Feeling Light Headed During Workouts? Here Are 5 Reasons Why

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During high-intensity exercise or vigorous workouts, there will certainly be parts of the workout that feel downright exhausting, either from a cardiovascular or muscular standpoint or both. However, the payoff of the fitness gains and boost in your mood from the rush of endorphins and natural endocannabinoids is more than worth the effort.

Thus, although it’s completely normal and somewhat expected to feel tired and like your heart and muscles are maxed out during hard workouts, what if you feel light headed during workouts or dizzy during workouts?

Is it normal to feel dizzy during exercise? Feeling light headed during workouts is not all that uncommon, though not necessarily normal.

In this article, we will discuss why you may feel dizzy during exercise and how to prevent feeling light headed during workouts.

We will discuss: 

  • Is It Normal to Feel Light Headed During Workouts?
  • Why Do I Feel Dizzy During Workouts?

Let’s get started!

A person working out, sweating, and wiping their brow with a towel.

Is It Normal to Feel Light Headed During Workouts?

Although it is fairly common to feel lightheaded or dizzy during workouts, particularly while doing long endurance workouts or high-intensity exercise, it’s not necessarily “normal.” In most cases, it is not a major cause for concern though it can certainly get in the way of feeling and performing at your best.

Furthermore, severe dizziness during exercise can increase your risk of falling due to poor balance.

Although people often describe experiencing dizziness or lightheadedness during exercise using the same terminology, there are actually two distinct categories or experiences that exercisers might describe when they ascribe these terms to their symptoms.

Lightheadedness With Working Out

When you feel light headed while working out, you may feel a little bit dizzy, or like you are having sort of an “out of body“ experience, meaning that you feel some dissociation in the connection between your brain and body.

You might feel somewhat faint or like you could pass out. Some people who get lightheaded during exercise report hearing a high-pitched tone or ringing in the ears.

Although you might feel a little bit unstable on your feet when you are feeling lightheaded during workouts, you should not perceive your surroundings to be spinning around you, nor should you feel particularly off-balance. 

Moreover, if you lie down, the dizziness and severity of your symptoms should nearly cease. Oftentimes, having some fluids and carbohydrates will also help the symptoms subside.

A swirl of leaves on a tree, blurred.

Vertigo With Working Out

Vertigo during workouts is more severe.

When you experience vertigo, your surroundings appear to be spinning around you, even if you are standing, sitting, or lying in a still position. You may also feel like you are tilted or off-balance in relation to your surroundings.

The spinning sensation and warped perception of your surroundings can lead to nausea and vomiting with vertigo.

Plus, when you are exercising with vertigo, the risk of falling is quite high because your sense of balance and proprioception are quite impaired.

This can make it quite dangerous to continue working out.

Additionally, some of the causes of vertigo while exercising can lead to additional troubling symptoms such as vision changes and confusion, which can further make continuing to work out quite dangerous.

If the vertigo sensation continues after you stop working out and is accompanied by severe vomiting, a bad headache, vision changes, or mental confusion, it is imperative to seek medical attention as soon as possible because this can be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition.

A person at the gym sitting on a wooden box, out of breath.

Why Do I Feel Dizzy During Workouts?

There are several potential reasons why you might feel dizzy or light headed during workouts. Here are some of the most common causes of lightheadedness with exercise:

#1: You Are Dehydrated 

Dehydration is often the reason you feel lightheaded or dizzy while working out, particularly if you are exercising in the heat or you sweat a lot because it decreases your blood pressure.

One of the symptoms of low blood pressure, or hypotension, is dizziness or lightheadedness.

Additionally, exercise can exacerbate the dizziness experienced with low blood pressure because the blood flow to the muscles increases in order to meet the oxygen needs of your muscles, possibly reducing the available blood flow to the brain.

Therefore, you will feel dizzy while working out if you are dehydrated.

Other signs of dehydration include increased thirst, fatigue, poor performance, headache, and low energy.

