What if your weight lifting belt hurts your stomach?

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A lifting belt CAN be uncomfortable (particularly if new) and if you’re not used to wearing one it can hurt some your stomach area unintentionally!

BUT the upshot is wearing a belt when weightlifting helps increase the intra-abdominal pressure when lifting. In English – you can get higher pressure in your core when lifting weights by providing a solid hoop (the belt) to hold your stomach in.

So the reward for wearing a belt is generally higher weights lifted – the secret is knowing just WHAT is causing your stomach pain and fixing it so you can keep wearing the thing! Let’s take a look…

What if your weight lifting belt hurts your stomach?

At a glance…

  • Your belt is PROBABLY too tight
  • If it’s new your belt PROBABLY needs broken in to become comfortable
  • Consider waiting longer between your prior meal and your gym session

Stomach pain: Hollow & unsupported feeling

When I’ve worn my belt too tight for too long I have triggered a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and an overarching feeling of a LACK of support – the very OPPOSITE of what I am wearing a belt for!

When your belt is too tight you will not be able to fully inflate your lungs and get an effective brace against the belt. This means when you are lifting you experience what feels like LESS support as you can’t brace properly!

The solution: slacken the belt a notch and try again.

Bruising around abs and stomach

Once a belt is broken in it will mould to your torso and flex just enough to let you get in to the groove when lifting.

Before a belt is broken in however it can be uncomfortable in use – the stiff, new material will have very little flex in it so you’re more at risk of getting your skin pinched resulting in bruising around your torso or stomach.

Remember, some materials will take less time to break in than others and thicker belts will USUALLY take longer still.

Breaking your belts in will make them more comfortable around your stomach
Breaking your belts in will make them more comfortable around your stomach

While it can be a bit uncomfortable when you get nipped by your belt luckily there is little lasting downside with the only real issue being that it looks a bit unsightly.

The solution: break in your belt! In the short term wear thicker clothes to protect your skin or try the belt on a looser setting

Abs are sore or feel worked hard

This is what I would describe as ‘good’ pain – a feeling of being worked – compared to ‘bad’ pains of bruising or similar.

If you’ve got cramps or DOMs in your abs and stomach area then it might just be that you are now SERIOUSLY working the muscles where they were getting away a little easier previously.

The solution: I wouldn’t worry about this and it should go away in a week or two once your body adapts to the belt and the exercises we’re doing. If it persists for longer then come back and reassess.

Lifting straight after a meal? Welcome to cramp city!

Weight training straight after a meal can be uncomfortable for some. I often lift around lunch time and find that occasionally my stomach will naturally be a little more bloated depending on what I’ve eaten.

In these situations forcing your belt on at your usual setting is NOT helpful and WILL cause stomach ache or discomfort for the same reasons as those noted under the unsupported and hollow feeling above.

Basically after a meal your belt setting is TOO TIGHT for your CURRENT stomach size. 

The solution: Loosen the belt a notch if lifting after a meal.

How do you break in a belt?

A good quality weightlifting belt is made from leather and WILL require a period to ‘break in’. This will make the leather more supple and therefore more able to mould to your body shape while still providing the increase in intra-abdominal pressure we need for lifting.

The issue is just HOW to break in a belt.

By far the simplest way to do so is to wear the belt AS NORMAL and just deal with the discomfort for a few weeks.

Seriously – chuck the belt on and do EVERYTHING with it on. When breaking in wear it for warm ups, for bench, for squats – hell, try gardening with it on just to get the hours in with the belt getting the heat and movement 😉

Breaking in your belt reduces stomach pain - here I tightened the SBD belt around a fabric dust sheet and towel to stretch it out a bit
Breaking in your belt reduces stomach pain – here I tightened the SBD belt around a fabric dust sheet and towel to stretch it out a bit

The bad news? That probably doesn’t work for you if you’ve landed here.

Don’t take it personally – I have successfully broken in THREE belts now and the time and discomfort for each was very different.

10mm belts can be broken in VERY quickly compared to a stiff 13mm belt.

My SBD belt (a triple layered, 13mm leather belt) took almost a YEAR to break in to the point of “comfort” (I would define as being when I was happy to wear it with just a t-shirt!) whereas my Zuluglove (two-layered 10mm belt) was pretty much good to go within a couple of weeks.

The other way to accelerate the breaking in is to PRETEND you’re wearing it…

Sound weird? What I did for a month or so was wrap the SBD belt around a roll of fabric to simulate being latched around a torso. It helped break the belt in a LITTLE, but the lack of movement and warmth meant I still had to do the hard yards wearing it in use.

Conclusion

Weight lifting belts can hurt your stomach for a number of reasons – BUT luckily most can be resolved by loosening the belt off a notch.

Wearing a lifting belt that is a little on the loose side is FAR more comfortable than one that is a little too tight so always go up a hole if you are unsure.

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