drop sets into their training for years in order to chase the pump in hopes of producing more mass gains than traditional straight sets.

In this article, we will teach you how to do a drop set, share their benefits, and answer common FAQs about this technique.

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Table of Contents

How to Do a Drop Set

Benefits of Drop Sets

Video Demonstration

FAQs

Main Points

 

  • Drop sets are when you take a set to failure, lessen the weight and then perform subsequent sets
  • Drop sets add volume to workouts in a time-efficient manner
  • There aren’t superior to straight sets for strength or hypertrophy, but can be included in a well-rounded program
  • Do them with single-joint exercises towards the end of your workout for best results

    How to Do a Drop Set

    Drop sets are fairly straightforward, but let’s take a look at a concrete example of how to do a drop set using DB Curls as an example.

    Drop Set (reps and weight just for example purposes)

    • Sub-Set 1: 12 reps at 45lbs taken to failure
    • Sub-Set 2: 8 reps at 35lbs taken to failure
    • Sub-Set 3: 6 reps at 20lbs taken to failure
    • Sub-Set 4: 5 reps at 10lbs taken to failure

    As a general guideline, reduce the weight for each sub-set about 20-50%. The more sub-sets you do, the more fatigued you’ll be, and the more you’ll need to reduce weight in order to complete more reps. 

    It’s also worth noting that because of the high metabolic demand, save drop sets for the end of your workouts and preferably only with single-joint movements. Doing drop sets for squats and deadlifts might look cool for the gram, but you’ll be toast for the rest of your workout and won’t be able to get much additional meaningful work done (if you survive).

    We’d also recommend only doing 1-2x drop sets per workout. We like doing several straight sets and then adding the drop set as a finisher. This way you’ll ensure you’ve gotten your proper training volume in without the potential junk reps that sometimes happen when pushing yourself to the max.

    This brings us to our last point about training until failure. When we say failure, we don’t mean that you’re about to keel over and pass out. We mean technical failure. The point of which you can no longer do the movement with proper form. We don’t need injuries to occur from being exhausted and trying to fight for one more meaningless rep. Put the ego away and live to lift another day.

    Benefits of Drop Sets

    They are time-efficient

    One positive of drop sets is that it’s a time-saver similar to supersets. If you can’t spend a lot of hours in the gym to dedicate towards your accessories, add a few drop sets to your routine to knock out a lot of volume in a short amount of time.

    Produces strength and muscle gains

    Unfortunately, there isn’t much research out there proving that drops sets are superior to traditional straight sets when it comes to strength or hypertrophy. However, there aren’t a lot of studies done that show that they are worse. So what does that mean? Well, they still do help improve hypertrophy and strength training and you can feel free to add them if you’d like without fear that you aren’t optimally training. Just don’t litter your whole program with them and you’ll be fine.

    Improves muscular endurance

    Drop sets can help improve muscular endurance according to this study in untrained lifters.This makes sense since the goal of endurance is repeated bouts of exercises in a short time without much rest.

    Easy way to gauge effort

    Drop sets provide solid parameters ensuring that you are in fact training hard enough. There’s no guesswork on the amount of effort that goes into training to technical failure. You can’t fake it. So if you are wondering if you are pushing yourself hard enough, drop sets can provide a measuring stick on where your current limits are in a safe way.

    Video Demonstration

    FAQs

    What are other terms used for drop set?

    Descending sets, strip sets, multi-poundage system, run the rack, and triple drop are all common phrases for this type of technique.

    Are drop sets good for building mass?

    Yes. They haven’t been shown to be superior to straight sets when volume is equated, but because they allow you to increase mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress, they are a good tool for hypertrophy.

    What are the best exercises for using drop sets?

    We like to use them for single-joint exercises such as DB Curls Calf Raises, Leg Extensions, Hamstring Curls, Lateral Raises, and Tricep Pressdowns.

    Support Uplift Others Today!

    We have all different types of workout programs at Uplift Others. We offer home programs, in the gym, and running for all levels. No matter your goal, we have something for you! The best part is that we raise money for teachers’ classroom supplies and all profits will be donated to the cause.

    Brian Oddo CPT

    Founder

    About The Author

    Brian Oddo is the founder of Uplift Others and a Certified Personal Trainer through ACE. He also holds specialized certifications in Sports Nutrition and Behavior Change. Brian has been training clients both in person and online for over six years.

