You’ve probably seen those gym fail videos or any video for that matter where a lifter collapses after pulling what appears to be his or her absolute physical limit. Well, it’s definitely a scary thing but when you exert that much maximal effort, it’s bound to happen but other reasons can play a role as well.
Holding your breath while lifting heavy, not drinking enough water, stress, and even low blood sugar can cause this frightening occurrence and what’s even more worrying is that if you fall you don’t know if you’ll hit your head on something or the extent of injuries which you could sustain.
But that’s also why it’s good to train with someone, at least on your ultra-heavy lifting days.
So, it’s best to be prepared for this kind of thing and do what is needed to ensure it doesn’t happen (at least more than once if it has happened already).
Note: While passing out after a deadlift isn’t usually cause for concern, we cannot rule out the possibility of an underlying medical condition being the main culprit. Therefore, if this is a common occurrence then we highly advise seeking medical attention to ensure your short and long term safety.
Here are 6 reasons why lifters pass out after heavy lifts… and watch the deadlift pass outs compilation below:
#1: Vasovagal Syncope
When most healthy individuals pass out from a heavy deadlift, more times than not, it’s due to insufficient blood flow to the brain resulting in a temporary loss of consciousness from a drop in blood pressure (hypotension). The heart cannot pump enough oxygen to the brain to keep you conscious, and this is commonly known as vasovagal syncope.
Well, the Valsalva maneuver, or breathing and bracing is a very common cause of passing out because it involves holding your breath for the eccentric (negative) and most of the concentric (positive) phase before breathing out near the end of the latter phase.
This is a common method for lifters to be able to maintain a stable core while performing essentially any big lift more effectively and even increasing the weight loads.
The Valsalva Maneuver involves the following steps to execute properly…
- Breathe in so your belly expands out.
- Hold your breath and brace your core in this position.
- Breathe in a little more.
- Perform the lift and then breathe out slowly only at the end of the concentric portion of the lift.
The act of holding your breathe builds up pressure in your pleural cavity (fluid-filled space surrounding the lungs) which has an effect on the aorta (major blood-pumping artery) and vena cava (vein which returns blood back to the heart).
And this process especially while lifting a lot of weight causes an increase followed by a decrease in blood pressure, therefore causing the dizzy, faint feeling in combination with a lack of oxygen getting to the brain which ultimately leads to passing out. Although, this is obviously reversed as breathing returns to normal.
And passing out can happen to anyone regardless of how advanced or elite the lifter is. However, more experienced lifters tend to be able to better adjust so that the chance of fainting is reduced. But novice lifters should learn quickly to breathe during the final portion of the lift to best avoid passing out because many times those newer to lifting don’t quite have a full understanding of how they should be breathing during the big lifts.
If you know how to do the Valsalva Maneuver properly though, you should be fine although there is a belief that it can pose some health risks.
Practice breathing and bracing even when your not lifting heavy weight and you’ll become better at controlling how your body reacts by adjusting accordingly. Also, remain within your lifting limits and implement progressive overload slowly rather than trying to add a ton of weight all at once.
Dehydration is a common cause of passing out whether you’re lifting heavy weight or not. It occurs when the body does not have sufficient fluids to carry out its normal functions. This can result from high heat or very cold environments (especially during rigorous exercise), illness, medications (causes increased urination), cutting weight for a competition, inadequate intake of electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, etc.
The symptoms may not be that obvious for some people however common ones are extreme thirst, dark urine, dizziness, headache/migraine, fatigue, and low blood pressure but that’s why it’s important to always ensure you’re sufficiently hydrated.
But sometimes water isn’t always enough as some people need to have more electrolytes to maintain water balance in the body. Sports drinks are a viable option, however, there are healthier ways to meet your requirements. But in general, you want to be drinking at least two glasses upon waking, enough before you train, some (but not too much) intra-workout. and plenty afterward too since working out causes us to sweat, therefore, releasing more fluids than usual.