If you think you might be dehydrated heading into a workout, it is always a good idea to try to rehydrate as much as possible before beginning your exercise. Having fluids with electrolytes can increase the absorption of the fluid.

A person leaning against the wall of the gym, eyes closed, with a towel around the back of her neck.

#2: Your Blood Sugar Is Low

Another common cause of dizziness during exercise is low blood sugar, which is referred to as hypoglycemia.

Hypoglycemia during exercise is especially common for athletes with diabetes, but it can also happen if you are doing cardio or another exercise in a fasted state, such as first thing in the morning, or while following an intermittent fasting diet, or if you have simply not fueled your body properly for your workout.

Additional signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include fatigue, headache, hunger, irritability, weakness, poor athletic performance, and difficulty concentrating.

Generally, if you feel weak and dizzy during a workout and are exercising in a fasted state, performing a long endurance workout, or haven’t fueled adequately with carbohydrates prior to or during your workout, there’s a good chance that the light headedness during exercise that you are experiencing is indeed attributable to low blood sugar.

However, if you feel like you have fueled properly, particularly if you have had a lot of high-carbohydrate foods prior to your workout, and you are still feeling quite dizzy during exercise, you should consult your doctor.

Your doctor may recommend further testing to assess your fasting blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1C to assess whether you have pre-diabetes or another underlying metabolic issue that needs to be addressed.

A person holding two dumbbells on the floor of the gym.

#3: You Are Not Breathing Properly

Improper breathing patterns and techniques during exercise, whether holding your breath or hyperventilating, can certainly cause lightheadedness or dizziness during exercise.

If you are not breathing properly, taking full, slow, deep breaths, your brain may not get enough oxygen.

This relative oxygen depletion can cause you to feel dizzy or light headed during workouts.

When you hold your breath, such as during static, isometric exercises like a plank, or when lifting weights, your muscles, brain, and other vital organs can use up the available oxygen from the single breath that you inhaled, causing a relative lack of oxygen throughout the remainder of the time you hold your breath.

Repeatedly holding your breath and then gasping with a deep breath leads to an unsteady breathing pattern that can cause you to feel lightheaded while working out.

It is particularly common that athletes hold their breath during strength training exercises, whether consciously, as when performing the Valsalva maneuver, or unconsciously simply due to focusing on the exercise and exerting themselves at maximum effort. 

A person sitting down at the gym, light headed during their workout.

#4: You Have Orthostatic Hypotension

A condition known as postural hypotension or orthostatic hypotension can cause you to feel dizzy during workouts that involve a lot of getting up and down from a lying or seated position.

Orthostatic hypotension is associated with a sudden drop in blood pressure when you change positions of your body, which can then cause sensations of lightheadedness, dizziness, and even vertigo.

So, if you are feeling particularly dizzy after standing up from doing a set of chest presses or core work on a mat, you might be experiencing orthostatic hypotension.

You can speak with your doctor about how to best manage the condition, but also hydrating well can help, and if you have chronically low blood pressure, increasing your sodium intake may help increase your blood pressure.

Additionally, if you know that you have orthostatic hypotension, be mindful to sit up slowly to prevent rapid swings in your blood pressure.

A person sitting down after working out, our of breath, holding a bottle of water.

#5: Your Medications Are Causing Dizziness During Exercise

There are certain medications that can cause lightheadedness or dizziness during exercise or as a general side effect.

Examples include beta-blockers and other hypotensive medications, antihistamines for seasonal allergies, certain antidepressants, and some stimulants for attention deficit disorder.

Check-in with your prescriber if you consistently get light headed during workouts. There might be a different medication to manage your condition that will have fewer side effects.

Even if you don’t take medications, if you keep feeling dizzy during exercise, it warrants further medical examination.

Have you ever felt nauseous after working out? If so, check out our article, Nausea After Running? 5 Potential Causes + Solutions, for more information.

A person taking a deep breath with their eyes closed next to a pile of large boulders on the beach.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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