    As a former Division 1 basketball player, Brian enjoys weight training, plyometrics, and any sports to stay active.

    The Benefits of Training with Pause Reps

    The Benefits of Training with Pause Reps

    One nice thing about weightlifting is that there are infinite ways to keep your training interesting. You can use different equipment, change up rep ranges, vary intensities, and even switch up tempos.

    In this article, we are going to go over one of the most popular and effective movement modifiers known as the pause rep technique. You’ll learn all about its benefits and some of the top exercises it’s used for.

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    Table of Contents

    What is a Pause Rep?

    5 Pause Rep Benefits

    Most Common Pause Rep Movements

    How to Incorporate Paused Reps into Your Training

    Main Points

     

    • Pause reps are when you intentionally stop or “pause” during a specific part of a movement

    • They are mostly used in between the eccentric and concentric portions of a lift (isometric)

    • They are simple to do and make exercises more difficult without needing more weight

    What is a Pause Rep?

    Pause reps are when you intentionally stop or “pause” during a portion of a given movement. In most cases, that is in between the eccentric and concentric part of an exercise called an isometric.

    Here are a few examples:

    • When the bar is on your chest during bench press
    • The bottom of a squat
    • The top of a lateral raise

    In some cases, people will intentionally pause during their “sticking point” which is the range of motion where failure on max attempts most often occurs.

    For example, powerlifters will use them right below the knee on a deadlift or right above their chest on bench. You can use them with every exercise, but why do people use them?

    5 Pause Rep Benefits

    Here are some of the top reasons why people love pause reps:

    1. Increases difficulty of a lift without adding more weight

    Lifting heavy all year around can be very taxing on your body. After multiple months of strength training, you might find that your joints are a little achy and energy levels a bit low. Using pause reps allows you to keep high intensity on your lifts while taking a break from the big weight. Anecdotally, you will likely lift around 10-15% less weight when using pauses for any given movement.

     2. Can improve form

    Since you have to use less weight and control the movement to the point of a pause, you might find that this improves your form. Instead of relying on momentum or using cheat reps, you are able to slow yourself down, place tension on the intended muscles, and perform smoother reps.

     3. Improves strength/mobility in end ranges of motion

    We spend most of your working day sitting in a chair and then wonder why it doesn’t feel great to drop down in a full squat with hundreds of pounds on our backs.

    People simply don’t spend enough time at the end ranges of their allowed mobility. We rush through the bottom of squats because it’s uncomfortable, but we really need to build that strength to keep our joints and tendons resilient. Instead of avoiding these ranges, use pause reps to build time under tension and own it.

    Obviously, you don’t want to exercise through pain, but incorporating more pause reps into your training can improve your overall mobility and strength.

    4. Increases raw power

    People bounce the bar off their chests in bench, they bounce out of the hole in squats, and they bounce their weights off the ground to make deadlifts easier. Instead, keep yourself honest, learn to generate force from a dead stop, and watch your power sky rocket.

    5. They are hard and doing hard things is good

    Pause reps are difficult! Pause deadlifts especially suck. However, it is extremely rewarding for pushing through the suck. You’ll be better for it both mentally and physically by completing tough challenges.

    Most Common Pause Rep Movements

    Paused Squats

    How to do pause squats:

    1. Place the barbell on your upper back 
    2. Brace your core 
    3. Lower yourself while keeping the bar path straight in line with your mid foot
    4. Pause at the bottom of the squat “in the hole”
    5. Explode up back to the starting position

      Pause Bench Press

      How to do paused bench press:

      1. Lower the bar to your chest with your elbows slightly tucked
      2. Pause the bar on your chest while maintaining tension
      3. Press back towards your face and up to the starting position

      Paused Deadlifts

      How to do a paused deadlift:

      1. Have the barbell placed over your mid-foot
      2. Create tension in your lats and pull the slack out of the bar
      3. Pull the barbell off the ground 4-6 inches and pause below your knee while maintaining a rigid torso
      4. Extend your hips to finish the rep (don’t go past neutral)
      5. Lower the bar to the ground and return to starting position

      How to Incorporate Paused Reps into Your Training

      In most programs, your first lift is going to be a heavy compound such as one of the three above. Try to do pause reps as your first movement for 4-6 weeks and increase volume/weight over the course of the block.

      Then, you can return to straight sets or try to add prolonged negatives to the movement as an additional modifier.

