You know the feeling: after a serious combination of bench press and cable fly, there is a burn in your chest that feels like a win (a humming, worn-out type of win). And there’s the burn in that burn that spreads down your esophagus and feels like you’re about to swallow a fire extinguisher.
Heartburn, also known as the severe burn associated with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), often enters your workout when you are lifting weights. According to recent research from Case Western Reserve University, GERD and its burns are on the rise in younger people, especially people between the ages of 30 and 39. These problems are especially common if you are overweight, which enables you to lift to try to keep your weight down but not become excluded from heartburn.
So what kindles this fire? Whether you’re lifting kettlebells, a hexagonal bar, or something else, you’re increasing your intra-abdominal pressure, explains Dr. MH, Dr. med. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, gastroenterologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital / Weill Cornell Medical Center. This can cause the valve at the bottom of your esophagus to be opened by the contents of your stomach pushing up and irritating the esophagus.
And all of the planks, pushups, and hinges that come with a good strength program can help get stomach acid where it’s not supposed to be because gravity isn’t helping you keep it where it’s supposed to be. What doesn’t make the burn worse: heavy weights. A lot of men think the more intensity you exercise, the more reflux you experience, but studies haven’t proven it, says Dr. Schnoll-Sussman.
So keep that bar loaded and schedule another workout because their tips below can help you without lifting the wrong type of burn.
How to avoid heartburn when lifting weights
Work with gravity
When you lie flat, your stomach contents can drift upwards. For example, if the bench press is giving you problems, this is a good time to do a seated machine press or an incline press.
Refuel with care
If you need something to eat before your session, make it an easily digested carbohydrate and eat little. If you go to the gym on a full stomach, there’s a greater chance you’ll have reflux – it’s the thing that gets the stomach contents pushing the valve back on.
Ingesting a lot of fluids and even water can fill your stomach and trigger reflux as well. A sip from a straw can make the situation worse: you decrease the pressure in your chest and pull out of your stomach, increasing the likelihood that something will reappear. Coffee lover, you might be fine. Some people can drink it with no problem; others cannot tolerate a sip before exercise. (Check what other documents say you might be able to eat and drink if you have reflux).
Get the right OTC drugs
If adjustments in your diet or posture don’t tame the burn, consider OTC medications. Here’s what you should know about the different types:
- Basic antacids (like Tums, Rolaids, Mylanta, Alka-Seltzer): “These do not change anything in the process; They only counteract the stomach acid so that what appears does not burn so badly, ”says Dr. Schnoll-Sussman.
- H2 blockers: They don’t stop reflux, but these drugs reduce the amount of acid that builds up. You know them as Pepcid AC and Tagamet.
- PPIs: Proton pump inhibitors are your next step after H2 blockers. They help to inhibit an enzyme that is involved in acid production. You need to pop them 30 minutes before a meal, which can be tricky if you’re exercising in the morning. Brands include Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid.
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