SBD Lever belt review -- TL DR; it's good, very good.
I turned 50 this past summer and a couple months ago, my beloved Vivian threw me a surprise birthday party. Among many of the unexpected but very much appreciated guests were Mark and Kinnon from my powerlifting team, Toronto Rex Powerlifting Club. Even though Mark and Kinnon had already brought beer, they also brought a card and a gift on behalf of the team. The gift was a e-gift card for Inner Strength Strength Products, a powerlifting supplies company run by Ryan and Rhaea Stinn.
Among the many excellent products they offer on their website, one of most popular lines is the array of products from SBD. A few months ago SBD introduced their lever belt. While lever buckle belts have been around for probably 30 years now, it wasn't until SBD that a lever buckle belt combined the same easy-to-adjust fit as a single or double prong buckle with the easy-to-apply tightness of a lever. Since I already have a singlet and knee sleeves, I decided to apply the gift card to one of those new SBD lever belts. I also already owned a powerlifting belt but the SBD lever belt offered increased utility versus only being a spare.
I compete in an IPF affiliated powerlifting federation so I have the option of 4 types of powerlifting belts, single or double prong belt buckles, a lever buckle, the double prong buckle on belts as produced by Wahlanders and Titan Support Systems, and now the SBD lever. All buckle types have pros and cons. Below is a description of some of the pros and cons for each type.
|Inzer 13mm single prong belt|
Single prong buckle: It's very durable although cheap buckles have been known to bend. Relatively easy to adjust tightness once the belt has broken in some. Hard to get as tight as a lever and if you do, it can be harder to release the buckle. Many times a lifter will need someone else to assist in tightening or untightening the belt. Sometimes the belt keeper will fail. The belt keeper is the loop on a belt that holds the end of the belt that's gone through the buckle. It doesn't seem that important but I have seen situations where a lifter was not allowed to use a belt without one because the floppy end of his belt was hitting his thigh in a squat. That can be a tough fix at a meet unless you can find a spare rubber band or hair scrunchy.
|double prong belt|
Double prong buckle: All the same pros and cons as the single prong buckle except that in situations where you're trying to get the belt as tight as possible, it can be more difficult to try to get two buckle prongs into or out of the belt holes. My first powerlifting belt was a double prong.
|Inzer 13mm lever belt|
|where a lever belt buckle usually breaks|
|How to adjust tightness on a traditional lever belt|
Traditional lever buckle: Very easy to get exceptionally tight due to the leverage afforded by the lever action. The cons are, durability and versatility. Almost all levers that I've seen (including the SBD lever) are castings. That by itself doesn't mean much but many levers are cast out of relatively low quality metals. The levers can be brittle and can break if the belt is dropped or thrown on the ground or if a lifter has a habit of snapping the lever open after a lift and letting the lever slam into its stops. Almost all experienced lifters make a habit of bringing a spare buckle to major competitions in case the one on their belt breaks. The traditional lever belt is also more difficult to adjust because there are only one set of holes for the buckle on the free end of the belt. Changing tightness is accomplished by unscrewing the lever buckle and re-setting it in another set of holes. It's not a difficult operation but a tough process to do in between attempts, especially under the stress of a competition or if one's flights were especially small (8-10 lifters). It's also important that every time you do move the buckle that the buckle is aligned as evenly as possible so the buckle isn't pulling at an angle. Because the levers aren't that robustly built, any uneven tension will accelerate the wear and tear on the relatively fragile hinges. The most common lever breakages are the teeth on the buckle, the thin parts of the lever itself, or the hinge pins.
|Wahlanders double prong quick release belt|
Double prong Wahlanders style (Titan Support Systems also makes a belt with this type of buckle): I have no experience with this type of buckle. By all accounts the Wahlanders belts are very well made. I've heard that it's hard to get them as tight as a lever or a buddy assisted prong buckle belt but that's only a negative if you prefer a tight belt fit. I've read articles where very experienced lifters recommend belts be loose enough that you can slip fingers in between the belt and your body when tightened but I don't have sufficient core expansion ability to make that work as well as when I start with a tighter belt fit.