      Pause reps make the most sense for heavy compounds since you do them with fewer reps and typically use higher weight. That’s when it’s crucial to focus on form, intensity, variation, etc. You’re less likely going to need to do pause reps during your lighter accessory movements although you still can. Lunges, leg extensions, calf raises, push-ups, rows, etc. are all perfectly suitable movements for pause rep training.

      Workout with Uplift Others

      We offer a variety of workout programs at Uplift Others! Check out our selection of home programs, in the gym, and running for all levels. No matter your goal, we have something for you! The best part is that we raise money for teachers’ classroom supplies and all profits will be donated to the cause.

      Brian Oddo CPT

      Founder

      About The Author

      Brian Oddo is the founder of Uplift Others and a Certified Personal Trainer through ACE. He also holds specialized certifications in Sports Nutrition and Behavior Change. Brian has been training clients both in person and online for over six years.

      As a former Division 1 basketball player, Brian enjoys weight training, plyometrics, and any sports to stay active.

      Superset Meaning: How to Combine Muscle Groups Together!

      Superset Meaning: How to Combine Muscle Groups Together!

      Not everyone has the luxury to spend hours in the gym (or frankly wants to). So how can you have great workouts in a short period of time without sacrificing progress? One practical strategy is to incorporate supersets into your training.

      In this article, we will walk you through what supersets are, their benefits, and some of the best ways to use them in the gym to maximize training efficiency.

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      Table of Contents

      What is a Superset?

      Benefits of Supersets

      Best Supersets that Work Opposing Muscle Groups

      Best Supersets that Work the Same Muscle Groups

      Main Points

       

      • Supersets are when you perform two exercises back to back with no rest
      • They allow you to do more work in a shorter period of time

      • The most effective supersets will pair opposing muscle groups to minimize the potential negative impact on performance

        What is a Superset?

        A superset is when you perform two different exercises back to back with no rest. This allows you to get more volume (sets/reps/weight) into your training in a shorter amount of time. The best supersets include two movements that don’t negatively interfere with each other. And with that being said, there are three main types:

        Antagonist Superset (opposing muscles)

        This is when you perform two exercises back to back targeting opposing muscle groups. For instance, doing a set of bicep curls right into a set of tricep press downs.

        During curls, your bicep is actively contracting (shortening) to lift the weight, while your tricep is in a lengthened position. The opposite is true when doing tricep press downs. This is why they are antagonist or opposing muscles.

        Antagonist supersets are preferred over agonist (same muscle) supersets because the two exercises won’t interfere with your performance and recovery as much.

        For example, if I usually can do Bench Press for 4 sets of 6 reps at 225lbs with three minutes of rest in between, it’s likely that I’d have to do around 205 if I followed my sets with push ups in between since my chest, shoulders, and triceps would be fatigued. However, if I did a back exercise following bench such as pull ups, I’d likely still be able to do 215-220lbs each set.

        Agonist Supersets (Compound Set)

        This is when you perform two exercises back to back targeting the same muscle group. For instance, doing a set of bench presses right into a set of dumbbell flys for the chest. It’s fine for denser volume sessions, but you’ll have to do more sets to make up for the fact that you won’t be able to push as much weight.

        Unrelated or Random Supersets

        This is when you perform two exercises that target completely unrelated muscle groups such as doing lateral delt raises with calf raises. The two muscle groups won’t impact each other, but your programming likely won’t complement this level of randomness. It could potentially be acceptable in a total body split, but the exercises would still need to be intelligently selected.

        Benefits of Supersets

        Supersets are simply time savers and it isn’t more complicated than that. If done properly, you can get your workout done in a shorter amount of time without sacrificing the quality of work. Indirectly, that might mean more strength and muscle gain if the alternative is you not doing all your exercises because you ran out of time.

        With that being said, we have to reiterate that longer rest times are better for power and strength training so use supersets wisely! We like to do our heaviest compound exercises as straight sets (just rest in between) and then incorporate supersets later into the workout.

        Best Supersets that Work Opposing Muscle Groups (Antagonist)

        Now we will walk you through our favorite antagonist superset pairings to help build muscle without leaving you completely gassed.

        Chest & Back Supersets (Push/Pull)

        Chest and back pairings are the easiest to visualize in terms of opposing muscle groups. You are simply pairing a push with a pull. Here are some of the top ones.

        Incline DB Chest Press w/ Chest Supported Row

        This pairing (are we talking about wine?) is nice because of the equipment convenience. You can set an adjustable bench to a 45-degree angle, do reps of incline DB Chest Press, and then flip yourself around to do Chest Supported Row.

        Floor Press with Pendlay Row

        The floor press is an excellent bench press variation that uses a partial range of motion and a dead stop halfway through the eccentric phase which can help improve your lockout while being very shoulder-friendly. You can then simply get up, pick the bar off of the lowered hooks and perform a pendlay row from the floor. These are two amazing strength movements that wouldn’t require additional equipment and minimal plate changing.

        Pull-Ups with Push-Ups

        Two classic bodyweight movements are pull-ups and push-ups. We recommend doing pull-ups first since they are harder and you need to rely on your grip strength which could be compromised after a high rep set of push-ups.

        Quads & Hamstring Supersets

        The next pairing is for your legs! Your quads are located on the front of your thighs and are responsible for extending your leg at the knee joint. Your hamstrings are located on the back of your thighs and are mostly responsible for flexing your knees and extending your hips.

        DB Goblet Squat and DB RDL

        Most gyms conveniently place the leg extension machine right next to the hamstring or leg curl machine. Take advantage of the space by performing both movements back to back. There should be virtually no interference between exercises allowing for plenty of volume and intensity.

        Leg Extensions and Leg Curls

        Two classic bodyweight movements are pull-ups and push-ups. We recommend doing pull-ups first since they are harder and you need to rely on your grip strength which could be compromised after a high rep set of push-ups.

        Arm Supersets (Bicep & Tricep)

        Get the beach workout going with some arm-pumping bicep and tricep supersets! 

        Cable Curls with Cable Tricep Pressdowns

        Anchor any cable attachment to its lowest point on the pulley machine to perform a set of bicep curls. Once finished, set the attachment to its highest point so the tension is at the top for tricep pressdowns. We love the EZ bar attachment but you can also use a straight bar or rope.

        Hammer Curls with DB Overhead Extension

        If you aren’t catching onto the theme by now, we like supersets where you don’t need a bunch of extra equipment to perform the movements. Do your hammer curls sitting on a bench or standing followed by an overhead DB extension. Some people feel like their elbows get pretty beat up from heavy lifting, so it’s not a bad idea to keep these movements in higher rep ranges with lower to moderate weight.

        Concentration DB Curls with Lying DB Skull Crushers

        We love concentration DB curls because you can’t use momentum to cheat the movement. You are starting from the bottom of the curl, fighting through the hardest range of motion, and squeezing at the top. Pair that with lying DB skull crushers which can be done on a bench or the floor.

        Best Supersets that Work the Same Muscle Groups (Agonist)

        Remember when doing supersets with the same muscle group, you’re going to want to avoid doing compounds together (deadlifts with back squats). Pick a heavier movement with a lighter movement.

        Leg Supersets

        We already provided a couple of examples of quad/hamstring supersets, but we have a few extra examples where the movements have muscle group overlap.

        Squats with Box Jumps

        Doing a heavy set of squats followed by box jumps is an awesome tool called the contrast method. The loaded squats increase your jumping potential by revving up your nervous system. It’s a great pairing for all athletes who are looking to improve their ability to transfer strength into power.

        Deadlifts with Banded Lateral Shuffles

        Deadlifts target a ton of muscles but primarily your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, lats, and quads. It’s nice to pair with banded lateral shuffles since they specifically target smaller hips muscles that might be tight or weak compared to your larger muscles used in the deadlift.

        Back Supersets

        Next up, we will take a look at some solid back pairings which can be targeted through a variety of pulling exercises.

        Chest Supported Row with Chest Supported Cuban Press

        Once again, we love movements that don’t allow you to cheat with momentum which is why we included the chest supported row again. Follow it up with a brutal upper back and rotator cuff exercise, the Cuban press. This exercise can be done with as little as 2.5lbs and will completely wear you out. So humbling!

        Weighted Pull-Ups with Band Pull Aparts

        The nice thing about this pairing is that it combines a vertical pull with a pull-apart in the horizontal plane. The pull-ups mostly hit your lats while the banded pull-apart is a great high rep movement for rear delts, rhomboids, and traps.

        Chest Supersets

        Our last muscle group will focus on our chest supersets. These are arguably the hardest to avoid performance interference since there are not a lot of “lighter options” outside of flys and push-ups.

