Wearing a lifting belt is very common for compound barbell exercises like squats and deadlifts, but many lifters are beginning to wonder if they should be included in other lifts like the leg press.
The answer? It is probably unnecessary for most people.
Wearing a lifting belt during the leg press does not offer much supportive benefit for your core and low back, compared to other lifts that load your spine. This is because the leg press does not really utilize a lifter’s core, so the belt cannot do as much work to help you brace.
Even though this is my general recommendation, there are some specific scenarios where wearing a lifting belt for leg press might make sense, which I’ll explain below.
What you need to understand in order to decide for yourself is how and why your core functions during the leg press.
- In a leg press, your core is not as loaded, so the belt cannot help you generate more power and lift more weight, like it can in other lifts.
- A belt can provide benefits like added comfort, more confidence when lifting heavy, and physical cues to do the movement properly, all of which can benefit the lifter beyond what science can tell us about bracing the core.
- For leg pressing specifically, make sure your belt isn’t too thick. A nylon belt, or a thinner leather belt (5-7mm), will do the trick.
Core Involvement In The Leg Press Explained
Before we dive into how much, or little, your core is involved in the leg press, let’s take a look at understanding why an athlete uses a weight lifting belt in the first place.
There are multiple reasons for using a lifting belt, but the main two are injury prevention and bracing.
Lifting belts can help athletes maintain a neutral torso positioning, which then drastically reduces your risk of injury when your lower back is loaded heavily in a flexed position.
In addition to injury prevention, lifting belts also help athletes create a tighter brace because intra-abdominal pressure increases when using a belt.
This is the pressure that is created when you brace into your belt and what helps lifters move more weight in barbell compound lifts like the squat and the deadlift.
There are plenty of research studies suggesting that wearing a lifting belt for movements like the squat and deadlift is going to help people lift heavier weight.
But this is mainly due to the massive role your core plays in those movements.
When thinking about wearing a lifting belt for leg press, we need to ask the question: Is the core recruited in the same way?
The main difference between movements like a squat and a leg press is that the squat works your core muscles much more, since you are supporting a barbell on top of your spine and are forced to stabilize.
In a leg press, your core is unloaded as your back is planted firmly against a pad.
This study compared the core muscle activation of women participants when they were completing 3 rep maxes in the leg press, Smith machine squats, and free weight squats.
Throughout the study, the researchers found that there was not a drastic difference in core activation between free weight squats and Smith machines, but the leg press was the exercise with the lowest core activation.
This is mostly because it has the lowest stability requirement.
They found that the leg press recruited anywhere from 15-60% less activation in their low back, lower core, and obliques.
Since we know that lifting belts help performance on lifts involving the lower back and your core, it makes sense that they won’t provide as much benefit for exercises that don’t stress those areas.
Key Takeaway: Your lower back is very supported while leg pressing, so most find that their natural core muscles are more than enough to stabilize the body enough to perform the movement with proper technique.
Pros Of Wearing A Lifting Belt For Leg Press
Despite what the research says above, there are still plenty of benefits to wearing a lifting belt for leg press.
One of the biggest reasons people report using their belts for leg pressing is comfort.
Leg presses come in all different shapes and sizes, and some of them are less forgiving than others.
Whether a leg press is good for you or not can depend on so many things, such as your mobility, height, leg length, etc.
So, if you are someone that feels a slight bit uncomfortable on your gym’s leg press, maybe throwing on a belt will help ease your discomfort.
Personally, I usually do leg presses after I have already squatted or deadlifted.
In those cases, my lower back is usually pretty fatigued, and it can be nice to have that compressive force of your belt to wrap around the tired muscles and cinch you into place.
If the belt makes you feel more comfortable, healthy, or stable doing the movement, then feel free to wear one.
Another main reason that people will use their belt for leg pressing is for confidence.
Putting on your belt, especially if you are a competitive athlete that uses a belt for your big lifts, can feel like putting on your armour.
