A: It depends.
There is a lot of confusion around this topic because I frequently see one of two scenarios:
💥People wearing one all the goddamn time, usually because their backs hurt all the goddamn time.
💥People never wearing a belt because it “weakens their core” or is “cheating” or some other nonsensical made-up reason.
It’s important to understand that the belt in and of itself is not *really* a form of injury prevention in that it’s not supporting your spine. To benefit you, you have to know how to use it, which means you have to know how to brace properly.
From a strength sport standpoint, the belt is worn to increase intra-abdominal pressure. It provides tactile feedback as your core expands and tightens as your brace, allowing you to reflexively brace harder. Which in turn yes, protects your back, and yes, provides a small increase in strength (like 1-5% max). So the first step is figuring out how to brace in the first place.
Every single person that works with me learns this concept in our first session. As we move forward, it starts to make more and more sense. As they get stronger, they will understand it even more. And at a certain point, I recommend they get a belt and we start learning to use it. At no point do we rely on it to learn to brace.
Generally, I recommend people use a belt when they start lifting around 225 pounds, depending on their size.
For strength sports like powerlifting, get a leather belt that is the same width all the way around. And no padding! Again, it’s not meant to provide protective support. Also you can’t compete in the IPF with those belts so invest in one you can use in case you compete!
To truly protect your back, you have to learn how to do that with your body. Lifting is fun, but at the end of the day the whole point of learning how to do it is so you are strong and safe out in the real world.