Lifting free weights CAN cause GERD, but wait till you learn which particular weightlifting exercises can especially do this!
Lifting weights, of all things, can actually bring on GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called “heartburn” in layman’s terms.
“The pathophysiology of GERD is a complex relationship between gastric contents, gastric emptying, lower esophageal sphincter [LES] pressure and esophageal mucosal resistance to acid and other irritants,” explains Gastroenterologist Larry Good, MD, who’s been practicing for 40+ years, with a private practice in Lynbrook, NY; and is affiliated with Concierge Choice Physicians, a leading provider of personalized care in the U.S.
How can lifting free weights cause GERD?
“The essential requirement for GERD to occur is for intragastric pressure to exceed LES pressure,” continues Dr. Good.
“Therefore, anything that increases intragastric pressure will cause reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus. Straining of any kind will contribute to GERD.
“For example, squats or standing military presses with free weights dramatically increase intra-abdominal pressure and can worsen symptoms of GERD. Bench pressing, on the other hand, will not.
“Likewise, exercises that lower the head below the level of the abdomen can precipitate reflux symptoms or even regurgitation of gastric contents, because the force of gravity can exceed the resting LES pressure.”
Weightlifting moves in which the head is lower than the abdomen include inverted rows (if the feet are propped high enough) and elevated-foot pushups.
“Obese individuals are particularly susceptible,” says Dr. Good, to GERD being caused or aggravated by lifting weights—when they perform the particular movements that can bring on the symptoms such as squats and standing overhead presses.
Does this mean give up the very weightlifting moves that trigger your GERD?
Keep doing them if they are important for your fitness and physique goals. Nobody ever got sick from weightlifting-induced acid reflux.
But you should avoid other triggers for GERD such as liquor, caffeine and spicy foods. And don’t go overboard on the post-workout meal.
Dr. Good has additional expertise in the diagnosis/treatment of IBS and inflammatory bowel disease, and is extremely proactive in genetic testing, individualization of pharmacologic treatment, and risk mitigation in cancer screening/prevention. Concierge Choice Physicians
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.