Do you bruise after lifting weights? Is it common? What actually causes it? We outline everything you need to know.
Reviewed by Brian Richards, CPT, CSCS. Last updated 16th December.
Have you ever woken up after a day of weight lifting and noticed you were black and blue in different parts of your body? You are not alone. These mystery bruises plague many weight lifters, from beginners to elite competitors. While these bruises are most likely outcomes of working hard in the gym, you can’t help but wonder if you should be worried about these sometimes painful contusions.
Bruising from weight lifting is actually completely normal and there is no need to be concerned about your black and blue spots. Any gym goer will likely experience bruising from their workout at least a few times in their life. These black and blue spots may show up in totally random areas of your body, either as a result of running into something at the gym or hitting the weight against a part of your body.
Even though these black and blue bruises are completely normal, you may want to find out what you can do to avoid these sometimes painful, yet always awkward looking bruises. Let’s face it, bruises along our shins, collar bones, and other commonly banged up areas, are not that appealing as we pull out our summer clothes.
Why We Bruise
A bruise is an area of discoloration of the skin, indicating that the small blood vessels near the skin’s surface have been injured. When these blood vessels are injured, a small amount of blood leaks into the surrounding area, giving a bruise the back and blue appearance.
The small blood vessels near the skin’s surface can become injured from any sort of impact to the area. This impact could be in the form of an insignificant bump into something or a hard blow from hitting a larger, heavier object.
For example, either hitting the back of your arm against a workout machine, scraping your shins during a deadlift, or swinging a kettlebell in your quad can leave you black and blue without you even realizing you did anything.
Besides banging yourself up in the gym, some medication and supplements can cause bruising with very little, if any, impact or injury.
- Aspirin, or other antiplatelet medications
- Ibuprofen or other NSAIDs
- Coumadin or other anticoagulants
- Prednisone or other steroids
- Fish oil
- Garlic supplements
- Vitamin E supplements
If you are taking one of these medications or supplements and you are noticing a significant amount of bruising, you may benefit from reviewing your medication list with your doctor to find out if there are alternative medications to help avoid these sometimes painful, black and blue spots.
Where We Bruise from Lifting
Depending on the impact or blow, bruising can happen anywhere in the body, especially if you find yourself bumping into different pieces of equipment at the gym. However, you will most likely experience bruising from the actual lifts and exercises. There are some body parts that are more commonly bruised than others.
Commonly bruised areas from weight lifting include:
Your palms from holding heavy barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
This constant heavy pressure to your palm and possibly your wrist can leave black and blue spots in your hand.
Plus, if you are doing a heavy kettlebell workout the bell can easily hit your forearm, leaving a nasty looking bruise.
Upper back from a heavy barbell during squats or behind the head, shoulder presses.
You will most likely find bruises at the transition from your neck to your mid back where one of the bones of our spine is most prominent
You may also find bruising along the tops of your shoulder blades and even into your upper trapezius muscles.
The clavicle, aka the collarbone.
Bruising of the collarbone is more likely to be found in Olympic weight lifters and CrossFit athletes from heavy cleans.
Heavy front rack squats can also cause bruising along the collarbone.
Top of the shoulder, around the boney AC joint.
Bruising can be found here after carrying heavy dumbbells or kettlebells on top of the shoulder for overhead presses, squats, or lunges.
Top or middle of the thighs.
Another area of impact for the clean.
But can also occur from a heavy kettlebell swinging into the leg.
Or from lowering weight overhead down to the ground and accidentally running into the thigh.
Along the bony shins.
From hitting a barbell against the front of your leg during a deadlift.
Or from the dreaded, failed box jump, ouch!!
Along the spine.
Bruising on top of the prominent aspects along your spine occur from weighted abdominal exercises, especially when done on the hard floor.
These are not the only places that you may experience bruising from weight lifting. So, if you find bruises on other places, do not be concerned. Share with us where you commonly find bruises after working out!
What You Can Do for Bruising
If you suffer from bruising from weight lifting, whether from running into things, banging yourself with the weights, or from medications or supplements, you can help to decrease the pain and speed up the recovery by following a few simple steps.
First, follow the RICE principle:
Rest the bruised area, if necessary.
Ice the bruise with an ice pack wrapped in a towel. Leave it in place for 10 to 20 minutes. Repeat several times a day for a day or two as needed.
Compress the bruised area if it is swelling, using an elastic bandage. Don’t make it too tight.
Elevate the injured area.
If you need back up to the RICE principle, you may also try different topical creams:
Vitamin K cream
The RICE principle and use of these creams help to decrease any swelling associated with the impact and bruising. Besides controlling inflammation, the ice helps to cause vasoconstriction around the injured area, meaning the blood vessels close in order to help stop the bleeding.
Most bruises completely fade within 2 weeks. Bruises that do not go away after a few weeks or develop without any known cause or injury may require medical attention. But if you recently did deadlifts, front squats, or heavy back squats and you have bruising in random areas of your body, you probably have nothing to worry about. Follow the advice above and follow up with your doctor if the discoloration is still present after 2 weeks.
Bruising occurs when blood vessels break and blood leaks into the surrounding tissue, resulting in a discolored area on the skin. In the case of weight lifting, the most likely cause is that the weights themselves have made contact with your skin during the workout.
Bruising may also occur due to the pressure exerted on the muscles and connective tissue during the exercise.
Another common cause of bruising after weight lifting is using too much weight. This can cause the muscles to strain, leading to damage of the blood vessels and bruising. Another cause is using improper form, which can also lead to strain on the muscles and potentially cause bruising.
To reduce the risk of bruising after weight lifting, it is important to start with a weight that is appropriate for your fitness level and gradually increase the weight as you build strength. Using proper form is also essential, as this will help distribute the weight evenly and prevent strain on specific areas. Additionally, warming up and stretching before a workout can help prepare the muscles and reduce the risk of bruising.