It can make you feel invincible, it can lock you in mentally, and it can give you that final bit of confidence to really push yourself in your leg press sets.
Confidence may not be a major factor if you just go through the motions on your leg press work; however, if you are really pushing yourself near failure, or have specific weight/rep goals on a set, then adding in a belt may give you a slight mental advantage.
I want to take a moment here and draw a distinction between confidence and foolish arrogance.
Don’t just slap on your belt, throw caution to the wind, and attack with reckless abandon.
I still always recommend only taking on weight that you can handle with proper form and technique, and without getting hurt.
Finally, in addition to the mental cue of “putting on your armour,” wearing a belt for leg press may also help in giving you physical cues to do the movement properly.
Even though your back is supported when leg pressing, proper technique still dictates that you take in air into your belly for a nice, full brace.
Most people are able to do this easier on leg press than in a squat, as the weight is not currently on top of your spine, so your lungs are more open and taking in air is easier.
However, having that belt can be a really nice external cue for those that struggle with bracing on the leg press.
In these cases, the belt can act as an external feedback mechanism where you know you have to breathe in and push against it before you start your rep.
Related Article: Should You Wear a Lifting Belt for Hip Thrusts? Pros & Cons
Cons Of Wearing A Lifting Belt For Leg Press
While the above is all true in that there are benefits to be gained from wearing a lifting belt while you leg press, there are always disadvantages too.
Reduced Range of Motion
This con really depends on what kind of belt you use for leg pressing, and where you wear it, but there is an inherent risk of losing range of motion if you wear a belt when leg pressing.
Most people use the leg press with the goals of building size and muscle in their legs.
Because of this, completing a full range of motion reps is in their best interests. You will build more muscle if you can get full depth in the leg press (without your back/butt coming off the pad).
But, when people use a belt for their leg press, they may run the risk of blocking their knees on the descent so that they run out of room. That can result in half reps, and may be counterintuitive for many people’s goals.
Obviously, the thicker the belt, the worse this con can become.
Pain and Discomfort
A second negative side effect that can come from wearing a belt for leg pressing is pain or discomfort that can come from the belt pinching your skin.
When you are at the bottom of a leg press, you are fairly folded up so that your knees are near your chest and your stomach is pushed right up against your quads.
So, if you use a thicker leather belt when leg pressing, there is a much greater chance that any skin around the belt can get caught and pinched in the bottom of the movement.
This is also a risk inherent in squatting with a belt, but it is almost always worth it due to the immense strength benefit you gain back.
This may be a different question for leg press, and you have to weigh whether or not the discomfort is worth it for you.
Redundant/Can Become a Crutch
In addition, wearing a lifting belt for leg pressing can become a little redundant, and may be a sign that you are using your lifting belt as a crutch and not a tool.
Your belt is there to help you create a better brace and to decrease risk of injury when doing heavy compound movements. I absolutely recommend using belts for that purpose.
However, I do think it can become a slippery slope when lifters start using belts for movements that truly do not need them, and where you are deriving no benefit.
This is more of an issue when a gym goer slaps on a belt for lat pulldowns, or bicep curls, but it is something to be aware of when you are leg pressing, too.
Your natural core muscles should get some time to themselves inside the gym, and leg pressing, or other secondary leg movements, are a good opportunity to practice the skill of using your core muscles without any help.
Always have a reason as to why you are using a belt, and make sure that it is a tool to aid your lifting, and not a crutch that you are over reliant on.
Finally, wearing a lifting belt for leg press can be cumbersome and a bit of a hassle.
This con depends on the type of lifter you are, and whether or not your belt was already at the gym with you.
Powerlifters likely don’t mind carrying their belt everywhere they go, but other types of athletes or gym goers may not see the appeal of lugging around pieces of specialty equipment for every single training session.
This is also true when it comes to cost.
I would never recommend someone go out and buy themselves a belt solely for leg pressing.
If you already have one and want to experiment, then I say sure, go ahead!