|SBD adjustable lever belt|
SBD lever: Truly an evolutionary design. Able to get a belt every bit as tight as with a traditional lever but as adjustable for different belt positions (higher or lower) or for different sizes (post-weigh in bloat vs normal training bloat, wearing a squat suit or a singlet, etc.) as a single or double prong buckle. The buckle does have an extra moving part or two compared to the traditional lever so I feel like there is still the same risk of fragility. The extremely high quality of the fit and finish of the buckle (along with the entire) belt doesn't lend the belt to being thrown around, I mean, you could but there's nothing "milspec" about the belt that screams tolerant of abuse. Another potential downside is the significantly larger size of the buckle mechanism. The lever on my Inzer is 18 cm in tightened position. The SBD lever is 22 cm. I've heard some lifters mention that the lever on their SBD scrapes their thighs at the bottom position of a squat. Because a lever belt overlaps itself, that internal edge on the buckle end of the belt can influence where you can put the belt and its lever.
|SBD lever size vs Inzer lever size|
|SBD lever buckle, one extra part, one extra hinge|
My experience with my SBD lever belt
I've had my SBD lever belt for almost 3 weeks and one competition so far. Everything about its versatility has rang true. I wear my belt higher on my torso for squats and deadlifts (covering my lower 2 or 3 ribs) but in the traditional position just above the hip bones for bench press. Being able to wear the belt in either position with the preferred amount of tightness is definitely more convenient than using two different belts or compromising the tightness when using it for bench presses.
The belt has also been extremely comfortable right out of the box. I attribute this to a subtle radius built into the belt. My Inzer belt, also a 13mm belt has virtually no radius so the top and bottom inner edges of the belt are much more noticeable. The edges of the SBD belt and the Inzer are equally squared off so it's not so much the edge treatment as the very slight curvature of the SBD that gives it a much more comfortable quality. I don't know if the "comfort fit" of the SBD was intentional but it is a nice touch. The suppleness of the SBD belt is similar to my rarely used 13mm Inzer lever belt so it's not just a case of softer leather.
|Inzer belt radius, very slight|
|SBD belt radius, noticeable and very comfortable|
If I had one suggestion, it would be to incorporate a radius or a taper to the inner edge of the end of the belt that ends up on the inside of the buckle. That edge on that end of the belt ends up being a pressure point and depending on where you either place it or the buckle (to avoid scraping thighs), it can be an issue. I wear my belt high on my torso so I tend to place that edge right in the middle of my abdomen, otherwise it rubs on part of my rib cage. If I wore my belt in the traditional position just above the hip bones, if the lever scraped my thighs, I'd need to position that inside edge much closer to the side to give the lever more clearance. I don't think it would create any distracting pressure points but I could see smaller or shorter lifters possibly being affected. Since the belt overlaps that portion, there's no need for it to remain a full 13mm thick. It's not a deal-breaker by any means. I have two other lever belts, a 10mm from Crain's Muscle World that was rendered IPF non-compliant and a 13mm Inzer and neither of them have any taper to that end of the belt either.
|That edge on a lever belt can sometimes influence where you set your belt|
My final assessment of the SBD lever belt is that it is good, very good. I'm very grateful to have one but I'm still not convinced I would have gone out of my way to purchase one without the gift card from my team. It's expensive and in the end, once it's on, it does exactly what every other quality 13mm belt does. We're at the point now where if a lifter's gym bag were stolen, one might need to spend a thousand dollars (CDN) to replace the gear inside if they lost their weightlifting shoes, knee sleeves, elbow sleeves, belt, wrist wraps, and assorted resistance bands. And that's for a lifter that trains and competes raw. Raw was supposed to be the cheaper, easier to implement version of powerlifting but like anything, scope creep has greatly increased the opportunities for raw (classic) competitors to spend money. Consider the SBD lever belt to be a very, very nice "nice to have" piece of gear but definitely not a "need to have."