T Nation




So its happened twice to me now....

Last Wed was legs day and I managed to do PB in parallel squats, extensions, but when I got to the inverted leg press machine, it was all downhill from there. I started with 6 plates, then went to 8, no problem, but on the 10's I got to rep 5, a searing pain ran up the back of my neck on the left side and into the back of my left eye.

Now 10 plates I have done before with no problems except for the last time I did them (about a month ago) when exactly the same thing happened.

Since the first occurance I have steered away from the ILP machine on legs day.

My problem is that now the headaches start every workout (except cardio), I do chest or shoulders and only manage one set, before it sets in (within one or 2 reps even light high rep sets can trigger it)

The last time it happened I was so paranoid I went off to the Neuro and had a MRA to check to see if I had burst something in my head and it came back negative. His diagnosis was an exertional headache and put me on beta-blockers, which didnt exactly help the cardio side of things (slaughtered myself just to get a HR approaching 50%)

The problem is that this affects my training even with painkillers (tylenol and cataflam dont seem to work) and Ive just come off a 4 week layoff from training 2 weeks ago.

Anyone have any hints as to what might be causing this.....


I used to get headaches without fail on leg day (squats), right after the last set, some other workouts as well. I have reduced the frequency of occurence by working on my breathing, namely to keep a lower blood pressure. Make sure you're breathing during the set, the natural tendency is to hold your breath while really pushing. I have found that inhaling on the negative and exhaling on the positive seems to work well.


I agree with Malcomzilla. I used to get those same headaches. I felt like a muscle in my neck was cramping, pulling my scalp back. I worked on breathing, stretching my neck, and keeping my neck lose while I lifted.


Do a search for excertion headaches on the forum. From personal experience my recommendation is a chiropractor.


I've encountered the same problem with a client of mine a year or so ago. He is/was very gentle when it came down to his head. (He passes out easly, he does some martial art stuff, so he had a lot of chances to get hit)
Go get a complete check up with an MD. Just to be on the safe side. What finaly solved the problem was breathing technique, and correct warm-up.
Hope you'll fell better.


This has happened to me a couple of times, got a CT scan that was negative, and never really figured out the cause. I had to take a few weeks off of most lifting to recover. My theory (which is quite possibly complete bs) is that it's triggered by high blood pressure. So for short term prevention, try good breathing technique and not tensing your neck. For long term treatment, try things that lower bp like diet and losing weight. I'm not saying drop any mass you've put on, but now might be a good time for a cutting cycle.


I agree with tsbball, see a chiropactor. This happened to me
years ago and to others I know. Turns out it's like whiplash,
it is from pushing your head back against back rest in leg press
machine. I'll bet as the weight on the leg press machine increases
you push back harder and harder. Just a thought


It is possible that the headaches have something to do with you pushing your head back against the headrest, but I would agree with some of the others that it's much more likely that it has to do with your breathing. When doing any exercise that takes as much intensity as squats or leg presses, take a deep breath before beginning each rep, and then hold it until about half-way up the concentric portion of the lift. Breathing at the wrong times or holding your breath for too long can cause an enormous increase in blood pressure. I'm guessing that they most likely had pre-existing conditions, but I've heard of people suffering brain aneurysms during heavy physical exertion, possibly from incorrect breathing.


Thanks guys, I had posted the same Q on another the day before yesterday and the consensus there was breathing, so I tried sorting out my breathing yesterday at the start of my chest routine.

Unfortunately it only made the problem worse..... I got it almost instantly (probably thinking about it too much).

I do however agree that it may have something to do with my neck, esp. where the traps join my head and spine.

About every second shoulder workout and randomly during the night I get a "twang" in my head where the traps and head join... like the trap was twisted and is twanging back into place. As a result I do think I tend to tense the muscles up around the neck.

Who should I go and see about this, a physio or a chiro for this?




Check you breathing. Are you holding your breath? Are you grunting, and causing your airways to fight to get air out?

When you lift, try relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles. You might not notice but you could be tensing muscles not involved with the lift. You could also put a cushion behind your head if you are pressing your head into the seat. Sometimes a person is so focused on the lift that they don't pay attention to what else is going on, and do things they don't realize.

Attempt to pay attention to these areas next time you lift, or get somebody to watch you and point these things out immediately.

If this does not help, try a little caffeine before your workout. This might help. But if it is worse after the caffeine, avoid caffeine 6 hours before working out and see if this helps.


Thought I'd relate a story to this...

Two years ago I had an epidural injection that went haywire...ended up with WEEKS of spinal headaches. The only solution to the headaches was to lie down as flat as possible. Trouble was, I had to get work done, so I consistently propped my head up with my arm (hand against my ear) while lying on my side. Next thing you know my neck starts hurting...felt like it was at the base of my skull and all along the muscles on that side.

For about a year, as soon as I did anything strenuous I ended up with a headache (felt like described above and in a previous post...all the muscles in my neck and scalp felt like they just tightened up.)

A month ago I decided to attempt to work out again after I read "The Weakest Link" by Don Alessi. His program for curing neck and shoulder pain involves a few exercises that are a bit different than anything I had ever considered. After using if for 4 weeks, I get almost no headaches while working out (in fact, after doing a workout that includes Don's recommendations, my neck and head feel BETTER than they did just prior.)

In addition to that, I ordered a book/video you can find at www.tensionheadaches.com. It teaches about posture, breathing, sleeping, and a deep massage technique (it comes with a tool that makes it easy to do the technique.)

I'm no doctor or anything of the sort, but these two things have allowed me to get back into the gym and have made me feel better outside of it. I'd say you should at the very least give Don Alessi's program a try. (You can find it in a search.)