Training

Why You are Dizzy After Squats and How to Avoid it

Updated May 14th 2021

Are you feeling a little lightheaded after squats?

If so, rest easy as you are not alone.

It's a pretty common thing in strength training.

You should, therefore, not give up on squats, or deadlifts, as these two exercises remain at the pinnacle of excellent movements perfect for bolstering muscle building hormones and testosterone.

That said, here’s what could be behind your bouts of dizziness after squatting and how to avoid these triggers.

DIZZY AFTER SQUATS

Improper Valsalva technique, lack of breathing, lack of blood circulation and heavy pressures on your neck are all reasons why you may feel dizzy after squats. As a result, they can cause abrupt changes in your blood pressure, which makes you feel dizzy.

  1. CORE PRESSURE (IMPROPER VALSALVA TECHNIQUE)

    One of the reasons for your predicament may be the amount of pressure exerted on your core during the exercise.

    Core strengthening is vital for getting the sheer power needed to affect immense lifts like the squat, deadlift, and front squat.

    The Valsalva maneuver is great at getting you that boost of base power to overcome weights.

    When performed incorrectly though, it can do more harm good than good leading to you feeling lightheaded in the immediate aftermath.

    Proper execution involves breathing in during descents and not inhaling during the ascension phase of the movement, otherwise known as the concentric portion of the movement, as doing so decreases the core’s pressure-handling capabilities.

    Do not block airflow completely although you can hold your mouth shut during exhales to limit the amount of escaping air.

  2. HEAVY WEIGHT PLACEMENT ON THE NECK

    How are you doing your back squats exactly?

    Are you placing the bar across your shoulders and so high up that it is pressing down on your neck?

    If you are then that’s what’s making you dizzy as you are be obstructing blood flow going into your brain. So if your spell of dizziness shoots up once you get the bar off your neck and onto the rack then you’ve found your Achilles heel.

    To get around this neck straining, you could simply do one of two things - do front squats for the time being or move the bar lower on your back.

    You can work on your front squats as your dizziness symptoms improve.

    Front squats are a little more complex to get a hold of but once you get used to them you’ll notice many more benefits aside from your mind not running in circles.

    That is.... once you passed the front squat's bruised shoulders phase.

    Your core stabilization greatly improves while lumbar spine flexion is kept at a minimum which is also a good thing.

    Alternatively, you don’t have to do away with back squats instead you could reduce the pressure on your neck during sessions by placing the barbell a few inches lower than your previous position.

    You may notice immediate relief or you could be experiencing lingering symptoms.

    Either way, try to incorporate this new barbell position as a lower position away from your neck can relieve any abnormal neck tensions.

    We also want to make sure that this isn't the same neck pain during overhead press.
  3. LACK OF OXYGEN

    When the oxygen levels within your blood cells dwindle below certain thresholds, the feeling of lightheadedness sets in.

    This could be down to the fact that your body is simply not getting adequate amounts of oxygen which is the result of one of two reasons:

    First, you're not letting in enough air during your squats which is maybe because you’re holding your breathing throughout the movement or are breathing too infrequently.

    However, the issue may have nothing to do with your oxygen intake at all but all to do with your oxygen consumption.

    Squats inflict a tall order on the body energy-wise as many muscles are utilized simultaneously so that oxygen runs out extremely fast.

    To better your oxygen capacity as well as build more squat endurance, you could try including conditioning exercises, like supersets and cardio, which has been substantiated to better heart health and overall circulation.

    Have you ever wondered why boxers are fond of circuit training?

    It’s because it gets them used to expending massive amounts of energy over short periods of time which is what is key to alleviating nausea or dizziness that is not only affecting squats but other intense strength training exercises as well.

    Feeling dizzy during overhead presses is another common concern. 

    FRONT SQUATS BLOCKING CAROTID ARTERY

    Most of this article talks about back squats but this small section should answer why you are feeling dizzy during front squats.

    In the clean position, from catching the clean or starting out, the barbell is compressing your left and right carotid arteries, which supply oxygen and nutrients to your brain.

    This is one reason why so many coaches emphasize mobility and flexibility in order to prevent some common issues from occurring.

    If you have restricted shoulders or a suboptimal form, during the front squat, the barbell is closer to your neck than anticipated and as a result, the barbell will either be dropped or be pushed further into your neck.

    If you love to withstand pain (we all do), you will opt to push the barbell further back into your neck. 

    Sure, you may be able to complete the working set but as a result, less oxygen via compressed carotid arteries will make you feel very dizzy during and after the set until you catch your breath.

  4. BLOOD CIRCULATION

    Akin to how water empties from a wet sponge when pressed, so too does blood flow out of your muscles when they contract i.e. when they are in use.

    Once done with the squat, the muscles relax and blood rushes back in.

    Because of the large size of the muscles in the legs, this increased demand causes a deficiency in the overall circulatory system.

    Less blood goes into the lungs which means less blood gets to the upper body and your brain consequently receives less oxygen than it’s owed.

    You can counter this by holding the bar once you place it on the rack and remaining standing for a couple of seconds thereafter.

    Take some time in this position before sitting down so as to avoid going from one extremity to another.

    It’s like getting a car traveling at 100 miles an hour to stop by gently stepping on the brakes over a large distance as opposed to hitting the emergency breaks for a spontaneous halt.

    More water intake mid-set has also been shown to ease this symptom.

  5. VAGUS NERVE STIMULATION

    Another reason why you feel dizzy or light headed from squats is due to your vagus nerve.

    Your vagus nerve is also known as cranial nerve 10 (V), which controls a ton of your involuntary muscles and organ systems.

    Holding your breath and straining causes your vagus nerve to activate and to be stimulated. As a result, your body will think it is in trouble and rapidly decrease heart rate and blood pressure to try to protect itself.

    If you really had an issue with your vagus nerve, working out and squatting would be one of the more minor problems you could have. 

    A damaged vagus nerve will severely impact how you function in everyday life.

    Nearly all lifters will not face this type of issue since we learned how to warm up efficiently and how to lift with proper body mechanics.  

IS YOUR DIZZINESS MOMENTARY OR CHRONIC?

If your lightheadedness checks in immediately after or during your session then it fades away not long after, the aforementioned list has your diagnosis.

Once everything gets back to normal and every vital organ receives its requisite share of blood, the feeling should pass straight away.

On the other hand, if it persists for several seconds on then this could be an indication of a serious underlying medical condition- like cardiomyopathy or arrhythmia- and you need to talk with a doctor.

Also, people living with low or high blood pressure are particularly susceptible to being dizzy after squats.

So if you fall in either category, then that could be the problem. You can get ahead of this by not holding your breath and practicing proper breathing as mentioned in the first point.

OTHER SIDE EFFECTS OF SQUATS

Beyond dizziness, there are also a number of other side effects from squats which usually arise from poor technique and/or execution.

Here’s a list of what they are:

  1. ABNORMAL SORENESS

    Incorrect form of a heavy-duty exercise such as the squat leaves tendons, ligaments, and muscle joints at the mercy of repeated irregular movements.

    sore upper back from squats is a common one.

    This can cause unhealthy friction leading to pain and soreness.

    You may experience an acute soreness, which occurs immediately after.

    As a result of lactic acid accumulation or delayed soreness, it can be indicative of inadequate rest or recovery periods.

  2. INJURIES

    Forward weight shifting, incorrect bar placement, hips below knee level, and an overly wide or extremely narrow stance are common squat mistakes that can lead to back, neck, and/or knee injuries depending on the affected area.
  3. MUSCULAR IMBALANCE

    The quadriceps muscles are utilized during squats while their opposing counter i.e. the hamstring group remains relatively unworked.

    So overloading squats can lead to a case of weak hamstrings and strong quadriceps if not balanced in your general strength training program.

    This is one reason why one lifter can experience sore quads not glutes after squats and another lifter can have the reverse happen to them.

  4. LOSS OF FLEXIBILITY

    Your flexibility levels may also go down a notch with poor posture which instigates the tightening of connective tissues, ligaments, and tendons.

    As a result, this can reduce the range of flexibility for opposing muscle groups thereby causing pain or injury.

    Knee pain for Bulgarian split squats is something to look out for.

  5. OUT OF BREATH AFTER SQUATS

    If you practice proper bracing techniques, you will find that you will be out of breath during your first set of squats.

    This is normal and your conditioning can be improved if you work on your squatting volume and conditioning.

    This simply means that if you want to be more fit squatting, you need to make it a goal to decrease your rest time in between sets while handling the same volume and intensity.

    If you were doing aerobic exercises before doing squats, you will notice some improvement in your conditioning as you are able to handle moderate to high volume squats fairly well.

    You would not be out of breath.

    However, there is a tipping point if you decide that gaining strength is a goal, you will be out of breath again because your body did not adjust and adapt to the new training stimulus.

HOW TO PERFECT YOUR SQUATS

Now that we’ve looked at what could go wrong, here are five essential pointers to ensure nothing does:

  1. DON’T CURVE OUT YOUR BACK

    Keep your spine straight, especially during the descent, which you can do by not lowering your butt so much.

    Excessive hyperextension places a lot of pressure on your disks on your spine, which is not great for overall health and longevity.

  2. MOVE THE BARBELL VERTICALLY

    You may not be sure whether you are or you aren’t moving the barbell straightly upwards.

    So, take notice of this.

