T Nation

20 Rep Squats Induced Headache

I did a search and found some information, but most threads end with the original poster saying they are going to get it checked out and then never get back.

I was doing 20 rep squats 5 days ago, and on rep 18 I got stuck at the bottom, struggled, and dropped the weight onto the safety racks. Immediately after I got the most insane head pain right at the back left of my head. I wasn’t breathing correctly on the last few squats, and I assumed that was what caused it.

I finished up my workout with a bench press, dips and pullups and the headache wasn’t too bad. Later that night it hurt really badly, and then for the next two days it slowly subsided. 3 days in I did some pushups and right when I stopped the pain came back even worse. I assume this is an exertion headache. If I stretch my neck and my upper back it subsides for a few minutes, but it always comes back. Even if I just massage my neck the pain disappears for a moment.

I am just about to go to the clinic but I would be curious to know for anyone that has had one, how long has it taken to get over? I will for sure concentrate on my breathing from now on, but it’s been 5 days now of no lifting and it doesn’t seem to get any better.

sounds more like you strained a neck muscle to me.

I got that same headache, in the same spot, doing tabata front squats last year. I hate to tell you this, but: it took three or four months for it fade away entirely. I still don’t know what cause it. It lingered and then intensified during exertion. Painkillers seemed to dull the edge of the pain, but never entirely erase it. I’m interested to see what responses you get here too.

Popped blood vessel internally? This is plausible with an extremely taxing/intense workout such as tabata or 20reppers. I popped a blood vessel in my eye when I was younger…just from caughing. I looked like Arnie in the Terminator

I get headaches when i dont have adequate oxygen supply; meaning i experience them in planes or high altitude; this can lead to full blown migraine for me that lasts for a day. Wonder if it could be due to high oxygen uptake needed to do 20 squats as this is a very high volume of squats especially done on the heavier side – 20 squats is a lot.

Would be curious if original poster’s headache went away sometime later as another poster said he had a headache that last for several months. For a headache that only last a couple hours or a day, i might tend to think it might be due to inadequate oxygen; but for one that lasts several months, this is something different.

Only reason for question, is that if headache went away after day, maybe do less squats; but heavier so as to avoid problem?

A friend of mine just passed away from a brain anuerism (sp?) so my advice would be to get it checked out

Usually a headache from a workout like that would be from high blood pressure. Being that it is lasting so long I would get my health checked out, definately not normal to get a headache for so long from a set of squats - I know it was a intense set of 20, but thousands of people do that and some do much more without chronic headaches from it.

Definately either did something or have a underlying health issue. I guess my point is that is wasn’t the squats directly that could have cause it, but indirectly something is wrong.
I’d also see a real doctor and get a detailed check-up and blood work and not just one of those emergent care clinics where they like to pass out anti-biotics.

Well, got back from the clinic and the doctor just checked my blood pressure and felt around my head, said it was fine, and told me that I probably tore a ligament in my neck. I am seeing my GP asap b/c the dude at the clinic didn’t even mention exertional headache. BTW - the pain, for now, has disappeared but I bet you if I do some push ups it’ll come back.

Redbones, glad to hear you got over it, I’m not stoked on hearing it took 3-4 months though. I’m going to give it another 4 days before I even attempt any slight physical activity. I’m going to ditch the 20 rep squats for a few months at least and when I get back to them all I’m gonna think about is breathing. it kind of sucks, I am addicted to them. I’ll update this post in a few weeks time.

ZYL281, sorry about your friend.

I was getting the same thing…not fun working out with.

–Do you by chance crack you neck?
I know it sounds weird when I stopped(It was a habitual thing so I had to remind myself) the headaches subsided.

just my two cents

My neck is really crickety because I broke it in two places a couple years ago (came really close to eating shit for good on that one but thats another story), and it cracks if I just do neck stretches.

I know people who crack their necks really deliberately and I never do that cause I’m told by my neuro that it is a bad idea for long-term health.

This thread is really good:

the more and more i read about this and do more stretches the more i think its trap and upper back tightness. I just did 15 minutes of trap and neck stretches and did a bunch of pushups with very focussed and heavy breathing and the pain is just slightly there, not even close to the mind-numbing pain I experienced a few days ago.

I know how to fix this!

I got this once when me and my buddy had a challenge to see how many reps of leg extensions we could do (i did 200 and won btw) anyways:

The headache is caused due to straining too hard and not breathing properly during your reps.

How you fix it:

Do not strain at all for a week, and ice the back of your head/ back of your neck.


He’s right. I had the exact same shit happen to me. 20 rep squats followed by a bomb going off in my head. It’s most likely a trap muscle that connects with the the fascia under your scalp or lining the skull, either way it hurt like a bitch.

Best way to take care of it - don’t sleep on your stomach and ice the back of your neck. Stay out of the gym for a week and slowly get back in there. It’ll go away. If it’s bothering you after 2 weeks or if you have problems with high blood pressure I would see a doc.

[quote]fatcat wrote:
I’m going to ditch the 20 rep squats for a few months at least[/quote]

???Why stop there, why not years??? Months! Come on, look at this video for some inspiration.


just an update - i went to the gym and did some squats, focussed on breathing, and the headache only came back very weak for a minute. and then i stretched it out and it went away. stretching traps and upper back seems to be the key.

[quote]fatcat wrote:
just an update - i went to the gym and did some squats, focussed on breathing, and the headache only came back very weak for a minute. and then i stretched it out and it went away. stretching traps and upper back seems to be the key.[/quote]

icing it will speed it up aswell

I experienced the same pain during a set of leg presses (maybe 450 lbs?) and was certain I was going to die of an aneurism. I think it was a mixture of failing to breathing properly and bringing it too far back towards my chest (letting my hips come up and straining my lower back).

I had a similar experience attempting 20-rep squats. I got an intense headache in the base of my skull and could hardly see or stand up straight. It emerged whenever I increased intra-thoracic pressure.

I went to the doctor and he wanted me to get a CT scan and all sorts of things. I was freaking out. But the CT came back negative and every other medical opinion I got told me it was most likely a muscle spasm resulting from not breathing correctly. It went away in a couple weeks.

I don’t usually post, but I know how this feels!

amazing how so many people experienced the same situation I did

for months Ive been getting those headaches irregularly while working out

sometimes I got them while benching and I went to my doctor to get it checked up. blood pressure was fine and no popped vessel so he told me to go easy on the weights

but sometimes I would just be curling the bar or doing pushups and the pain would surge back

these usually lasted a few hours but havent had em for a couple months until I did 20 squat reps for the first time yesterday

while I was coming up on my 17th the back of my head just got real hot and I felt a thumping pain surge out from the back of my head… I was stupid and pumped out the last reps until 20 and by that time myhead was abou tto explode

I drank my protein shake and took a shower. Shortly after the shower I threw up the protein shake and tried to sleep but the throbbing pain was too much. I took some advil and laid in my head in cold sweat and eventualy fell asleep. I had a weaker headache all day today…

so stretching the traps and upper back is the solution for these types of headaches? and proper breathing?

I did some breathing squats today myself and got a headache after rep 20. Perfectly normal.

I had something similar quite a few years ago. I’d squatted to aroud 190kg for 5 reps and decided to do a “pump-out” with 145kg, I managed 15reps when it felt like somone had hit me in the back of the head with a baseball bat! I had the insane headache from Sunday until seeing the doc on the Wednesday. He reckoned I’d torn a neck / trap region. it calmed down within a week but that was it for high rep squats, besides I was more into powerlifting, so it wasn’t a great loss. Never had it since.