Headaches While Exercising

Headaches are one of the most common physical complaints that prompt Americans to seek a medical professional. Headaches should never occur while exercising. The most common sources of exercise-induced headaches are low blood sugar, dehydration, doing too much too soon, employing improper technique and incorrect breathing while exercising. The key to preventing and relieving headaches while training is to eliminate the sources. If headaches develop regularly while training and the five reasons mentioned above aren't involved, it's recommended you visit a medical professional to rule out serious pathology.


Low Blood Sugar

Headaches created by low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) occur because you're not consuming enough calories for energy before or during training. These headaches are usually located in the forehead and are accompanied by fatigue and hunger pains. Glucose (blood sugar) is your body's main energy source, and your brain requires a constant supply. Ensure you consume a healthy meals before training and digest a small snack, such as a piece of fruit, while training to prevent headache and fatigue from low blood sugar.

Lack of Hydration

Dehydration causes headaches while training. Often the trainee is concentrating on his workout, moving quickly through his training and not drinking enough water. Headaches from lack of hydration are easily preventable by carrying a wattle bottle or sports drink while exercising. Taking small sips between sets or during short breaks or while running or biking eliminate this origin of exercise-induced headaches.


Beginners are more likely to experience exercise-induced headaches than seasoned exercisers. Experienced exercisers learned through trial and error to "listen" to their body; newer trainees tend to overtrain by doing too much too soon and attempting to work through the pain. This overstresses the body and leads to joint irritation, muscle tension and fatigue. When neck muscles are tight and fatigued, their pull on the skull at the area of attachment is greater than normal. Eventually, this increased muscle tonicity becomes so tight that the pull on the skull elicits headache pain.

Improper Technique

Unless you're performing an exercise that requires specific neck motions, the head and neck should be held in a neutral position. In the neutral position, the eyes are looking straight ahead and the head is held straight forward. The neck is held in line with the spine--not bent downward or extended backward, not turned right or left, not tilted right or left and not projected forward or pushed backward. The neutral position protects the neck and upper spine from injuries and prevents headaches by working both sides symmetrically and preventing undue stress on the skull, vertebra, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Improper head positioning while training leads to increased muscle tightness in the neck and muscle tension headaches.

Incorrect Breathing

Incorrect breathing while exercising increases inter-cranial pressure, eliciting headache pain. This is another mistake made by novice trainees, most commonly during weight training. Many exercisers make the mistake of holding their breath while straining. This leads to the increase in pressure and headache pain. Inhaling through your nostrils while lowering the weight and exhaling through your mouth while raising the weight is the proper way to breathe while exercising. After a short adjustment period, proper breathing technique becomes second nature. It helps increase training efficiency and prevents exercise-induced headaches.

  • "50 Ways to Control Migraines"; Grittith; 2002
  • "Understanding Migraine and Other Headaches"; Tepper; 2004
  • "Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches"; Robert; 2004

Photo Credits:

  • woman leaning on exercise ball image by Ken Hurst from Fotolia.com

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.