A good way to tell if you’re sufficiently hydrated is obviously the color of your urine but full veins and feeling energized is also a good sign.
#3: Lifting Too Fast/ Overexertion
We’ve all done this at some point and some of us still do. However, some are more fortunate as to not have passed out yet.
But if you don’t take the time to warm up and get your heart rate going at a steady pace before transitioning into the main part of your training sessions, what happens is that oxygen does not make it to your brain fast enough to meet your level of exertion hence the reason why your heart starts beating so quickly.
Warming up isn’t just for your muscles and joints as you want to establish decent blood flow throughout the whole body which will help your performance overall while helping you to avoid passing out.
#4: High-Stress Levels
Stress is well known to wreak havoc on the body and when excessive, it’s a culprit for disease and throwing your body entirely out of whack. Stress can be defined as when your brain and body are knocked out of homeostasis and symptoms do include dizziness and the feeling of passing out. Well, combine an excessively stressed-out person with a max lift performance which naturally causes more stress on the body, and passing out is a possibility.
Although, this may not be as common as fainting related to blood pressure.
Constantly living in high stress is often the result of lifestyle factors which cause the body to be in constant fight or flight mode and that’s not how human beings are supposed to live. If you look at the animal kingdom for instance, when a Gazelle is chased by a Lion, the prey immediately kicks into survival mode which requires certain stress hormones to increase dramatically.
But then if the Gazelle happens to get away from the Lion, it returns to grazing and levels return to normal.
Well, if hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are constantly elevated in the body, our normal functions are compromised which causes very strange and scary occurrences.
This is when medical attention should be sought out, otherwise, serious consequences may ensue.
#5: Low Blood Sugar
Aka, hypoglycemia, this one is also not as common as passing out due to decreased blood pressure. Sometimes fasting, nutritional habits, and/or just having blood sugar issues due to your body’s inability to produce insulin (a hormone secreted by the pancreas which helps to distribute glucose to the blood for cell energy) optimally can cause fainting. Low blood sugar is sometimes related to diabetes treatment but not eating for an extended period, or eating certain foods can cause glucose levels to drop.
Symptoms include fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, shakiness, anxiety, blurred vision, loss of consciousness, and more.
But for most people to avoid low blood sugar during training, it’s recommended to have something to eat beforehand to keep levels more stable. Also, it’s a good idea to have your meals more frequently as well to prevent drops in blood sugar.
But you definitely want to be eating foods that will supply your body with good nutrition to ensure you don’t have any vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Getting blood work done is a great way to prevent this from occurring and then you can plan your meals accordingly while also looking into supplementation to ensure you meet your needs.
Good nutrition is also crucial for good performance and progression so cut out most (or all) of the highly processed, refined sugars, and opt for more sustainable, nourishing options that provide a combination of complex carbs, lean, meats, veggies, and low-glycemic fruits.
If you continue to be affected by the symptoms of low blood sugar, be sure to check in with your doctor to make sure you’re experiencing something even more serious like actual diabetes.
#6: Restrictive Gear
Using wraps and sleeves is very helpful for assisting your performance but when too constricting, it can negatively affect your blood pressure.
But it really helps to be aware of how you’re feeling because we know our bodies best and if you feel lightheaded or off then it’s time to adjust.
Watch The Deadlift Pass Outs Compilation
There you have it… the above reasons can definitely cause a lifter to pass out during a heavy deadlift which is typically the most common lift where lifters do pass out. Although, it’s entirely possible to pass out with any lift where you’re not breathing properly and lifting too much weight.
A quick drop in blood pressure and limited oxygen to the brain are the most common culprits, although, the other reasons can still result in fainting and we wanted to bring attention to them as well. Passing out isn’t usually a cause for concern depending on the lifter and situation but it’s good to be aware of why you have collapsed after a big lift.
So, take all of the necessary precautions when it comes to proper breathing and your overall health in general to ensure this does not happen to you.