After being diagnosed with a hiatal hernia you will likely have been advised not to lift weights at the gym or engage in any heavy lifting. This is due to the risk of such activities causing the stomach to rise entirely into the chest cavity. This is considered to be a medical emergency. In this article I will explain what happened when I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and how I continue to lift weights safely. This article does not constitute medical advice. You should discuss its contents with your healthcare professional in the event you wish to lift weights after a hiatal hernia diagnosis.
The doctor looked uneasy. He was uncomfortable to be around during even routine appointments, but today he looked especially awkward.
“Sit down” he said, avoiding eye contact. I knew something was amiss.
“So I’m referring you for urgent scans and an endoscopy. The weight you’ve lost isn’t normal and I need to rule out stomach cancer.”
My doctor is nothing if not blunt.
Perhaps I should’ve been shocked, but by this point I’d been feeling desperately ill for two months and had lost nearly 20% of my bodyweight in that time. I knew I was ill and I’d googled my symptoms enough to know that “the big C” was a possibility.
That conversation began a season of tests and scans which revealed that I was healthy, other than suffering from a sliding hiatal hernia.
After the endoscopy, as I was recovering from the anesthetic, a nurse gleefully proclaimed that I’d never lift a weight again whilst she boasted about breaking her personal deadlift record the previous weekend!
Was this to be the end of my weight lifting workouts?
What is a Hiatal Hernia?
A hiatal hernia, also known as a hiatus hernia, is when the stomach slides up into the chest cavity. There are two types of hiatal hernia which are called sliding and paraesophageal. The most common kind of hiatal hernia is a sliding hernia where the base of the esophagus and stomach slide up through the diaphragm and into the chest.
The paraesophageal hernia is less common but more dangerous. With this kind of hernia the esophagus and stomach remain in the correct position but part of the stomach rises up through the diaphragm and sits next to the esophagus. The danger comes from the risk of the blood supply to the stomach becoming cut off.
Hiatal little hernias are thought to be caused by:
- congenital defects,
- injury to the area,
- weakening of the diaphragm with aging,
- or an increase in abdominal pressure from such things as pregnancy, coughing, straining when pooping or…
- lifting heavy things!
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Symptoms of Hiatal Hernia in Adults
I’ll deal first with the most common symptoms of a hiatal hernia before describing some of the early symptoms I had which I wish I had recognised when they first presented.
- Bad taste in mouth and bad breath
- Upset stomach
- Regurgutating food after eating
- Loss of appetite
Many months before I presented at the doctors’ surgery in the episode I described in the introduction to this article, I’ve been experiencing some strange symptoms that I foolishly ignored.
When working out intensely, I began to have dizzy spells that I’d never experienced before. These were often accompanied by sharp stabbing pains in my chest.
As I write this I can’t believe that I didn’t go to the doctor at the time! Many hiatal hernia patients initially present fearing that they’ve had a heart attack. Regardless, if you ever suffer chest pain when exercising, don’t be a dummy like me – go and get checked out!
Exercises to Avoid with Hiatal Hernia
If you’re suffering from a hiatal hernia I’m sorry to have to tell you that you need to abandon your quest to smash your deadlifts and squats records!
In fact any weightlifting activity has the potential to massively increase internal pressure in the abdomen so you need to be really careful when selecting your exercises.
Here’s a list of exercises which I consider to be the most dangerous for those with a hiatal hernia and which I personally avoid:
- Barbell Squat
- Barbell Push Press
- Clean and Press
The Exercises I Perform With a Hiatal Hernia
Reading the above, you may be worried that the most effective exercises are out of bounds, but there are plenty of alternative exercises which are still effective but which don’t cause such an increase in internal pressure.
Instead of barbell squats:
- Goblet squats with a kettlebell and rep out
- Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells
- Walking kettlebell lunges
Instead of deadlifts:
- Stiff legged deadlifts with light weight and high reps
- Lying back extension
Instead of barbell push press:
- Seated dumbbell press
Instead of clean and press:
- Compound movements with kettlebells.
- Resistance Band Shoulder Press
I have also been harnessing the power of occlusion training towards the end of my workouts to ensure that I get the pump that I used to when lifting heavy weights. If you haven’t tried training using blood flow restriction bands then you should definitely read my review of BFR Bands to learn some of the astounding benefits of training in this way.
Check Out These Functional Trainers
If you have the money and the space, you may want to consider investing in a Functional Trainer machine.
Aside from offering all the usual benefits and conveniences of a cable based workout, they enable you to focus on individual muscles and to keep those muscles under tension.
They encourage control and isolation, meaning that you are much less likely to put unintended pressure on your stomach as you are when working out with free weights.
For these reasons, I believe that functional trainers are an ideal solution for anybody with a hiatal hernia who is looking to maintain or even build muscle mass in a safe way.
I recently discovered a range of functional trainers from the manufacturer Body-Solid.
To say that I’m impressed by their machines is an understatement and you may be pleased to hear that they have a model to suit every budget.
You can check out my full rundown here:
Heal Hiatal Hernia Naturally
18 months after my diagnosis, I no longer need or take the medicines I was prescribed, I regained all the weight I had lost and enjoy lifting weights most days.
OK, so ego-lifts are a thing of the past and I tend to work in the 10-15 rep range but those could easily be construed as positives as opposed to setbacks.
Crucially, I feel as if my hiatal hernia has healed and only very rarely do I suffer any symptoms.
Here are the things I attribute my recovery to, in order of priority:
- Faith – I read Derek Prince’s God’s Medicine Bottle (paid link) and followed the advice set out. I also watched David Hathaway’s incredible testimonies of his own healing. I decided after 12 months of dependence on omeprazole, to quit and trust God. Amazingly, I was spared any of the widely reported withdrawal symptoms and have enjoyed perfect digestion ever since. That was 6 months ago.
- Diet – I switched out cow’s milk – which is proven to be inflammatory to the bowel – for goats milk which is proven to be anti-inflammatory. I also eat fresh and powdered ginger, at least once a day. Ginger takes away nausea and is again, anti-inflammatory.
- IQoro – this simple plastic gizmo is said to help strengthen the esophageal sphincter and help with the symptoms of hiatal hernia. I can’t say that I noticed any specific change from using this device. However, it was part of my regime in the first 3 months after diagnosis, so it is worth mentioning.
- Posture / Stretching – I have recently incorporated stretching and posture exercises into my daily routine. It has occurred to me that perhaps my desk job and slumped poor posture have contributed to the weakening of the diaphragm and the emergence of my hiatal hernia. I’ve found no evidence of a link, but the overall enhancement to well being from my stretching regime merit inclusion in this article.
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If you’ve been diagnosed with hiatal hernia and are concerned about what the future holds for you, I hope that this article gives you hope and encouragement for the future. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t go on rebuilding your health and attain to greater levels of fitness than you’ve previously known.
To help kick-start your return to health, why not explore these follow-along workout programs that offer amazing results using largely bodyweight resistance only.
Be smart. Accept that your diagnosis means that you’re going to have to change things up, but remember that change can be a great thing.