T Nation

Painful headache after drop-set


I did a drop set on leg press for 21 on Monday (I was mad about something and this was my way to let it out) and towards the end of the set I felt a pressure building up right where my neck meets my skull, at the base. When I racked the weight a wave of pain flooded my head, strongest at the base of my skull. It was strong enough that I stayed sat on the leg press for ~2 minutes until I could stand. It hurt for about an hour, and then it went away.

The next day at work I was lifting some stuff and as soon as I exerted myself the pain came back. Just today I got through about half of my workout before the pain started coming in towards the end of my sets. It builds while I'm doing the last 2-3 reps, then explodes once I rack the weight.

I want to know if this is something that other people have experienced, and if so, what I should do about it. I'm all for the tough-it-out approach, except when it interferes with my training. Today the pain in my head was too intense for me to finish my lift.

tl;dr: I gpt a bad pain starting at the base of my skull after a gnarly drop-set on Leg press. The pain has reappeared every time I've lifted since.


Ive had these before and actually went to Hospital for them once or twice. Dr stated it was due to improper breathing and muscle tension.

However, anytime it involves your head I would HIGHLY recommend consulting with your physician. The shit we do put a large amount of stress on the cardiovascular system and is possible to have a brain bleed, although highly unlikely it is possible. That was the main concern when I went in from the Dr.s

When it comes to your health a Head CT is a small price to pay compared to dead.


Thanks a lot for your reply, man. I'll remember to exhale with every push motion. Now that I think about it, I was probably holding my breath during sets


I've never experienced immense pain quite like that, but I have had blurry vision and light headed sensations from holding my breath. I've never had to sit down for a couple minutes, that definitely sounds like a red flag to me. Go get it checked out =)


Off and on, I'll get them too. For me, it's exertion induced headaches. Exact same symptoms you described. I found that to prevent them, I need to make sure I'm well hydrated, include a good neck stretch into my warm-up, and focus on my breathing if I feel the pressure start to build at the back of my head. I find that the days I get them are usually days that I go to the gym after work, so I'm already burnt out a little and slightly irritated - and I'm trying to rush my workout as well.

I had to take two weeks of working out with de-load poundages and intensity to get them to subside, and I haven't had a full blown one since. I'm now more aware of the pressure at the back of my head, and when it starts to build, I take in a deep breath (but don't hold it) for my reps.

Please don't take my experiences as solid truth - you should definitely go see a doctor if it persists. I don't want to be accountable for some T-Nation'er dropping dead of an aneurysm somewhere out there... lol


Had something very similar after doing a high rep deadlift set:

pain lasted for a quite a while and came back whenever i exerted myself too much (hell sometimes rubbing one out caused the pain to come back) After seeing some doctors, getting an MRI and trying some BS medication i finally wentto see a chiropracter (against a docs advice) and he fixed the problem within a few treatments and ive felt great since. The problem was bound up muscles in neck causing nerve pain of some sort, i dont understand the specifics but boy was i glad to get my life back to normal.

so, if your symptoms persist id urge you to find a skilled chiro, wish i had gone sooner because i dealt with the pain for two months (after a while i just started to get headaches everyday without exertion)


Grind, I think you have it right. I gave myself a neck massage last night and felt tons of tension being released. Time to find a chiropractor that my insurance will pay for.


If I had to guess, I would immediately tell you to work on your breathing and also to try not to press with your base of your head on any lift where this is possible. You can stabilize to a certain extent with your neck and head, but you never want to push or put any surmountable amount of weight on your neck, at all. A lot of us do not realize the pressure we put on your neck and skull when lifting with just slightly improper form.


Typically any insurance will cover Chiro up to a certain point. Or take advantage of your Flex Spend if you company has one. But, their typically not to pricey. I see 3 depending on what I need and they range from 20-40 a adjustment.

I also highly recommend finding a good deep tissue massage therapist. Hit that once or twice a month. I get an hour and a half twice a month. Now the catch is finding the right massage therapist that will cut you good deal. If you go to a Spa your going to get screwed. Most therapists work in a salon or spa or chiro but they also do them out of their homes. Difference is their cut in money. In a salon for my 1.5 hours ranges from 80-100 bucks because the business screws the therapist. They might see 50% of that money. I usually just ask if they do massage outside of work. If they do youll find that 1.5 hours goes to 50-60 bucks that they pocket all of it.

Im always wheeling and dealing for the best deal, bottom line Money is Money and lifting like we do we need this stuff. So play your cards if you have them


i've had the same problem a couple of years ago. it turned out that i was making my blood pressure get to high. i did get an mri just to make sure which would probably be the best idea. since it might take some time to actually get in to an mri i'd say get in to a chiropractor to see if something is out of whack. chiropractors really get screwed by insurance. try to find a good one, the money will be worth it