    To ensure such a position, the general rule of thumb is that the ankles and barbell ought to be along a similar line.

    Squats with a sprained ankle may alter this vertical line since weight bearing can be difficult depending on how acute the injury is.

    It also helps to push your chest out and tuck your belly in whilst keeping your butt back at the start of squatting.

  3. NEUTRAL HEAD POSITION

    Looking down at your feet- or up at the ceiling- is ill-advised.

    Try to maintain your head at a neutral position to not fall on either end of the extreme while squatting.

  4. KEEP YOUR HEELS ON THE FLOOR

    Lifting heels goes against what a proper squat form entails.

    Wearing flat shoes, like Converse, is one option you can take to make sure your feet are as flat as possible on the ground.

  5. REST THE BARBELL ON YOUR TRAPS (DEPENDS ON YOUR SQUAT STYLE)

    Another common squat error is placing the barbell on the neck when it should be on the traps.

    If you are high bar squatting, this is the ideal position.

    When done right, squats have many benefits numbering in the dozens.

    The exercise is excellent for burning fats, improving balance/mobility, improving vertical jump, and decreasing running distance times.

    Squats also help with waste removal among many other physiological functions.

    Do not be upset about why muscles take so long to recover for the next workout.

FEELING DIZZY WHEN SQUATTING

If you are feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous when squatting, you should stop right away. 

You should not be in pain or have any outstanding symptoms when exercising.

The human body has mechanisms and feedback loops to prevent you from harming yourself.

This is why you feel pain or have emotions about potentially harmful substances or events.

When lifters approach all-time records, things can get scary very quickly.

Though this is not a squatting video, look at Eddie Hall's 500kg deadlift (over 1100lbs)...

Chances are that this will never happen to you unless you train with these weights.

But this should serve as a reminder to make sure that your programming is on point and that you are respecting your body.

BREATHING DURING THE SQUAT

Beginners learn to do the Valsalva technique when first learning how to squat. 

This involves taking a deep breath through your diaphragm/abs and bracing your core before you start to squat.

You do not release your breath until you finish the squat at the top of the lift.

Over time, there are some physical therapists and coaches that claim that you can breathe in while squatting down and breathe out while coming back up.

I believe this cue can work but only after the lifter understands fundamentally how to brace their core tightly.

Because if your core is not tight, you can easily sustain an injury even under a fairly moderate amount of weight, like 275lbs.

OUT OF BREATH WHEN SQUATTING

Being out of breath when squatting shows a lack of experience under the barbell.

Lifters should take their breath every 2-3 squat reps as they get more experienced.

For some elite lifters, they choose to take a new breath after each squat rep.

Learning how much air you can take in and out while under a load is one of the first things learned when running a barbell program, like Starting Strength.

Beginners may find that they can do a 5 rep squat set in one single big breath.

If they are comfortable doing it that way, they can certainly continue.

As the weight gets heavier, they will soon find that they will need to reset their breath after 4 squat reps.

Then, 3 squat reps. And so on.

The most important thing the lifter should know that each rep should look clean and strong.

There should be no area where the lifter is going soft since they are fatigued and slowly letting out their breath.

If this is the case, the lifter should have already reset their breath a squat rep earlier.

POST-WORKOUT DIZZINESS

Post-workout dizziness from squatting can occur from:

  • holding the Valsalva technique for too long
  • other compounding issues
  • dehydration
  • poor sleep
  • high stress
  • not eating enough calories that day

For instance, it can be hydration-related, stress-related, sleep-related, work-related, or even diet-related.

Unless you are deliberately holding your breath, chances are that you may be dizzy, not due to squatting but on other circumstances.

For example, did you know that one of the main symptoms of dehydration is fatigue and dizziness?

So, before you blame your workout or program, understand that what you feel is a rather complex situation and that many factors combined could magnify your symptoms.

Stress can cause people to have tension headaches and migraines.

Lack of sleep can cause people to have headaches as well.

Not getting enough food can make people lethargic and cause their bodies to shut down to avoid expending more energy than necessary.

Weightlifting fainting

Lack of oxygen to the brain causes you to faint at any time in the gym. This can be due to:

  • Blood pressure decreases
  • Improper valsalva manuever
  • Dehydration
  • Pre-existing conditions

During high intensity sets that lasts for more than one repetition, your body is working hard to pump blood into the muscles.

When you suddenly stop, the blood that was supposed to return to your heart are still in your muscles.

There may be an insufficient amount of blood that returns to the heart, and to the brain afterward.

This can result to you going down, fainting after a heavy volume set during a workout.

A term coined for this situation is the "second heart theory" where your targetted muscles act as a 2nd heart to pump blood back into the heart after very strenuous activity in order for your body to adapt and allow the heart to take over properly.


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