One of the most common questions that people have regarding hernias is whether they are able to work out while suffering with one, or not.
In this article we will take a look at whether it is possible to train or not with one of the most common forms of hernia.
Whatever you do though, make sure that you see your doctor for advice first!
What is a Hernia?
Hernias are where an organ break through a wall or cavity this usually occurs in the abdomen (called an inguinal hernia).
There are many different types of hernia; inguinal, femoral, umbilical, diaphragmatic, and many others.
The most common are inguinal hernias and these can be separated into direct and indirect.
Direct inguinal hernias are caused by protrusions through the abdominal wall, this can be due to a genetic weakness in the area.
Indirect inguinal hernias are common in children and adults (unlike direct ones which almost exclusively affect older men). Indirect inguinal hernias are caused while in the womb and are much more common in males.
The risks of getting a hernia can be increased by certain lifestyle factors. Being obese, smoking, pregnancy, or certain diseases can weaken the abdominal wall and increase the likelihood of a hernia.
Groinal hernias (a form of inguinal hernia) are the most common type, and affect men much more than women. There is a belief that heavy lifting can increase the likelihood of a hernia, but this is not scientifically proven .
You can’t get rid of a hernia without surgery, but you can reduce the risks of it surfacing by avoiding smoking, staying lean, and maintaining correct posture (particularly when lifting).
Should I Exercise if I Have a Hernia?
The knee jerk response to this question would be “absolutely not”.
The idea of part of your insides breaking through your abdominal wall is terrifying and anything more strenuous than lying down suddenly seems risky.
But let’s define what exercise is for a second. It’s engaging in physical activity, which means that anything that isn’t lying perfectly still is classified as exercise.
Walking the dog, cutting the lawn, picking up a box from the floor, are all forms of exercise. So avoiding all exercise is an impossible task. Which means that you must exercise, remember that staying lean is an important factor in avoiding hernias in the first place.
One factor that can affect what exercises you are able to do is what stage your hernia is at.
If you have absolutely no signs of having one then you should be fine to perform any exercise (provided you follow the rules we’ll list below).
If you are currently suffering with one then you can still exercise but you should avoid heavy weight lifting exercises (any compound movement that causes you to hold your breath) and certain twisting movements.
If you have had a hernia removed then you should first ask your doctor, but you should be fine to perform most exercises provided that the weight isn’t too heavy.
Rules for Lifting
If you have no symptoms of a hernia, but you are aware that it is common in your family (therefore making it a genetic factor) you should still exercise, but you should take care while doing so.
Here are some rules for lifting (you should be following these even if you don’t have a hernia to worry about).
Rule #1: Concentrate on Form
Performing exercises with bad form not only increases the risk of getting injured, but it can prevent you from building the necessary strength to prevent injuries.
If you are squatting with terrible form you won’t be strengthening your abdominal wall, and you will be risking a hernia.
Follow advice on how to perform each exercise carefully, and get people to check your form if you aren’t sure.
Rule #2: Lift Weights that you can Handle
What’s the first thing that happens when you try to perform an exercise with a weight that is too heavy for you? Your form goes to pot.
Your body is designed to make things as easy as possible for you, so if you are lifting something that you shouldn’t be, it will try every trick in the book to help you.
This can easily lead to injury and is a common cause of hernias.
Rule #3: Learn how to Breathe Properly
How you breathe while lifting is very important, breathing in and out fully during each repetition.
You want to breathe out while exerting effort and breathe in while relaxing. Get this right and you should be able to avoid hernias.
If you are finding it difficult to get this right, lower the weight and go slower with more control.
Rule #4: Improve your posture
Bad posture is a common cause of hernias, finding exercises that can improve your posture is a bit of a no-brainer.
Face pulls, rear delt flyes, scapular retractions, and even exercises that target the hamstrings (weak or tight hamstrings can actually lead to bad posture) are all excellent ideas.
Good posture is important for a strong abdominal wall too.
Rule #5: Stay Active
As we mentioned earlier, there are many forms of exercise and not all of them have to be performed in a gym.
Walking more is a fantastic (low impact) way to stay in shape, improve your breathing, and reduce your risk of hernias.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is one of the most effective ways to lose weight and keep that weight off.
Can a Hernia Hinder Your Workouts?
Yes, a hernia can hinder your workouts. There are simply some exercises that need to be avoided.
You probably won’t be able to target your abdominal muscles in the same way that a hernia-free person would, you won’t be able to create that intra-abdominal block that powerlifters can, nor will you be able to perform Olympic lifts, do Crossfit, or participate in contact sports.
Obviously there are different degrees of hernia suffering, and exceptions to every rule, but for the most part you could say that a hernia would be a hindrance.
This doesn’t mean that you will never be able to do these things, just that while you are suffering, or post surgery you definitely need to avoid them. In the long term who knows what you’ll be capable of.
But this does not mean you should give up on working out, you can still lift weights, stretch, perform cardiovascular exercises, bodyweight workouts, and use resistance machines.
You can still walk, run, cycle, and swim.
It is advisable to do so, and to add in those posture exercises that we mentioned. Hernias will be less likely to appear, and more easy to treat with a stronger, leaner, more active body, and for that you need to exercise.
Just make sure that you are sensible and careful throughout.
 Fitzgibbons, R., Forse, R. 2015. Groin hernias in adults. The New England Journal of Medicine 372(8): 756-63