Exertion headaches when strength training

FadraN Posts: 2 Member
Has anyone experienced exertion headaches (or sometimes called a weightlifters headache) when working out? I experienced my second one yesterday and it was not fun.

I'm not lifting super heavy weights because I'm going slow but I want to push myself as well. I'd love any advice from anyone that has ever experienced them and how to avoid please! It derails everything for me!


  • Retroguy2000
    Retroguy2000 Posts: 1,013 Member
    Never, and I've never heard of it.

    Google tells me it's definitely a thing, and various health sites suggest it's more likely with lack of hydration, or working out in hot or humid conditions, or at higher altitude. Suggestions include pouring cold water on your head (to help constrict the blood vessels to ease pressure), anti-inflammatories and of course get plenty of water.

    Do any of those conditions apply to you? Hydration, heat, humidity, altitude?

    Are there specific exercises which you think trigger it?
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 29,647 Member
    edited May 21
    I think it can also be posture or form related. The Breaking Muscle site has an article about that aspect that seems pretty good:


    To be clear, I'm not endorsing that site as a totality, not deeply familiar with it . . . but as someone who sometimes gets tension headaches related to neck/jaw postural issues for other reasons, the article pretty much rings true.

    For sure check in with your doctor to rule out anything truly worrisome, especially if your specific symptoms don't match those in articles about exercise headaches that are on decent web sites (medical centers and that sort of thing).

    In my case, physical therapy, massage therapy, and osteopathic manipulation (by an actual doctor at a major university clinic) have been helpful interventions with my slightly-differently-caused headaches.

    ETA afterthought: You're not holding your breath inappropriately or clenching your jaw when lifting, I hope?
  • FadraN
    FadraN Posts: 2 Member
    Thanks for the feedback. No heat, humidity, or altitude and definitely not holding my breath. I try to be very form focused but there’s no guarantee there without someone watching me. Posture could definitely be an issue as that’s an ongoing problem for me. I do see a chiropractor but I’d be down for massage therapy too!

    Digging into the site mentioned. Appreciate the resource!
  • Beverly2Hansen
    Beverly2Hansen Posts: 378 Member
    This happened to my husband but was actually hypertension(high blood pressure). He is a serious power lifter and cross fit enthusiast without a lot of fat. Not the typical body type associated with hypertension but he had to be treated or give up lifting. Now many things can cause headaches from lifting but be sure to check your blood pressure. Also pre workout can induce headaches in people too.
  • EliseTK1
    EliseTK1 Posts: 453 Member
    YES. I have a history of migraines, and about ten years ago I developed exercise-induced headaches, specifically when lifting heavy upper body, mostly during pull-ups and similar movements. I also started getting them during… ahem… activities that are supposed to be a lot more fun and not painful. Super not ok.

    Things that have helped me:
    - Being on a preventative therapy (Emgality)
    - Warming up REALLY well prior to lifting, and starting my sets very light
    - Avoiding the movements that cause the most issues (no more pull-ups)
    - Lifting consistently (at least twice a week) and not just going at it hard every now and then
    - Regularly getting sports massages
    - Staying well hydrated
    - Using a warm compress on my neck when it’s feeling stiff
    - Getting a trigger point injection in the spot in my trap muscle that seems to exacerbate the issue

    I haven’t gotten one of those hellish headaches in quite a while, so that’s a good sign. I really hope you find a way to ease them. They are debilitating when they happen.
  • ninerbuff
    ninerbuff Posts: 47,972 Member
    A couple of things usually come to mind: in proper breathing method and tightening of your neck muscles while you lift.

    On breathing rule of thumb is inhale on the EASIEST part of the exercise and exhale on the HARDEST part of any exericse. So on a push exercise you exhale on the push and on a pull exercise you exhale on the pull.

    Focus on relaxing your neck muscles, unless you're doing shoulder exercises, while you lift.

    A.C.E. Certified Personal and Group Fitness Trainer
    IDEA Fitness member
    Kickboxing Certified Instructor
    Been in fitness for 30 years and have studied kinesiology and nutrition

  • AppleFitnessfan
    AppleFitnessfan Posts: 10 Member
    I have never experienced this during my strength training workouts. I do try make sure my form is correct with each lift. I also try to drink a lot of water to maintain hydration during each session.