        Dumbbell Bench Press with Incline DB Flys

        Try pairing a heavy flat DB bench press set with incline DB flys. This will allow you to hit both your upper and lower pec across a range of intensities. You’ll likely be feeling the burn on this one and might need some extra rest between supersets.

        High to Low Cable Fly with Low to High Cable Fly

        Similarly, this pairing also hits the upper and lower pec and is most appropriate for the end of workouts as a finisher for some added volume. You won’t be able to use much weight on this cable exercise and that’s okay! Aim for 12-20 reps on each movement and focus on controlling the weight.

        Use Supersets with Uplift Others!

        We have all different types of workout programs at Uplift Others. We offer home programs, in the gym, and running for all levels. No matter your goal, we have something for you! The best part is that we raise money for teachers’ classroom supplies and all profits will be donated to the cause. Buy or donate today!

        Brian Oddo CPT

        Founder

        About The Author

        Brian Oddo is the founder of Uplift Others and a Certified Personal Trainer through ACE. He also holds specialized certifications in Sports Nutrition and Behavior Change. Brian has been training clients both in person and online for over six years.

        As a former Division 1 basketball player, Brian enjoys weight training, plyometrics, and any sports to stay active.

        Rate of Perceived Exertion: Learn about the RPE Scale

        Rate of Perceived Exertion: Learn about the RPE Scale

        Trying your absolute hardest every day in the gym is a great way to never make lasting progress.

        How’s that for a clickbait first sentence? Let us explain.

        The “no pain no gain” approach to fitness is slowly dying out in favor of consistent, solid effort. If you turn it up to 11 every session, you’ll likely end up overtrained, burnt out, and worst of all, injured. Instead, a smarter approach to training is to cycle various levels of effort to allow for consistent progress without feeling like you got hit by a truck.

        We are not saying don’t go hard in the gym. You definitely need to work to see results. But you need to know when it’s okay to max out (seldom) and when you need to leave a bit in the tank (most of the time).

        Picking out weights is challenging for even the most seasoned gym-goer, so how do we measure effort and prescribe intensity? One of the more popular tools is the RPE Scale.

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        Table of Contents

        What is the RPE Scale?

        RPE Chart

        How to Use RPE

        Benefits of RPE

        Cons of Using RPE

        Should You Use Rate of Perceived Exertion?

        Main Points

         

        • RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion” and is a 1-10 subjective scale that measures fatigue

        • It can be used to monitor effort and fitness levels

        • It can be used in programming to help you select how much weight to use

        • Using RPE might be difficult for new lifters who don’t know their gym boundaries yet

          What is the RPE Scale?

          RPE stands for “Rate of Perceived Exertion”. This scale was originally created by a Swedish researcher, Gunnar Borg. It ranged from 6-20 to loosely mimic heart rate BPM (~60 at rest up to 200). The idea is that you could use this scale to determine how strenuous an activity was. The lower the number, the easier the task, the fitter the athlete.

          For instance, an experienced runner might casually do an 8min mile without much effort, whereas a recreational runner might pass out making that time.

          At some point, Borg simplified the scale to be 1-10 where 1 would represent light activity and 10 represents the maximum level of effort.

          RPE Chart

          Down below is our own spin on the popular RPE chart:

          RPE Chart

          How to Use RPE

          Some of our intermediate and advanced workout programs use RPE to help you choose how much weight to use each set. In general, most of your training should be done in the 7-8 range. This means that your sets should be challenging, but don’t gas you out to the point you see dramatic declines in performance throughout the session.

          There are times to train at RPE 9 and 10, but we advise you to do so sparingly. In some programs that means every 3rd or 4th week. If you happen to be an adrenaline junkie who loves to train near failure, save it for the end of workouts using accessories targeting smaller muscles (like shoulders, calves, and arms). You’ll be able to do this more frequently than with heavier compound movements.

          It’s not a great idea to consistently train squats and deadlifts at 9s and 10s. These lifts use too much load and cause too much stress to be done at maximum intensity every session. Instead, use them to form a strong base, accumulate volume over time, and build strength strategically. Then every so often, you can really push these lifts to see where you are at. You might be surprised to find that RPE 7 and 8 are no joke when it comes to getting under the barbell!

