Ask LH: Can I Lift Weights With An Umbilical Hernia?

Ask LH: Can I Lift Weights With An Umbilical Hernia?

Dear Lifehacker, A few weeks ago I noticed a lump just above my belly button area which was about the size of a large marble. I got an ultrasound and was diagnosed with an umbilical hernia. Eight months before this, I joined a gym and have noticed great results. Every single person tells me NOT to do any weight lifting and only to stick to cardio. Which sucks.

I’m really scared now that since I’m unable to do any weights until I recover fully, that all my hard work at the gym is going to go to waste. Are there any muscle exercises that I can do while I’m waiting to have this hernia removed? Or is it best for my health that I just stick with cardio? Thanks, Gym Lover

Workout picture from Shutterstock

Dear GL,

There are plenty of people on weight-lifting forums who insist it’s fine to keep lifting with an umbilical hernia. However, there are just as many people who describe non-taxing sets that ended in horrific agony.

A ruptured hernia is one of the most painful injuries you can suffer from. It can also require emergency surgery which may put you out of action for even longer. You have to ask yourself whether the risk is worth it. Personally, we think your health is more important than maintaining an aesthetically pleasing physique.

You should also be aware that muscle atrophy is a slow process — you’re not going to suddenly wake up with skinny arms just because you stopped lifting. Your muscles may begin to shrink after a fortnight or so, but the change won’t be drastic. Provided you maintain healthy eating habits and do regular cardio workouts, your body will remain relatively fit and muscular.

There are a few exercises you can do beyond cardio that will help you to maintain a strong core. For example, planks are a low-stress method of strengthening your abdominal wall without squatting, bending or lifting weights — in addition to being safer, they may even cause the hernia to go back in. Weight machines are considered preferable to free weights, as you can isolate body parts without putting stress on the affected area. You can also purchase abdominal hernia belts that attempt to keep the hernia in place during exercise.

Naturally, you should discuss these options thoroughly with your GP before you attempt them. Incidentally, the biggest battle when it comes to weight training is perseverance: you seem to have this sorted, so rebuilding muscle mass won’t be a problem. Good luck!


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  • I’m confused – did you (GL) seek medical advice for this condition? Presumably so, given that you “got an ultrasound and was diagnosed” with the hernia. What did your doctor say when you asked about lifting weights?

    If your doctor is one of the people out of the “every single person” that has advised against lifting weights, then I’d recommend that advice. But to me, it sounds like you’re planning on doing it anyway, and just looking for justification for a decision that you already know is bad.

    Otherwise, I can’t see why you’re soliciting advice through the internet from people with no medical background (correct me if I’m wrong, Chris), who have no familiarity with your particular situation outside of a short email?

    Sorry for getting riled up, but it just sounds like running the risk of creating more work for an already stressed medical system, when you’ve clearly been given very consistent advice.

    • A lot of the time “Ask Lifehacker” is actually “Justify my stupidity and/or my getting caught breaking the law”

      • I know, it’s just that this one feels particularly bad. As this guy’s already consulted with the one person who’s trained for 10 years in this field and is familiar, not just with hernias in general, but with this *specific* case! And now he’s going out of his way to disregard this person’s advice.

        • He may have neglected to bring up weight lifting with his doctor. As I state in the article, he should discuss the situation thoroughly with his GP before attempting anything.

  • Howdy fellas,

    Just some background;

    First GP I saw advised me strongly against doing any weights, and said to strictly stick to cardio (probably should mention this wasn’t my regular GP, I just wanted to see somebody as soon as possible after I got the ultrasound result back).

    Second GP (who is my regular GP) advised me that I’ll be fine to go to the gym, and continue my usual routine as long as I wear hernia belt, and that if I notice the hernia getting any bigger that I should let him know.

    So you can sort of see my confusion, getting two conflicting medical opinions from GPs.


    • indeed, put a group of doctors in a room and ask them this question and they’ll likely have different opinions. Some even have a poor view of gyms and suggest only going to a gym if you’re just going to walk to the front door, turn around and walk back home.

      Another alternative for the OP is to be referred to an exercise physiologist. At the very least that should be able to advise on safe alternatives.

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