Everything you need to know about using a belt for kettlebell lifting
While I've dabbled with using a belt for kettlebell lifting, I'm no expert on the subject. Instead of attempting to write a post on something I don't have much experience with, I decided to outsource this post to my friend and fellow lifter BJ Bliffert, who has experimented with numerous belts for Kettlebell Sport lifting. Thanks to BJ for this great informational post!
Kettlebell Sport is like most sports, if you’re into it… you’re really into it. Some of us go deep into the rabbit hole looking for anything that can help eek out a few extra reps. Not so different from the obsessive golfer buying a driver to add 20-30 yards off the tee or the triathlete trying to shave grams of weight off their bikes.
Kettlebell Sport has many more athletes participating now than just two years ago. As more people enter the pool, the level of competition is sure to go up. And as competition increases and athletes become more educated, everyone wants to get the most out of their equipment as possible. One piece of equipment that has its benefits is a good belt. By “good”, I mean good for you and this is where things can get a little tricky.
When and why would one wear a belt in Kettlebell Sport?
The belt can be worn to provide stability to the lower back during training in Jerk and Long Cycle. The more common use of the belt, however, is to provide a shelf-like platform to "rest" or set the elbows on while in the rack position. In addition, the belt can be used to keep the elbows from sliding off the hips. There have been a few athletes to use a belt in Snatch, but it’s very uncommon.
Personally, I have never noticed much back support from my belt and I primarily use it for the latter reason. Much of this has to do with how I position my belt.
An athlete can position their belt in two ways.
The first is wearing the belt “low” and across the hips. The top of the belt, or where the belt tapers to its wider portion, should be positioned level with the iliac crest of the pelvis. Athletes with better hip and upper back mobility wear their belts in the "low" position, which gives them a great connection between the elbow and pelvis -- allowing for efficient power transfer in the “bump” phase of the jerk.
A heavier, broader, or less flexible lifter may wear the belt at the waist, slightly above the hips. This allows the athlete to create a “base” to bump the bells from in the jerk.
Is one better than the other?
That question can only be answered with “it depends”. Lifting technique is forever evolving, so play with different belts and find what works for you. Don’t be surprised if things change along the way. Actually, expect them to change as you do.
Now, you can’t wear just any belt… there are size requirements for the belt an athlete is allowed to use.
According to the IUKL, the sportsman’s belt cannot be wider than 12cm in the back and no longer than 1.5m in length. I have heard that the front of the belt should be tapered and cannot measure more than 5cm, and the belt itself cannot be thicker than 1cm (however, I could not confirm this in the IUKL’s website).
Most belts range from 10-12cm in width; you’ll need to determine the width that fits you based on your body size. The most common thicknesses are 2 and 3 ply, which refers to the number of layers of material that make up the belt.
Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about belts. I can only speak from my personal experience; remember that your experience may be completely different.
If you know me, you know I’m a gear whore… I love gear and I buy it all, or at least most of it. Belts, shoes, shorts, whatever. If it has to do with Kettlebell Sport, I’m into it in an unhealthy way.
When it comes to belts, I currently own 6 belts of varying sizes, widths, and thicknesses. They are all nice, but I don’t love them all. Some of them are not a good fit for me, my body type, or my lifting style.
Once you begin your quest of looking for a belt, don’t assume that an “off the shelf” belt is going to fit perfectly. If you are just starting out, this matters less, just get a belt and get used to it.
As you progress in the sport, you’ll want to get more precise and I’d advise finding a good leather worker to make some changes. I live in Texas, so finding a tack shop was relatively easy, but you should be able to find one if you are diligent.
Of the 6 belts I own, I only use one. To understand why, I’ll share my reasoning behind it. My hope is that you’ll find something here that may help you make a better decision when it comes to wearing, using, or modifying your belt.
I wear a 10cm, 2 ply leather belt. Nothing special, and in fact, it’s the least expensive belt I own. I purposely bought the belt 2 sizes too large to have it modified. All the belts that were supposedly my size were too short for my purpose -- the wide part would reach around to my hips. If I bought a larger version, the buckle prongs would stab my forearm every rep of long cycle (it literally looked like I had bite marks from a snake on my arm).
So I had my large belt modified: 7-1/2 inches cut off the belt from the buckle side and then had the buckle reattached. The result was a belt that was the perfect length for me. I made sure the buckle would be centered once the excess material was taken off.
I wear my belt low around my hips as I described before. The taper in the belt acts as a “stop” for my elbows and lines up perfectly with my iliac crest. This provides me with the perfect platform to launch the bells from.
Why do I use a 10cm belt when 12cm is the legal limit?
I’m short. Plain and simple. 12cm was too large in proportion to my hips and torso -- I couldn’t keep the belt in place. Every time I’d enter the backswing phase of a rep, the belt would flip up and be out of place. This didn’t sit well with me; I have been told I have “princess & the pea syndrome”, so any little thing that gets out of place is not to my liking.
So, what’s the perfect belt?
The perfect belt is the one that allow you to maximize your numbers. Not a specific brand, color, size, width, etc.
Find a belt that fits your body or one than can be modified to fit your body. The modifications to my belt cost about $30, so it’s not going to break the bank if you have to do it a few times to get it right. And when you do get it right… you’ll know it and it’ll feel great!
BJ Bliffert is the Owner of the North Texas Kettlebell Club and Full Throttle Athletics in Frisco, TX. BJ has a degree in Fitness Management and has been in the trenches of the fitness industry for 19 years. In that time, he has obtained multiple certifications, co-authored an International Best Seller, and been featured in USA Today as a World Fitness Elite Trainer of the Year. For more information or online coaching contact email@example.com or check out his blog.