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Ask Stew - Headaches During Workouts

stew smith

Exercising and exerting yourself to the point of getting headaches during strenuous workouts is not uncommon.  However, the headaches can be typically tied to breathing incorrectly during lifts and your current state of hydration.  However, there are a few other things that can cause headaches in the gym. Check out the question from a young man seeking to serve in the military in his future but has had a few issues with headaches over the past few workouts:

Mr. Smith,

I am a college freshman trying to reapply to a service academy this year.  I have a question on exertion headaches. At the end of my workout I got a pretty serious headache right as I finished my workout. It was the first intense lift I had since getting my wisdom teeth out five days earlier. I had no pain or problems from the surgery, and actually started lightly exercising on Monday. I would like to know if these are relatively common among athletes you train or people you know in the military community.

Very respectfully, Greg

Greg - Headaches are tough to figure out to be honest as they can range from sinus pain to an aneurism.  Obviously, this can quickly get out of my paygrade. However, this is most likely neither of the two but if your headaches persist, you should go see a doctor especially if they occur when you are not training also. However, IF they only happen during exertion, it could be a breathing issue.  Here are some typical pains that occur in the weight room during training:

- If you are holding your breath on exertion that can lead to some serious pressure building up in your head and cause pain. Make sure you are exhaling on exertion and inhaling during the easy part of the lift or calisthenics.

- This could also be sinus pain and weird movements can trigger some pain when the head is congested.  Often situps or other quick movements from sitting to standing or turning quickly can make you dizzy or cause pain with inner ear, forehead, and face.

- It could also be food or hydration. Are you hungry? Dehydrated? Could be low blood sugar at the time of training or at the end of your workout?

- Check your blood pressure - is it high? High blood pressure can cause headaches and combined with lifting can bring on sudden changes in blood pressure.

- Have you had any dental work done recently or illnesses that you are recovering from like an ear infection or strep throat?  Often getting work done where nerves are exposed or mucus or swelling prevents normal breathing can be a cause to headaches when training.

This best thing to do is stop training and cool down with some water.  If sweating profusely, make sure you get water immediately and some electrolytes as well.  These typically will go away in 5-10 minutes and you can even start training again but you should warmup and slowly get the heart rate elevated and the body back to where it was.  But the better option is to just stop moving, get cool, breathe deeply, and call it a day.

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