Weight belt bruising: the causes and CURES!

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Do you have bruising on your abdomen caused by your weight belt? You are not alone. Many of us weightlifters have ended up with all manner of weird and wonderful bruises from our weight belts!

Some more hardcore lifters wear them like a badge of honour – the rest of us tentatively try to avoid them! Here’s all you need to know about weight belt bruising.

Weight belt bruising: causes and CURES!

At a glance…

  • Bruising from wearing a weightlifting belt is common
  • It is usually caused by the belt being TOO TIGHT
  • It can also be caused by the belt being TOO WIDE for the space between your ribs and hips
  • Reduce your chances of being bruised by slackening your belt off a notch, or buying a thinner (often 3” wide) belt

Can a weight lifting belt cause bruising?

Yes – wearing a belt too tight, too wide or too stiff can cause bruising.

When a belt is too tight it prevents us from filling our lungs and properly bracing REDUCING the effectiveness of wearing the belt. We want our belt tight enough that we can do a full inhale and brace (the Valsalva manoeuvre) and feel the belt helping us improve our internal air pressure and therefore the support offered through the lift.

When the belt is TOO TIGHT it will squish your flesh over the top or under the bottom of the belt increasing the risk of impingement as we move around.

If your belt is too wide – by which we mean the “height” of the belt – it will get pinched between your hips and rib cage which quite often causes discomfort or bruising. Most belts are 4” wide but many people would be better suited to a narrower 3” belt.

Finally if your belt is too stiff it won’t move subtly with your body as you squat, deadlift or generally move around. This lack of give then results in pinches and bruises. A way around this is to make sure you properly break your belt in!

What should I do about weight belt related bruises?

Should you do anything about these bruises? Honestly, probably nothing. MOST bruises are superficial and have no lasting issues beyond some mild discomfort.

As long as your belt is not so tight you cannot effectively brace yourself for each lift you should eventually transition through the bruise phase in to the “I love my belt” phase!

In my experience new belts are FAR more likely to cause issues – if you have a new belt causing you issues then take care to break it in properly.

If you are experiencing bruising from a well worn belt it could be body changes (waist increasing or decreasing) or new movements (started doing a new exercise or range of motion with a belt on?) that have triggered the bruising. Try slacken the belt a notch or possibly a thinner belt for that lift to see if it helps.

How tight should your belt be?

We need to be able to breath HEAVY between reps and effectively perform the Valsalva manoeuvre. That is when we take a deep breath and then PUSH this breath back AGAINST our closed airways. This forces us to SQUEEZE our lungs with our abs resulting in a really tight contraction.

The belt gives us a circumference limit – we CAN’T force a 13mm (or 10mm) leather loop to expand with our breath. The leather is too strong.

Just how tight should your weightlifting belt be? It depends…
Just how tight should your weightlifting belt be? It depends…

Instead of expanding out the way which the belt restricts us from doing we end up with our body SQUEEZING the air in our lungs – this increases the air pressure and therefore the strength of our trunk when we are in this state.

If you wear your belt too tight then you either can’t get a full breath initially OR the circumference is too tight for us to contract our core AND squeeze the air in the right place (i.e. too much gets squished up above or down below the belt) all of which results in a less stable core and lower lift potential.

So how tight should your weight lifting belt be? Tight enough you can get a DEEP breath in and BRACE strongly against the belt while lifting. 

ONE thing to consider is that I find it MUCH better to lift with my belt one notch TOO LOOSE than one TOO HEAVY. So – if in doubt, let it out [a notch]!

Getting hip bruises from wearing a lifting belt? Raise it up!

If you find yourself getting bruises around your hip area (the bottom of the belt) then it may be worth repositioning the belt slightly higher on your abdomen. 

Depending on your body fat level you may be able to pivot the belt angle “upwards” and this will then lift the lower edge of the belt away from your hip crease and remove the bruise risk.

Getting rib bruises from wearing a lifting belt? Lower it down!

The contra to the above is that if you get bruising around your ribs at the top fo the belt then try and tilt the belt downwards.

Getting bruises at the top AND bottom of the belt? Get a new belt!

If you’re getting pinched at the top AND bottom then you could try a narrower belt. For example many prefer a 3” over a more typical 4” belt as it allows them to move through a larger range of motion (e.g. a deadlift) without any bruising or pinching.

Conclusion

Belts often cause bruising – particularly if the belt is new or being worn for new lifts. The best way to avoid bruising is to slacken the belt off a notch (remember a belt one LOOSER is probably better than one a place too TIGHT) and make sure you break the belt in as much as you can before training with it.

If bruising or discomfort persists you can try change the angle of the belt by raising or lowering it on your abdomen to move it away from pinch points, or even more drastically try a thinner belt (e.g. a 3” belt if you currently wear a 4”).

Overall bruising is not usually something to worry about long term so just do what you can to transition through the short term discomfort!

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