Jeanne Bellezzo by Jeanne Bellezzo

Stop Headaches From Stopping You

Your workout is going great until, seemingly out of the blue, you get a wicked headache. Now all you want to do is lie down.

Not only can a headache stop your workout in its tracks, it can keep you sidelined for the rest of the day or more. Exercise-related headaches are common and understanding what triggers them is the first step to prevention. Read on to learn what can cause these headaches, what to do when you feel one coming on, and how to prevent them.


If you don’t hydrate well before and during exercise, you may open the door for a dehydration headache, especially if you sweat. Feel a headache coming on? Stop and drink water or a low-sugar sports drink to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.

Ward off dehydration headaches by drinking water an hour before your workout and continuing to hydrate as you exercise. Also, drink up when you’re finished to help your body recover.

Incorrect Form

Clenching your jaw, hunching your shoulders or breathing erratically during exercise all can lead to headaches. Of course, you’re not doing any of these things intentionally, but they are easy habits to slip into. Hunched shoulders, for example, are common among cyclists powering through standing cycling sprints and a clenched jaw can happen when you’re struggling to lift weight.

Try to maintain proper form, keep your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible, and be aware of your breathing when you are working out, particularly during very strenuous activities. It can be difficult to know if your form needs adjustment while you’re exercising, so ask an exercise professional to help you identify problems that may be contributing to headaches and make the proper adjustments.

Gentle stretching can help relieve headaches caused by muscle tension. If tight neck and shoulder muscles are a common issue, massage may also help release muscular tension.

Low Blood Sugar

Glucose, or blood sugar, is one of your body’s main sources of energy. Hypoglycemia, the medical term for low blood sugar, literally means low levels of blood glucose. In other words, you may be running on empty. A headache is often just one symptom of hypoglycemia; it can also cause you to feel shaky, weak, dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated.

Never try to push through these warning signs. Stop what you’re doing and have a high-carbohydrate snack or drink, such as an energy bar, glass of juice or banana, right away to boost your blood sugar. Give your body time to recover before you resume your activity or better yet, consider calling it a day.

Keep your blood sugar steady by eating protein and complex carbohydrates before you work out to help ensure you have plenty of fuel. Bring snacks to keep yourself going during longer sessions.


Exertion headaches are exactly what they sound like—headaches caused by strenuous activity. During vigorous exercise, your muscles need more blood. One theory says that headaches come on when the blood vessels that supply the head and neck dilate. It’s also possible that the muscles themselves tighten and cause headache.

These throbbing headaches usually are not serious, but if you have symptoms such as vomiting, loss of consciousness or blurry vision, or your headache lasts longer than a day, see a doctor. It’s important to rule out more serious underlying causes. If symptoms are severe, seek emergency care right away.

Exertion headaches tend to happen more often when you exercise in hot weather or at a higher altitude. Avoiding exercise in such conditions, as well as avoiding activities that seem to trigger headaches or reducing your intensity, can help prevent them.

If you’re still plagued by exertion headaches, your doctor may recommend medication to take before exercise to help keep them at bay.

Looking to help your clients with targeted strategies for optimal health and wellness? Become an ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist.