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Head pain during leg press


Before I begin, let me say that I am calling the doctor in the morning, and will see her before I train again.

Monday I was using the leg press and at my heaviest weight felt a pain in my head--like a three-inch line running along the top of my skull. It passed, and I didn't really think about it anymore.

Tonight, on the leg press, I felt the pain at a lower weight, and this time it radiated out, throbbing. I wasn't dizzy, and my vision wasn't affected, but I didnt feel very good. I packed it up and went home. It's about an hour later now, and I have a dull headache.

Has this happened to anyone?

Something that I didn't realize at the time was that I had my head off the back support, which put a lot of pressure on my neck.

It's freaked me out a little, I have to admit.



Blood Pressure in the leg press can get very, very high. What you are describing is not uncommon, and seems to happen when you are exerting very hard. Were you holding your breath? I've gotten this before, and I am still alive. Don't worry too much, though it wouldn't be a bad idea to get it checked out just to be safe. I just had to take it easy for a week or two and it went away.


I've triggered migraines in the gym before. They weren't muscle spasms or anything else of the sort, rather they were actual migraines with all of the associated symptoms. I'm wierd.


Sully, thanks for the response--makes me feel better! I wasn't quite holding my breath, but I could feel I wasn't breathing properly, either. I'll still see the doc just to be safe.



Yeah, i get that, too and for obvious reasons try to stay away from the leg press machine.
only advice would be to check your breathing methods and resting blood pressure.
Otherwise maybe ease up on the leg press. Apparently there are some good alternatives :wink:


That happened to me a while back. When I was exerting myself on big lifts like squats and hack squats I'd get it, took a while to go away too (10mins).

This happened on more than one occasion, I'm still alive too.


Lisa but, it also could mean your Amenic (sp?) I still would check w/ your doc.


I agree with Whetu. I read a study (somewhere) which showed blood pressure during a leg press is (on average) 3 times higher than during a squat. Why not squat and remove the headaches whilst gaining more training stimulus?


its not migrain! it a Sub arach hematom. intra cerebral aneurysm! the first pain was just a warning! you should see a doctor! trust me on this one. im a chiropractor! Stay out of the leg press for ever! I have had the same problem!! trust me. see a doc!!!


Lisa Simpson,

I've had these types of headaches also. Sometimes they've been quite extreme to the point of having friends try to call 911, laying on the floor alone for an hour unable to move or speak, etc. Scary stuff. In my case, they were EIH (exercse induced headaches).

Explanations are available through web searches (if that is what it is in your case). Speak to your doc about the Val Salva manuever while straining, that might spur them to recognize a possible cause.

As far as advice, I'd say the only thing that works for me is lowering the rep ranges on exercises that cause them, i.e. squats, leg presses. Carefully exhale throught the entire concentric starting at the bottom, not after you're through the sticking point. I've had some luck by pumping up the neck muscles and / or traps prior to heavy work (prevents retrograde blood pressure from backing up into the head - the true root cause of this condition).

It might take as long as three weeks for the damage from a good EIH to totally sibside. During that time you are more susceptible so be careful. Stop at the first twinge of pressure.

This all assumes that your problem is the same as mine. Big assumption - and you know what happens when you assume...


You might want to try lowering the pad on the leg press. If you're more horizontal, it'll help with the entire pressure situation.


Sully's right about blood pressure increasing a lot with leg presses. Also happens with heavy squats, especially if you wear a squat suit.

Disclaimer: The following information comes only from experience and online research.

The increased blood pressure can cause capilaries to burst. Sometimes people get little red / purple dots on their nose or shoulder skin after workouts - the result of these burst capilaries. The theory is that capilaries in the brain can also burst. That would cause the headache pain. My nutcase extension of that is that maybe, if you burst enough, blood will pool and put pressure on the brain, which could also cause pain.

Theoretically, this could be really bad - a weak spot in a larger blood vessel could also burst with this increased pressure. A brain or cardio aneurysm is not a good thing. The stuff I found online suggested just breathing out a tiny bit during the lift, so you're not keeping the pressure quite so high. Of course, we all know that hurts the lift a lot.

In any case, my husband gets these lasting headaches after squatting in a suit or doing super-heavy leg presses. He's decided to do those things rarely if ever.

Anyone have medical evidence? Lisa, let us know what your doc says!



Head pain revisited: Yesterday started doing bent-over rows with a modest amount of weight, when on my final rep, the pain started again (first exercise of the session). I know my breathing was not optimal.

I'm still waiting to get in to see the doctor, just to get things checked out.

I read that NSAIDs can be used prophylactically for exertional headaches, but I am concerned about their effect on muscle gain. Is this concern overblown, especially for someone who is not lifting for competitive purposes?

I also read that lower rep cycles can help--have any exercise headache sufferers benefitted from doing fewer reps?

Thanks for all the responses so far--I appreciate them!



Lisa, definitely follow Sully's advice and at least get your BP checked.

If you decide to take NSAIDs prophylacticaly, be sure to eat with them, otherwise you might have intestinal/stomach problems (especially with the heavies like Indocin)

Are you taking anything else? What sorts of medications are you on? Any vasodilators of any sort?

Also, and please don't chalk me up as weird, but you can visualize your sets before a workout and work on your breathing, especially if it's not "optimal." One of my best friends would hold his breath for an entire 100m dash in high school until a coach got him to visualize and work on his breathing. Just my two cents...

Hope things get better for you, don't get discouraged.




I've had great success with unilateral legpress work. Half the weight, lower blood pressure, and a better workout. What's not to like?

Best of luck,



Thanks for the replies, Brad and Knight--I like the unilateral leg press suggestion; can't believe I didn't think of that one.

My bp is normal at 110 over 65--just had it checked last week at the dentist. I'm not on any medication.

Also, thanks for the visualization suggestion--I will use that one. I think that kind of stuff is very useful.

I have a doctor's appointment on Thursday. Luckily I found one who is also a body builder, so I'm hoping he has good info for me.