          Here’s an example of how RPE can be used for the main lift across a four-week training block into a deload:

          Squats

          • Week 1: 4 sets of 5 reps @ RPE 6
          • Week 2: 4 sets of 5 reps @ RPE 7
          • Week 3: 4 sets of 5 reps @ RPE 8
          • Week 4: 4 sets of 5 reps @ RPE 9
          • Week 5 (Deload): 3 sets of 4 reps @ RPE 6

          The advantage of using RPE over predetermined weights calculated using your one-rep max is that your max is a moving target. You might have hit a 400lb squat a few months back under perfect conditions (pre-workout, music blaring, after a breakup), but that doesn’t mean after a 12-hour shift you’re capable of the same lift. Instead, RPE allows you to hit the prescribed sets and reps at a weight that challenges you at a specific level for the session.

          Benefits of RPE

          • It’s a straightforward and simple tool to monitor your effort when working out
          • It can be used for more than just lifting weights. It works for cardio and every form of training
          • RPE allows you to auto-regulate your training sessions to adjust for how you are feeling on the day of your workout instead of pre-determining weight weeks in advance

          Cons of Using RPE

          • RPE can be hard to use if you’re a beginner who hasn’t ever done a workout with true max intensity. If you’ve never taken a set to failure, how do you know what your scale is?
          • RPE can also be tricky for high 20-30 rep sets with moderate weights (RPE 6-8). When you feel the burn it’s hard to gauge whether it’s the effort or lactic acid.

          Should You Use Rate of Perceived Exertion?

          RPE is a viable training tool to monitor your effort level when working out, but it will take some time to accurately use. You need an anchor for each RPE level so you know what is a 1 and what is a 10. Like anything, it takes time and practice!

          Bottom line: it’s worth trying! There are several different strategies to track effort between RPE, percentage of your 1rm, RIR, etc. Try it out for a few months and see if you like it!

          Workout with Uplift Others

          We offer a variety of workout programs at Uplift Others! Check out our selection of home programs, in the gym, and running for all levels. No matter your goal, we have something for you! The best part is that we raise money for teachers’ classroom supplies and all profits will be donated to the cause.

          Brian Oddo CPT

          Founder

          About The Author

          Brian Oddo is the founder of Uplift Others and a Certified Personal Trainer through ACE. He also holds specialized certifications in Sports Nutrition and Behavior Change. Brian has been training clients both in person and online for over six years.

          As a former Division 1 basketball player, Brian enjoys weight training, plyometrics, and any sports to stay active.

          Do I Need a Weightlifting Belt?

          Do I Need a Weightlifting Belt?

          Weightlifting belts have been the subject of several hot debates over the years. Their biggest critics claim that belts actually weaken the core and serve as an unnecessary crutch. Their biggest fans make claims of injury prevention and strength gains.

          Who is right? Are lifting belts necessary for serious gym-goers? This article aims to clean up the confusion and help you decide if a weightlifting belt is right for you!

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          Table of Contents

          What is a Weightlifting Belt for?

          When Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

          How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt

          How to Use a Weightlifting Belt

          Types of Lifting Belts

          Do I Need a Lifting Belt?

          Main Points

           

          • Belts help you lift more weight on heavy compound movements due to increased trunk stability
          • Lifting belts don’t weaken the core
          • There’s not much evidence that belts prevent injuries in lifters
          • People with high blood pressure might want to avoid using one
          • You don’t NEED a belt, but if you are serious about building muscle or strength, you might as well take advantage of being able to lift more weight and more reps

            What is a Weightlifting Belt for?

            At first glance, belts might appear as a solid injury prevention tool. They look like they provide lower back support during heavy squats and deadlifts. That seems intuitive enough, right?

            There actually isn’t much evidence to suggest that belts are an effective way to reduce injury risk for gym-goers. That would be near impossible to test in a controlled study, but what we do know, is that belts offer great stability.

            The best-confirmed benefit of wearing a belt is to increase something known as intra-abdominal pressure or IAP. IAP helps stabilize your trunk and counteract some of the shear forces that are placed on your spine when lifting. The more stable your trunk, the more efficiently you’ll produce force, thus, you can lift heavier weights.

            Although anecdotal, you can expect to lift around 10% more with a belt than without, if you know how to use it. There have also been studies that show lifters wearing belts can complete more reps with the same load and have quicker bar speeds. This all makes sense. If a belt allows you to be more stable, you’re going to see an increase in performance.

