Can I Use a Rowing Machine With a Hiatus Hernia? (SOLVED)

If you’ve been asking can I use a rowing machine with a hiatus hernia? then I’m glad you’ve found this article. Rowing machines are unlikely to cause any serious complications of your hiatal hernia, but if you’re anything like me you may find that rowing on a traditional rowing machine exacerbates your reflux symptoms and pain. 

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What’s The Problem With Rowing Machines and Hiatus Hernias?

We all know that rowing on a rowing machine is an incredible workout with over 80% of the body’s muscles engaged in every rowing session.

But for some of us, a rowing machine can cause incredible discomfort – to the point that it’s just not viable.

When I bought the best value rowing machine available in the UK I was looking forward to rigorous workouts and burning away the bodyfat.

Having been diagnosed with a hiatus hernia 6 months earlier and told to quit lifting weights I thought that a rowing machine would provide a safe way to keep fit and retain some muscle mass.

But as I soon discovered, even short rowing sessions on my rowing machine seemed to exacerbate the symptoms of my hiatal hernia.

I believe that this caused by the position of the body in “the catch” and “recovery” phases of the rowing stroke:

Use a Rowing Machine With a Hiatus Hernia

As you can see, during the catch and recovery phase of the rowing movement, the rower’s torso is leaning forward over their bent legs and this causes upwards pressure on their internal organs.

In my experience, I found that this lead to severe regurgitation if I attempted to row within an hour of eating.

Even if I rowed on an empty stomach, I would find that I developed that familiar but unwelcome burning sensation in my solar plexus and esophagus.

From reading some fitness and rowing forums, it would seem that I’m not the only one who has suffered this discomfort.

Can’t I Just Take Antacids or PPI Medication Before Rowing?

Just about everybody I have interacted with who suffers from hiatal hernia has been prescribed omeprazole or esomeprazole to help control the acid production in the stomach.

By reducing acid production, our symptoms are reduced and we’re less likely to suffer that nausea and burning pain that so often plagues those of us with a hiatal hernia.

This means that for some people, if the medication is working effectively for them, they will be able to row without pain.

Having said that, even those who are on PPI acid reduction medication, are still likely to be vulnerable to unpleasant regurgitation if they row too close to a mealtime.

So to summarise, you may be absolutely fine to row with a hiatus hernia if you avoid rowing straight after a meal and you’ve been experiencing a complete remission of hiatus hernia symptoms.

Should I Quit Rowing?

If rowing is causing your reflux and gastritis to become unbearable and if your medication isn’t able to stop the symptoms, then I can understand why you may be considering quitting rowing.

After all, exercise is supposed to make us feel better, not to make our lives miserable!

The problem is that rowing is such a great exercise that nobody wants to have to give it up.

If you do decide to stop rowing then please check out this article about recumbent exercise bikes which may be a safe alternative for you.


Before you make that decision, check out the next section of the article and the two upright rowing machines that may be the key to enabling you to continue to row.

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Three Rowing Machines That Are Ideal For Hiatus Hernia Sufferers

Row-N-Ride PRO

(paid link)

The first model we will look at comes from Sunny Health Fitness and is called the Row-N-Ride PRO.

This is a novel squatting machine that uses elestic bands to provide some resistance.

Check out a typical workout that you can expect from a Row-N-Ride Pro in the video below:

OK, so it’s not as intense as a rowing workout on a traditional rowing machine, but it avoids the over-reaching and compression of the torso which can aggrevate GERD symptoms when rowing.

I appreicate the keen pricing of this model too. Coming in at under $200 it does represent excellent value for money and isn’t too much of a financial risk to take.

There are some excellent reviews from satisfied customers to be found on the net, as well as a host of positive comments under their YouTube videos.

So given that the Row-N-Ride costs a fraction of the price of a traditional rowing machine, it may definitely be worth a try in order to keep you active and able to row in some capacity.

Total Gym Row

(paid link)

But if you’re looking for something a bit pricier, then have a look at the Total Gym Row.

I love Total Gym machines as they have stood the test of time with many users reporting decades of happy work-outs on their machines.

Their rower seem a bit pricey for what it is, given that there is no resistance mechanism, but you can tell from the video below that this is a well made peice of kit that will help to keep you fit for years to come.

What I particularly like about the design of all the Total Gym Rowers is that the user’s torso remains completely verticle during the catch and recovery phase of the rowing movement.

This means that the risk of exacerbating the hiatus hernia and associated symptoms should be mitigated.

So yes, at over $1k this may seem to be an expensive machine, but the cost is only the equivalent of a decent traditional rower.

==> UPDATE <== Amazon are now selling a more budget friendly rowing machine made by Total Gym which looks like another excellent choice for those of you who suffer with a hiatal hernia but wish to continue rowing.

It features 6 levels of resistance and a holder for your mobile device and is getting great reviews from owners.

It also comes with membership to Total Gym TV which provides convenient access to streaming workouts.
Currently for sale at $599, the Total Gym Ergonomic Folding Incline Rowing Machine is definitely worth a look.

In fact, this is the model I am desperate to source in the UK so that I can start benefiting from these hiatal-hernia friendly rowing machines.

Don’t Feel The Burn!

So there you have it – can you use a rowing machine with a hiatus hernia? Yes!

But you may want to look at investing in an upright rowing machine if your reflux medication has not been able to surpress the painful symptoms of reflux during your rowing workouts.

The three models we’ve looked at here, the Row-N-Ride PROTotal Gym Row and my personal favourite Total Gym Ergonomic Folding Incline Rowing Machine offer three alternatives – across the price spectrum – which may enable you to continue rowing without worsening your symptoms.

if you do decide to try one of these machines be sure to let me know how you’re getting on in the comments section.

Likewise, if you have found a way to continue to enjoy your rowing workouts despite your hiatal hernia I’d love to hear from you. Perhaps you switched to using an exercise bike instead, or are thinking of doing so. In which case, this article on the Bodymax FBX20 may be of interest to you!

In the meantime, before you go why not have a read of this related article about hiatal hernias:

Lifting Weights With a Hiatal Hernia


2 thoughts on “Can I Use a Rowing Machine With a Hiatus Hernia? (SOLVED)”

  1. Thank you for this informative article. I was recently diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and have suffered GERD and silent reflux for years. My foot neuropathy keeps me from walking for exercise. I need to save my feet for daily chores and errands. I was on the verge of signing up at the local gym to use the rowing machines but my diagnosis made me wonder if rowing was a good idea. Then I came across your site and my suspicions were confirmed: rowing is not a good idea. So I just ordered my Sunny Health & Fitness Row and Ride Pro. Perfect! This is my first home gym piece of equipment and I’m certain it will be healthier than my new habit of sitting in front of the TV while eating caramel corn.

    • Hi Jeannette,

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

      I can’t wait to hear how you get on with the Row and Ride Pro! I think you’ve made the right choice… just be sure to create a realistic routine and then stick to it!! Easier said than done, but I’ll be happy to help you with that if you wish.

      In fact, perhaps that will be the subject of my next article!

      Do come back and let me know how you are getting on!

      To your health!



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