T Nation

Headaches When Lifting


I just started training about a 10 months ago so im still pretty fresh in the sport. I have a freind who is overweight about 6:2 280lbs never been involved in ANY type of physical activity. Always just stayed home worked on computers and Games, he's cery good at fixing electronics.

So he has had this sedentary lifestyle for his whole life he is 25. Now he asked me to help him get in shape so i took him lifting with me twice. First day i showed him deadlifts and i had him practice with 95 lbs and then we did some leg pressing and some walking and some upperback work. After the last excercise (leg press) he was complainng of a horrible headache so he went home. Next time we worked out we did bench press dumbell shoulder press and some rows. Again he started complaining of a bad headche. I asked him if his doctor gave him the ok to qork out and he said yes.

Now personally when i first started training this never happened to me but although it was my first time seriously training with weights i have been relatively active all my life. Liked swimming basketball bike riding ect..
.so my question is ...Are his headaches just because his body isnt used to the work load? Shouold we start slowr or will he just get used to it?

I have also heard that lifting heavy can momentarily raise your Blood pressure so if he already has high blood pressure could the added stress be giving him the headaches?


It could be stress or illness too. I know sometimes I get bad headaches at the gym for that reason.


Could you describe what kind of headache it is? I remember pulling a neck muscle on leg press one time and after that lifting ANYTHING gave me a a crushing tension headache. The pain would creep up the back of my neck and wrap around my head until it got to my forehead and temples. Not good.

This is what worked for me. I stretched that son of a bitch like crazy. I grabbed my neck pulled it in the direction that was tight until it hurt so bad I was almost in tears and held it there for a few minutes. I repeated this every ten minutes for like two days until the pain was gone.

This type of "injury" has happened to me twice since I started lifting.


Do you know what you did that made you pull the muscle? Like anything specific you did with your form. And i will ask him today how the headche feels.


I know if I don't breathe properly when lifting heavy I sometimes get a pain in my head. Maybe focus on this and see what happens?


It's a few different possibilities . Make sure the blood pressure thing is ok. Then you might need to make sure a brain tumor is not an issue . Not very likely, but it can be. Most likely it's suboccipital muscles, cervical extensors, or possibly vertebral alignment / fixation.
I had an issue with high rep squats years ago like this. I switched to lower reps and it went away. It never came back even when I did high reps in the future.


Yes I know exactly what I did. I was straining really hard on the last few reps and I arched my neck back really hard against the headrest.


He may have the same problem I have, and on that same now I would like to first say that your friend is a pussy. I tend to get really bad headaches and nausea after hard workouts and have thrown up because of it in the past.

What I have found to help me is to eat a meal (sometimes its as little as a protein shake with some oatmeal powder mixed in and some fruits). They key is to have a good amount of complex carbs and some fast acting carbs to hold you over until those complex carbs start digesting. Also, sipping some sort of sugary drink throughout the workout as well as drinking some afterwords helps quite a big. I have found gatorade to work best, especially the original gatorade powder you can in those tin cans. More healthy options are something like some hot green tea with a generous amount of honey.

I'm by no means a dietician or anything like that, but I speculate that increased insulin levels (be it from diet or other issue) causes glucose to be used up too quickly during workouts which, for whatever reason, leads to nausea and headaches. This is an anecdotal conclusion I have come to since hypoglycemia runs in my family and I often get extremely sick if I don't eat enough carbs around workout times.

I highly doubt your friend has any sort of hypoglycemia, however perhaps it is possible that his insulin levels are elevated due to poor diet thus running into the problem I have explained.

If anyone has any scientific evidence that may prove or disprove my theory I would like to hear it. I'm interested in getting a little more understanding as to why this happens.


He is unconditioned and not used to stressing his body physically...the headaches are a symptom of this...I will get them when I start conditioning after a long layoff leading up to a meet or something...it feels like its behind the eyeball and is awful...they gradually get less painful and after a couple weeks, they will be non-existant...he probably just needs to suck it up


I've had a few episodes of them over the last few years.

First was 20 rep squats, on last 3-4 reps. Mainly due to how I was breathing, I believe.

More during leg work - more due to lack of conditioning like VT says.

My experience has been to "push" hard to just the point them coming on, then backoff at bit, but continue to push. By doing this they disappear in a few training sessions. When I've tried to work thru them, they have gotten worse each session and took much longer to disappear.


i get headaches from lifting when I:
A) Don't breathe properly and fill my head area with air
B) Don't have any kind of carbs during workout (gatorade, etc)


I got them when my life was tons of schoolwork, stress all day and a shitty quality 2.5 hour sleep every night for months. I was straining on my max attempt on the leg press for 20 cluster reps, each rep took ~10sec of max effort to get up.

I was a beginner, fuck it. I got this unbearable sensitivity in my head, thought my head was gonna explode with each heartbeat, didn't go away for 2 weeks and it was there during orgasms for weeks lol

So I guess messed up sleep, straining, also I don't believe I was breathing much while I was killing myself on that machine


HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE! besides the muscles responses everyone is mentioning a blood pressure thing. lifting increases blood pressure. he might need to learn to breath but also its probably a good idea to ask a dr(including a chiro...that was he could tell if its a spine or muscle issue)



He's overweight and out of shape, of course he will prob have some unusual pain. Also, the leg press is pretty good at increasing blood pressure. Your blood pressure will change a little during exercise anyway.

If you want to test it out, and if you have a blood pressure machine on location (I lift at a gym, so they all have those machines by the locker rooms) then test it before and during exercise. If the second (diastolic) number increases/decreases more than 5 or so then it could be an issue. Depends on the machine as well, though.

Tell him to lay off any stims, too, those wont help. Ginseng, caffeine, etc. His blood pressure will prob go down if he reduces some salt, but the little water bloat you get from it is something I would rather keep. Hope that helps.


headaches can be as simply as drinking too much caffeine or as serious as an early indicator of brain aneurysms. I know it is an extreme spectrum, but we aren't doctors. Take him to a Doctor and have him get cleared for training. You can get physicals for under 50 bucks at a local clinic. Small investment for having peace of mind.


Boom. Do this.

That being said, I get headaches lifting every once in a while and they are mainly due to exertion I think. It's probably just that he isn't used to the stress and all that jazz, but you never know.