Most beginners will see a gym belt as something used to give lower back support and allow for safer lifting. This is true, to an extent…
Once you get to an intermediate-advanced training level though and are lifting some heavy loads, a weightlifting belt is something used to push your numbers up, support lifting heavier weight, and help to maintain good form (by creating intra-abdominal pressure and core tension).
At this training level, a nylon or neoprene weightlifting belt simply won’t cut it and the choice comes down to a lever vs prong belt.
In this article, we’ll cover what the difference is between them and also decide which is best out of the two (if there is a better option that is).
What Is the Difference Between a Lever and a Prong Belt (Lever vs Prong Belt)
A lever belt and prong belt offer similar levels of lower back support and intra-abdominal pressure for heavy lifts, however, the main difference between the two is the adjustability. Lever belts are more expensive, but many find them easier to put on as you can secure them with one simple movement.
A prong belt on the other hand can have either a single or a double prong. It is not as easy to secure as a lever belt, however, it gives users the option of adjusting the tightness of the belt depending on the type of lift – or the size of the lifter’s mid-section.
Both belts are typically made from leather, often vegetable-tanned. Some can be made from nylon, although leather is preferred for its strength and durability. In terms of functionality though, both offer a very similar range of benefits and purposes so the best option will typically come down to personal preference.
Lever Belt Pros and Cons
Lever Belt Pros
- Easier to get on/off – As the name suggests, the level belt uses a lever system. You simply hook the teeth into the hole you want and flick the buckle closed, making the process very simple and fast. This is particularly helpful if you are competing and have limited time to prepare.
- Ability to get very tight – A lever belt allows tighter settings than the prong-style buckle. If you prefer your belt extra tight, then the lever could be favorable for you. Bear in mind, that tighter doesn’t necessarily mean better. It simply comes down to personal preferences, and many weightlifters have their preferred ‘sweet spot’ for tightness.
Lever Belt Cons
- More expensive – Lever belts are generally around $20 to $30 more expensive than prong belts.
- Less movement in sizing – Lever belts do not offer as much leeway on sizing, and restrict the user to more or less one size.
- Longer to break in – A lever belt can typically take longer to break in due to the shape and rigidity of the belt.
Prong Belt Pros and Cons
Prong Belt Pros
- Easier to adjust sizing – The prong belt offers more flexibility in sizing, due to its buckle fastening. This is useful for users who often wear different clothing, prefer a different tightness for each lift, or work out at different times of the day.
- Long-lasting – Lever belts can be more susceptible to the clasp breaking under load (prongs are more heavy-duty).
- Less expensive – If price is an issue for you, prong belts tend to be cheaper. Despite the price, both products are long-lasting and rarely need to be updated or changed.
Prong Belt Cons
- Limited ability to get very tight – Since the prong belt is more adjustable, it doesn’t have the same secure tightness as the lever belt. As stated above, not everyone likes a particularly tight belt. A belt should never be too tight that you struggle with breathing or bracing.
- Harder to get on/off – Prong belts take longer to secure, and often require a rack to fasten the buckles. In powerlifting, there generally isn’t a rack provided for this backstage. This can be an issue as you’ll be able to fasten the first prong, but not the second.
How to Tighten a Weightlifting Belt
As mentioned, prong belts in particular can be very difficult to tighten and then once they are tight, you’ll find them even harder to remove! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve struggled to take a lifting belt off after a max set of deadlifts as it’s not easy once you’re tired from a lift and need to catch your breath.
The key to getting a weightlifting belt tight, however, is to utilize a squat or power rack. The video below will demonstrate this better but you essentially use the rack to create leverage and get a prong belt to the desired level of tightness.
Is a Lever Belt Better for Powerlifting
A common question often asked is if lever belts are better for powerlifting. If you pay close attention, most top-level powerlifters appear to use a level belt as standard so is this an indication that they are better for powerlifting, or is this just a coincidence.
Neither product is better than the other, and it really comes down to personal preference. A lever belt is often used for powerlifting purely because it’s easier to secure and easily adaptable for different positions on the torso. Although if you prefer being able to frequently change the belt size, then a prong is the better option for you.
How to Break In a Powerlifting Belt
Regardless of which type of belt you choose, you’ll also need to consider the time needed to break a new belt in. In general, a lever belt will take longer to break in due to the shape and rigidity of the belt but there is a quick hack to speed up this breaking in period.
When you first get a belt, rolling it up into a ball both forwards and in reverse will soften the belt and reduce some of the rigidity – allowing for a better fit. The video below gives a quick tutorial on the quickest way to break in a powerlifting belt.
When comparing a lever belt and prong belt, there’s really not that much to choose between the two. Both have benefits and drawbacks. For the average gym-goer, a prong belt is the main preference. They are cheaper, have more options for adjustment, and are just as long-lasting as the lever belt.
For a competing powerlifter or strongman, a lever belt is usually the preference purely because of the ease of securing it. You can also better adjust a lever belt based on the exercise you are performing for more comfort and support during a different range of exercises.