But, don’t feel obligated to purchase specialty equipment that you may not need to the point that it becomes a hassle.
How Should You Wear A Belt For Leg Press?
When wearing a belt for leg press, I would recommend as a general rule of thumb to place the belt below your ribcage, and covering your belly button.
This is a nice starting place, but you should absolutely adjust your belt and play with different positions until you find one that is right for your body and style of leg pressing.
Those with shorter torsos, wider foot positioning, and great mobility may prefer a different belt position than people with the opposite traits.
Once you have found an ideal starting position, I recommend taking a few belted practice reps with very light weight.
When doing these reps, keep your eye out for any pain, discomfort, or technique breakdowns.
These will only get worse as the weight gets heavier, and may require you to adjust your belt positioning and try again.
Lastly, do not cinch your belt too tight.
A properly tightened belt will allow you to take a full breath of air into your lungs, and you should be able to fit a couple fingers between your abs and your belt when you are not bracing into it.
A belt that is too tight will be incredibly uncomfortable, and has many drawbacks. When your belt is too tight, you cannot get a full breath of air into your core, which means you cannot create a tight and efficient brace, which then means that you might not be as strong as you want.
On top of those negative effects, a belt that is too tight can make you dizzy, lightheaded, and will create risk of severely injuring yourself under the weight if you cannot get enough oxygen and pass out.
What Type of Belt Is Best For Leg Press?
I would not recommend a typical leather powerlifting belt if you are aiming to utilize a lifting belt on leg press.
Those belts are 10-13mm thick and are made of very stable and rigid leather. This is ideal for squatting and deadlifting, as the stiff material helps you create more intra-abdominal pressure, which can get you to lift more weight.
However, when leg pressing, you are not getting the same benefits of an engaged core and intra-abdominal pressure.
That being said, the thick leather belts are really only going to hinder the movement, as they will be very uncomfortable and will likely shorten your range of motion.
In my opinion, a nylon belt, or bodybuilding belt (leather, but much thinner in the front section) is going to do the job perfectly.
These belts will give you the added compressing you are looking for, will help reduce some risk of lower back injury, and will do so while still being flexible enough to not ruin the movement like a powerlifting belt likely would.
You have to take into consideration here that your belt must fit the context of your overall lifting.
If you are a powerlifter that does not have a belt yet, I might recommend getting a powerlifting specific belt and then leg pressing without one.
Likewise, if you are a bodybuilder, CrossFit athlete, or gymgoer that needs a little bit more support, belts such as these will work for leg pressing and will fit in the general context of your lifting routine:
- Gymreapers Quick Locking Weightlifting Belt - which is a great nylon option that is easily adjustable and is easy to put on and release.
- Gymreapers Weightlifting Belt | 7mm Leather Back Support - which is a premium weightlifting belt that is designed to give support for back and leg workouts.
Examples of Athletes Using Belts For Leg Press
Here are some prime examples of athletes using, or not using, lifting belts for leg press movements:
Jeff Nippard - No Belt
Jeff Nippard is both a powerlifter and a bodybuilding athlete. He has dealt with lower back issues in the past, and we can see him here using a lifting belt on his hack squat movement.
Jeff does not seem to do many leg presses, as he favours the hack squat instead, but the movements are very similar as they are quad dominant and the low back is stabilized by being supported by a pad.
Presumably, this relieves some pressure and makes him more comfortable in the movement.
Hadi Choopan, Nick Shaw and Mike Israetel
Hadi Choopan can be seen hack squatting, again very similar to the leg press, with a belt.
However, it appears that he does not wear the belt for a standard leg press, and neither does Nick Shaw or Mike Israetel.
It seems to make sense here that these three men do not wear belts for leg pressing movements.
They are all bodybuilders, so they value full range of motion over anything else so that they can maximize hypertrophy.
It is likely that they feel that the benefits of wearing a belt are not drastic enough to give up any range of motion.
This is dissimilar from hack squatting, since a belt will not really limit your ability to hit depth in a hack squat.
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