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Exertion Headache


Hey TNation

Long time lurker, first time post. Before I start want to just say thank you to everyone on the T Nation team and all the users in the forum, I am convinced this is the single best source for weight training and nutrition for weight training around.

Now I am not new to exertion headaches, I got my first a few years back when I was trying to squeeze out the last rep. But recently I have been getting them more often in particular each time I try to squat for the past two week.

A little background. About a month ago I started loosely following Peary Rader’s squat routine. I really like squats and have never tried a sets of 10 that kicked my ass so much. But the other week when doing my last set of squats I felt the sting in the back of my skull of a exertion headache coming on. Well I think it was because I still had the bar on my back keeping pressure or something but I felt this pain and then continued with my last 2 reps. When I put the bar down I was hit by a train, and my workout was instantly over.

Not only that but for the better part of the next two days I had a lingering headache and felt kinda nauseous. This went away and 2 days passed and it was time for more squats. I concentrated on my breathing and worked through the sets only giving myself a minor headache.

Then I went to the dentist (I know from left field right) and found out I was getting gum recession due to clenching (from lifting), so I went and got myself a mouthguard. Which takes me to today.

Another squat day (aren’t all days squat days ;] ), the first time with the mouthguard. In my warm up I noticed that I wasnt exhaling quite as powerfully through my mouth, due to the mouth guard. So I payed attention to this. In my first heavy set right at the end I got another splitting headache. This one compared to the first so I called it a workout trying not to to exasperate it more.

So my questions, for those that have suffered from these before got any advice on how I can continue to squat heavy and avoid these headaches? Do I just need to take a few more days off? should I de-load for a week and then hit it hard? Can the angle of where I am looking affect this more? Ill take any advice.

Thank you,


Sadly I am no stranger to headaches and migraines so you have my sympathy. However I have managed to stop them interfering too much with my lifting, the only thing that aggravates them for me is high rep snatch grip deadlifts.

Do you squat high or low bar? low bar may help shift pressure away from the back of your neck, just a guess.

Keep your head/neck in a neutral position.

When I brace/valsalva I don’t clench my teeth/jaw nor do I let much pressure build up in my head (no red face etc), I concentrate on breathing into my lower belly/back and bracing hard there. May lose a few pounds off my lifts, who knows but it keeps away headaches.

See how you get on with a neutral head/neck position, focus on breathing and keeping your jaw loose.


Thank you for the advice I was thinking primarily about my neck position when I went to squat next and noticed something interesting. I am a glasses wearer, and out of laziness and the fact that I am rather blind I usually keep my glasses on while squatting. What I noticed is when I would get under the bar and set up that due to the angle of my back and the sweat on my face my glasses would slip down my nose and in order to see I would then tilt my head up to see through my glasses, this was putting the extra stress on my neck. I have been doing my lift with my glasses off and have been able to keep my neck neutral and have not given myself a headache in a week!

Thank you Invid!