            Here’s a quick general summary of the pros and cons of lifting belts:

            Pros

            • Can increase IAP for heavy compound lifts
            • Be able to lift with more intensity and volume
            • Increase bar speed
            • Tactile cue for core bracing (press against the belt)

            Cons

            • If a lifter doesn’t know how to brace properly without a belt, it can be more of a crutch than a tool
            • Wearing a belt spikes blood pressure which can be dangerous for some
            • Might provide a false sense of strength capabilities
            • There isn’t much practical belt bracing carry over from squats/deadlifts to sports or real-world movements (not a knock on belts per se, bracing is movement specific)

            When Should You Wear a Weightlifting Belt?

            It makes the most sense to use a lifting belt during heavy compound movements where your core is heavily involved for stabilization. Squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses would be our three favorite use cases. You can apply that preference to any lift with similar movement patterns.

            We don’t see much merit in wearing one for upper body accessories when using machines, cables, etc. That falls into the “using it as a crutch” category. It won’t hurt you, but there probably isn’t a whole lot of benefit.

            How long should you be training for before using one? It doesn’t make sense to come up with a rule. We suggest you learn proper bracing techniques beltless regardless and slowly add in a belt for your heaviest sets if you so choose. As you get more comfortable wearing it, use it whenever you want.

            How to Wear a Weightlifting Belt

            The main goals of properly wearing a weightlifting belt are comfort and the ability to get as much trunk rigidity as possible. With that in mind, you’ll have to play around with different belt sizes, styles, and positions to see what works best for you. In general, follow these two steps:

            1. Place the belt around your waist right above the top of your hip bone. You should feel contact on the front, sides, and back of your core muscles. It shouldn’t be too low covering the majority of your hip bones or too high where it painfully digs into your ribs.

            2. Tighten the belt, but don’t do it corset Pirates of the Caribbean style. Make sure it’s tight, but you’re able to breathe. It might be slightly uncomfortable at first, and that’s okay. It’ll be something you’ll get used to. Understand that it should never be painful. If you’re experiencing a lot of pinching, bruising, etc. consider a different size belt.

            How to Use a Weightlifting Belt

            Creating proper core stability is all about pressing out against the full circumference of the belt. You shouldn’t just be flexing your abs, you should be creating tension in all 360 degrees of the musculature surrounding your spine.

            Don’t take a deep chest breath where your shoulders hike to your ears, but instead, press your full core against the belt to create a large amount of IAP.

            As you get more experienced, you should be able to maintain full pressure while inhaling and exhaling.

            Types of Lifting Belts

            There are so many brands out there that all offer a pretty similar product. A few of the most well-known ones are Inzer, Titan, Pioneer, Rogue, and Eleiko. Pay attention to these variables when selecting the right belt for you:

            Width

            The wider the belt, the more IAP you’ll be able to generate, but you also sacrifice potential mobility. Getting into a deadlift starting position with a wide belt can be very uncomfortable. 

            People of larger statures might want to opt for a thinner one that won’t bruise their ribs. Most powerlifting belts are about 4in. If you are smaller or don’t care about optimal stability, look for a 2-3in belt.

            Thickness

            How thick a belt is will determine its durability and support. They usually range from 6.5mm all the way up to 13mm. 10mm tend to offer plenty of support while still retaining mobility.

            Clasp

            The clasp type really doesn’t matter as long as the belt offers support and lasts a while. Double prongs are sometimes tough to get off. The quick-release mechanism of a lever is fancy, but not also the most comfortable. Single prong seems to be a tried and true fastening style.

            Do I Need a Lifting Belt?

            Of course, you don’t NEED a belt! it’s not a requirement by any means. Again, we’d recommend not using one if you have blood pressure issues, can’t brace properly without one, it encourages you to ego lift, or if the gap between your belt and beltless lifts is abnormally large.

            However, if you are serious about making muscle-building and strength gains, why wouldn’t you use it? There’s no inherent risk. It doesn’t weaken your core. Why not enjoy the benefit of lifting more weight, quicker, and for more reps? Seems like a no-brainer.

            Support Uplift Others Today!

            Buy a new weightlifting belt and try one of our gym workout programs! We offer strength, muscle mass, and athletic training for all levels. The best part? All of our profits go towards raising money to cover the cost of teachers’ classroom supplies.

            Brian Oddo CPT

            Founder

            About The Author

            Brian Oddo is the founder of Uplift Others and a Certified Personal Trainer through ACE. He also holds specialized certifications in Sports Nutrition and Behavior Change. Brian has been training clients both in person and online for over six years.

            As a former Division 1 basketball player, Brian enjoys weight training, plyometrics, and any sports to stay active.