For me, the thought of getting the dreaded hernia was beyond scary. I knew that in order to prevent hernia, I would have to learn all about it and be one step ahead. However, how does it connect to weightlifting belt?
There are genetic factors that increase the risk of you getting a hernia. But, if you find yourself in the same position as I was 13 years ago, stick around to learn the foundational information that every lifter should know.
In this article, we cover what the hernia is, and 5 common causes. Also, we cover 3 causes in the gym setting, and 3 hernia preventative properties that the weightlifting belt possesses.
Towards the end of the article, we cover some frequently asked questions, to reach more of our audience.
To finalize the article, we jot down a take home message to set you up with the ‘tools’ needed to prevent hernia.
What Is a Hernia?
You or someone you know, may have noticed an abnormal looking lump bulging out from areas like the groin or lower back.
This lump is actually a part of the intestine which has broken through the walls of a muscle that could not sustain a certain amount of abdominal pressure (1).
Although we may make reference to more than one type of hernia, we are most interested in the Inguinal Hernia (2), as these are common from excessive abdominal pressure and frequently complained about amongst ‘gym goers’.
5 Common Causes Of The Hernia
The risk of inguinal hernia can be increased by the following;
1. Excessive Visceral Fat
Visceral fat sits underneath organs and the stomach. It can cause the muscles of the abdomen to push forwards, thus creating pressure.
For this reason, visceral fat increases the risk of hernia, especially if you have weak core muscles. Visceral fat can be controlled through diet and cardiovascular exercise.
Aging comes with a whole host of problems, one of them being sarcopenia, which is the natural loss of muscle and mobility.
It is likely that the muscles of the abdomen will also weaken, increasing the risk of hernia.
There is nothing that can combat aging, but you can minimize sarcopenia with regular resistance training.
3. Lifting Heavy Object
Without giving away too much, lifting heavy objects creates pressure around the abdomen with a higher risk of hernia, especially if you have weak core muscles or observe poor lifting technique.
4. Coughing And Sneezing
Coughing and sneezing drive some pressure towards the abdomen, so there is always a risk of hernia. However, this is highly unlikely with ‘normal’ level of core stability.
While forcing bowel movements, a lot of pressure is placed on the abdominal wall, which poses a high risk of hernia.
Constipation can be prevented through a ‘healthy’ diet with a variety of fibrous grains, fruits and vegetables.
As you may know, fiber helps maintain ‘normal’ bowel movements through bulking and softening the ‘number 2’.
3 Causes Of A Hernia In The Gym Setting
1. Weak Abdominal Wall
If we think about the gym setting, lifts like the squat and deadlift drive pressure towards the abdominal walls.
Amongst many other injuries, without a set of strong core stability muscles, the risk of a hernia pushing through is increased.
Always make sure that you work on core stability and balance, before attempting exercises that draw a lot of pressure around the abdomen.
2. ‘Ego’ Lifting
Sometimes, ‘gym goers’ will rack up the weight on the squat rack just to act tough in front of their friends or fellow gym goers. We like to call this ‘ego’ lifting.
‘Ego’ Lifting can hinder lifting form and cause the spine to propel back or forward, placing a lot of strain on the abdomen, with a risk of hernia.
Always lift properly and abide by your projected lifting intensities. Even if you perform a lift at your individual 100% intensity, make sure it is an accurate estimation of the load, where safe and effective form can be maintained.
3. Heavy Lifting
Safety precautions can be taken to minimize the risk of hernia during exercise, but lifting heavy ‘powerlifter’ type of weights always poses a risk from driving massive amounts of pressure towards the abdomen. But as the saying goes ‘without risk there is no reward’.
Learn more about Using Weightlifting Belt
You Can Use the Weightlifting Belt to Prevent Hernia
Do belts prevent hernias or not? Well, I am not prepared to say that the weightlifting belt is a magic prevention tool, but it may be a good precaution to reduce the risk.
I have highlighted 3 ways that the weightlifting belt may help, in my opinion.
1. Strengthen The Abdominal Wall
Think about trying to punch through a brick wall or a paper wall, which element would your fist go through?
I hope you agree that it’s the weaker paper wall, as the brick wall is stronger and more force resistant. The same analogy applies to the abdominal wall.
The loyal readers of musclelead.com, should have a good grasp of how the weightlifting belt helps engage the core, of which includes the abdominal wall.
Regularly working the core in this manner, could help build a strong sheaf of muscle at the midsection over the longer term. It would only make sense that the intestines would be less likely to be punctured through a stronger abdominal wall right?
Click here to read about Weightlifting Belt and Core Strength
2. Controlling The Diaphragm Pressure while Using Weightlifting Belt
What would happen if you kept overstretching an elastic resistance band, chances are that it would weaken and snap or tear. The same analogy applied to the abdominal wall.
As you probably know, the weightlifting belt is strapped around the midsection, which limits the outward movement of the diaphragm (stomach muscle) during exercises like the barbell squat and deadlift.
This could stop the abdominal muscles from overstretching, which in turn could prevent strain and weakness, thereby blocking off the dreaded breakthrough of a hernia.
3. Maintaining a Safer Trunk Position while Using Weightlifting Belt
The main purpose of the weightlifting belt is to promote a safe neutral spine position during heavy compound lifts like the squats.
This stable spine position can prevent excessively bending backwards or forwards (flexion and hyperextension).
Bending the trunk with heavy loads can put a jolt of stress on the abdominal wall or lumbar back, risking either an Inguinal or lumbar Hernia.
Frequently Asked Questions
Just because you lift heavy weights does not mean you are guaranteed to get a hernia.
The precautions I would recommend to try prevent the hernia include:
1. Strengthen the abdominal wall
2. Do NOT ego lift above your maximum intensity
3. Wear a belt for heavy lifts
4. Learn and use proper form for all exercises, especially barbell squats and deadlifts
YES! They can help. The lifting belt can help engage and strengthen your core muscles for the long term. Secondly, it can stop overstretching of the diaphragm and stain on the abdominal wall. Thirdly, it can prevent bending at the spine during heavy lifting, with less risk of a sudden spike of tension towards the abdomen or spine.
The option to get an operation is there. As far as I know, people usually get an operation if the hernia causes too much pain, or affects mobility. Surgery is not always necessary.
As you should know, the hernia is a lump that appears on many areas of the body, commonly around the groin for ‘gym goers’ from pressure around the midsection, causing the intestines to break through the abdominal wall.
Also, along with a weak abdominal, the variables that increase the risk of hernia include; excessive stomach fat, aging, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, coughing, sneezing and constipation. Moreover, the best precautions you could take here, would be to prevent weight gain via cardio and resistance exercise combined with a calorie controlled diet rich in fiber.
In the gym setting, the main causes of the hernia are; lifting with weak abdominal walls, powerlifting, and ego lifting. To counteract these, strive to maintain strong core muscles through exercise, and always lift within your limits.
The lifting belt may offer some additional hernia preventative properties, as it could strengthen the core contractions/abdominal wall, prevent the abdominal wall from overstretching, and keep the spine and abdomen straight while lifting.
- NHS (2022) ‘Hernia’ Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hernia/ (Accessed 17/12/2022)
- NHS (2021) ‘Inguinal Hernia Repair’ Available at:https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/inguinal-hernia-repair/ (Accessed: 17/12/2022)
Read More about Weightlifting Belts
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- How To Choose A Weightlifting Belt
- Should I Get A 4-Inch Or 6-Inch Weightlifting Belt? In-Depth Guide
- Why Use A Weightlifting Belt: Instructions And Benefits
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