My personal experience with weight training and headaches

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If you are reading this you probably experienced headaches during or after your training. These type of pains are also referred to as exertion headaches. Here is what they are, when they occur and what you need to do in order to fix them and avoid them.

What are exertion headaches

An exertion headache is a very intense pain in the back area of your head or in the sides of your head, which occurs as a result of a very intense training session, usually during the final reps of a very heavy weight training exercise, when you are very close to failure or at failure.

My personal experience with exertion headache

Personally, to me it happened while I was doing leg press and I was hitting the weights really hard. I was on my final rep or one rep short of failure when I felt this moderate to intense pain like something snapped or popped right in the back of my head. I’m telling you guys, this was some scary shit because it never happened to me before and I knew immediately that something was not right.

When this happened I was already lifting for about 6 months, so I was still a beginner but not a complete newbie.

Anyways, of course I ended my set right away and rested for a few minutes. The pain was not as intense as before but it was still there, even after resting a couple of minutes. I tried to continue my workout but the pain kept increasing in intensity as I was 2-3 reps into my sets. Finally I decided to give up and left the gym without finishing my training that day. This was a good decision as I was about to find out.

A dull headache was still there for the rest of the day (I train in the morning) but not very intense. The next day I wasn’t feeling any pain and decided to go back in the gym, but on my second set or so, my head started hurting again, in the same area. I stopped my weight training again and decided to do some low intensity cardio which I could do without feeling any increase in pain, but it was still there.

I took the next 2 or 3 days off and then went back to the gym to give it another try. Same story as before – right after my warm up my head started hurting again while I was doing incline bench press. It was then when I realized I need more rest in order to fix this and took a 7 – 10 days break from any type of training, including cardio.

I know that many of you may not enjoy staying out of the gym for such a long period, I sure didn’t, but this is the only way you can make this kind of pain go away. Just stop training for at least one week. Additionally, consider going to a doctor and get yourself checked out to make sure that there is nothing serious going on. Don’t just rely on information you can find online, such as this article. I am not a doctor, I’m just telling you my personal experience with this. Go to your physician and get a professional opinion on your issue. Most likely you will be fine but why leave room for doubt. So, get yourself checked out.

After my resting days I went back in the gym anxious to see how it goes. And it went very well. My pain was completely gone. I started off lighter, less weight, less volume and slowly build up to where I was before. In a couple of weeks time I was able to go to failure again without feeling any pain.

So for me it was 100% recovery, even though I heard stories of cases that never healed completely, meaning that sometimes when they go to failure the pain comes back.

What causes exertion headaches

Obviously very high intensity training is the primary reason for exertion headaches, but there are other factors that favor them, such as: poor hydrationbad head/neck position during exercising, poor breathing technique and your general conditioning. More on these factors later on in this article.

Exercises that are more likely to cause head pains are squats, deadlifts and leg press. The muscles in our legs are the most powerful muscles in the human body, therefore require heavier weights when training. This usually leads to higher blood pressure, which leads to dilated/swollen blood vessels which can the lead to lifting headaches.

How long until I can train again

As you can see, in my case it took just over one week to get back in the gym and another 1 or 2 weeks until I started training as hard as before, but this time will depend on the severity of your pain. Either way, a complete rest period is required, and this does not include only weight training but also any kind of recreational physical activities.

What I learned from this

Here is what I not do differently or pay more attention at in the gym and outside the gym in order to prevent these type of pains. I never had them again ever since.

Hydration is very important and it can prevent a lot of problems. I am drinking more water now, not necessarily during my training, but throughout the day and before going to sleep. There are various recommendations on what quantity of water one should drink but I don’t find them to be very accurate because everybody is different and everybody lives in different conditions in terms of temperature. I dink enough water so that my urine is clear at least 2-3 times a day when I go to the restroom. Your urine should never be dark yellow. This is a sign of poor hydration. Water makes your blood flow smoothly through your body and minimizes the chances of getting an exertion headache.

Breathing is very important as well. Holding your breath during training makes your blood pressure go up a lot which can result in exertion headaches. This is not recommended during sets of several reps. Our blood pressure and heart rate go up all the time during weight training, you don’t need any additional factors for increasing blood pressure.

Cardio exercising is very important for building a strong cardiovascular system which can prevent exertion headaches by handling better those very high intensity training sessions.

Head/neck position is another factor you need to consider. I remember my head position was very poor when I did that leg press set which gave me the headache. The neck should stay still during the reps (depending on the type of exercise you are doing) and should have a natural position.

Rest is something you should do immediately after you experience a headache caused by lifting heavy weights. Take at least one week off from the gym and from any other type of physical activity to be more specific. I remember that when I was recovering after my exertion headache, sometime the pain would come back just from doing everyday physical activities such as carrying two grocery bags.

What about you? Did you have any headache pains during your workout? What did you do to fix them? Comment below and help the community.

Over and out,

Chris