Weightlifting helps build muscle and improve your overall strength, flexibility, and endurance. But it can also have some unexpected consequences, especially if you're not careful.
Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectum or anus that cause pain and bleeding when they become irritated or inflamed. They can also cause bleeding and discomfort when sitting down or going to the bathroom.
They're more common than many people think. In fact, about half of people will have hemorrhoids by age 50.¹
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People who lift heavy weights usually perform a breathing method known as the Valsalva maneuver that involves holding air in your lungs.
Holding your breath forces the air down into your lungs. This increases the pressure on your internal organs, which can, in turn, cause the veins near your rectum to swell into hemorrhoids.
If you're lifting weights, you should know that the way you breathe during your workout can have a big impact on whether or not you develop hemorrhoids.
Before starting any exercise routine, ensure you've learned proper breathing techniques from a certified personal trainer or exercise professional.
If you lift on your own or have already been educated on these breathing methods by an expert, remember that consistency is key. If you don't follow through with proper breathing techniques every time you lift weights, then there's no way they'll help reduce the risk of developing hemorrhoids!
It's also important to lift weights correctly by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, bending at the knees and hips until you are almost parallel with the ground before lifting, as well as avoiding the Valsalva during lifting.
Depending on the severity of your condition, such as if it includes anal bleeding, you may need to avoid vigorous exercise entirely until the bleeding stops.
If you do choose to resume training, minimize straining and avoid lifting heavy weights. Try lowering the weight and ensure you perform proper breathing — it’s important not to hold your breath. Also, avoid compression of the abdominal cavity, such as you’d work in a squat.
You may also be able to use an elliptical or go for a swim, which gives you a full-body workout without straining your hemorrhoids, but always listen to your body — and your doctor.
It's a common myth that exercise can cause or worsen hemorrhoids. While this might be true for some people, it's important to know that regular exercise is beneficial if you have hemorrhoids or are prone to them.
Particularly aerobic exercises such as yoga and walking are recommended for those ailing from hemorrhoids.² ³
Walking around 20 to 30 minutes daily can help prevent hemorrhoids by stimulating bowel function. You may also consider performing Kegel exercises to improve symptoms. In fact, one study revealed that Kegels were effective in improving hemorrhoid symptoms and stages.⁴ ⁵
Exercise may also help with the underlying causes of hemorrhoids, such as inactivity or sitting for long periods.⁶
If you've been diagnosed with hemorrhoids, you know it can be hard to find ways to stay active. However, exercising regularly is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some precautions to help you stay safe while exercising with hemorrhoids:
First, ensure you're wearing the proper clothing. While shorts might seem like the best option for exercise, they can cause your hemorrhoids to become irritated and sore. Instead, wear loose-fitting pants that won't rub or press against them.
Second, don't overdo it. Even if you feel ready to push through the pain, take it easy on yourself! Take frequent breaks during your workout and only run or walk at a comfortable pace. If you feel pain or discomfort during exercise, stop what you're doing immediately and consult with your doctor.
Finally, don't make any sudden movements, like squatting, during your workout because these motions could worsen your symptoms and cause bleeding.
Treatment for hemorrhoids may include over-the-counter creams or ointments, stool softeners, sitz baths, or in severe cases, surgery.
Most hemorrhoid treatments are over-the-counter creams, ointments, or suppositories. They can relieve burning sensations caused by hemorrhoids and reduce swelling, but it's important to be patient before expecting results.
Suppositories tend to work faster than creams or ointments, but all options should be tried for about a week before deciding on whether they work for you.
Take note that many of these creams and medications are not meant to treat hemorrhoids altogether but relieve symptoms only.
Small hemorrhoids typically go away after a few days and can be treated at home. Increasing the fiber in your diet can help eliminate hemorrhoids and keep them from returning.
Sitz baths may also reduce pain and inflammation from hemorrhoids if done regularly.
To use a sitz bath, fill up a tub with two to three inches of warm water slightly less than body temperature. Soak in water for at least 10 minutes, ensuring your buttocks are submerged below water. Afterward, pat yourself dry with a clean towel and apply an over-the-counter cream or ointment to soothe your skin.
Keeping your anal area clean can also help. Remember not to use soap, as this can aggravate hemorrhoids. Consider using moist towels or fragrance-free wet toilet paper after a bowel movement. Do not scratch your hemorrhoids, as this may make them worse.
While home care can help you manage your symptoms, you must talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
If you experience any of the following, it is important to see a doctor:
If hemorrhoids last more than a few weeks
If you are looking to get into shape but want to avoid hemorrhoids, there are some precautions you can take. One of the most important ones is lifting heavy weights. This helps strengthen muscles but also puts pressure intra-abdominally, which can lead to hemorrhoids. If you're at risk for developing hemorrhoids or have a history of them, it's best to consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
If you already have hemorrhoids and are experiencing a flare-up, it's best to avoid heavy weightlifting altogether to allow the inflammation to subside. If you must lift, do so slowly, stopping periodically for a rest.
Activities such as horseback riding, bicycling, and rowing may exacerbate hemorrhoids. Sitting on hard surfaces for extended periods may also be an exacerbating factor.
Absolutely not! The goal is to take care of yourself while avoiding activities that might make them worse, but you don't need to stop working out entirely. When you're working out, focus on exercises like bench presses, deadlifts, and other exercises with less weight and no breath holding or Valsalva to lessen the amount of pressure in your abdomen.
Hemorrhoids | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Breathe in, breathe out… Breathing during exercise | University of Delaware
Weightlifting, squats and hemorrhoids | Live Strong.com
Hemorrhoids | The University of Texas at Austin
What happens when you hold your breath? | The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center