Why do I get so shaky when exercising?
October 13, 2011 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I am an overweight woman in my late 30's and I have been trying to add more exercise to my life. I am about 100 lbs overweight and since I am really, really out of shape I've only been doing 20-30 minutes per session. I've been finding that anytime I do anything physical, even a mild walk, I get shaky and lightheaded and I sweat profusely. It feels very similar to a low blood sugar feeling. I have this experience both when I have eaten recently before exercising, and when I have not.

Am I just really, really out of shape? Or is there something else going on? Is it normal to feel really out of it when you begin exercising? Cause I don't remember this feeling from when I used to be more active... the lightheadedness makes me feel really anxious and I don't want to start associating exercise with anxiety.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think it may be a normal reaction to working out and being out of shape.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 4:01 PM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you had your blood pressure checked recently? This can be a sign of low blood pressure (it is for me). HOWEVER. It could be a lot of other things too. It would be wise to visit with a doctor to see if this is something easily rectified, or a sign of a more serious issue.
posted by trunk muffins at 4:02 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to go see a doctor before you start an exercise plan.
posted by TheBones at 4:02 PM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

It may be that you're not eating properly for exercise, even if you are eating. People generally recommend something with a little protein beforehand and some quick energy/fats/protein within about 30 min afterwards. The food beforehand makes sense to a lot of people, the stuff afterwards it easy to forget. I usually eat an english muffin with peanut butter or cheese [not good if you're off carbs, but okay otherwise] and some yogurt with protein powder afterwards. It's tough because if you're gearing up for weight loss you want to balance your food intake, but you absolutely need to make sure your furnace is stoked to do more exercise. Look for high protein low cal stuff like greek yogurt and lentil stuff. Best of luck. And, of course, check with your doc to make sure you're not actually hypoglycemic or anything that needs attending to.
posted by jessamyn at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend seeing a doctor. It could be nothing but it could very well be something you need to address. A general checkup is likely in order.
posted by bitdamaged at 4:15 PM on October 13, 2011

How long after starting or ending exercise does this feeling start? How long does it last?
posted by yohko at 4:34 PM on October 13, 2011

Doctor, pronto. And if you get your blood pressure checked, ensure you get it measured over the course of several days. Some antique medical practices still consider one data point sufficient for diagnosis, which is patently idiotic.

Also, do yourself a favour and divorce your burgeoning exercise habits from all considerations of weight. It's generally not effective to depend on exercise as a means of body recomposition, whether you're bodyfat levels are at 60% or 6%.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:41 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

* your
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:42 PM on October 13, 2011

Go see your doctor, and get a referral to a registered dietician.
posted by rtha at 4:49 PM on October 13, 2011

The recommendations to visit a doctor are right on, but as a data point I'm about the same stats as you (although in my late 20s) and occasionally feel this way when working out with my trainer. Whenever I do, she quizzes me on what I ate and when, and we determine that I didn't eat enough or didn't eat the right things at the right time before working out. It takes a surprising amount just to fuel your body enough to work out and somehow I just can't get this through my thick skull. ;)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 4:54 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I work out hard I get very shaky, but I'm also pushing the hell out of myself and I happen to be in shape.

To repeat what everyone else has said, talking to your doctor would be a good idea. Additionally, most people who go to the gym without any idea what to do typically work out harder than they should and use an incorrect form.

Considering that you aren't healthy and do want to work out, please go see your doctor first.
posted by darkgroove at 5:11 PM on October 13, 2011

Doctor is good. Eating properly is good. Hydration is good. But also, you might need to start out even gentler than 20-30 minutes. Imagine a slim person, even a really in shape slim person, working out while wearing a vest that weighed a hundred pounds. Now, imagine a really out of shape slim person working out while wearing a vest that weighs a hundred pounds.

My weight has been all over the place thanks to medication side-effects, and I've recently tried to pick up exercising more now that I'm feeling up to it, and after having spent several years not able to (and having before that been cycling for an hour a day most days), I found it took me awhile just to get to the point where doing relatively mild things for more than a couple minutes didn't feel overwhelming. But a relatively small amount of strength training over a couple weeks went a long way to help that out. The muscles I remembered my legs and arms as having... they didn't, anymore. Starting with some strength stuff and breaking it up into a few short sessions every day, then gradually lengthening them, has gone a long way.
posted by gracedissolved at 5:16 PM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to your doctor.
But, if you can't afford that - then slow down a bit. Don't give up, just take it a bit slower.

Good Luck!
posted by Flood at 5:25 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm about where you are, and I've had that problem too. I started carrying a few hard candies in my pocket when I go out for walks, they fix the problem.

I mean, you should see a doctor, insulin levels, eating right, consult a doctor before beginning any new exercise regime, yadda yadda yadda. We all know the drill, right? :-) But just from a practical stand point looking for cheap short term results, it's easy to raise low blood sugar and it takes effect pretty quickly.
posted by ErikaB at 5:29 PM on October 13, 2011

anecdata: I had to lose about 70 pounds ( I have lost 30 already) and it was really hard at the beginning. I would get nauseaus, light headed, etc.

It got better and yesterday I noticed a glimpse of Madonna arms in the mirror! Would have never thought it possible.
posted by Tarumba at 5:40 PM on October 13, 2011

Have you been checked for Diabetes?
posted by plumberonkarst at 5:48 PM on October 13, 2011


I am physically active but not an exerciser (I bike commute, take hikes on the weekends, etc.). I can get very lightheaded and dizzy doing intense exercise -- I have reactive hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism (I'm a mess!). Definitely get checked for the metabolic disorders.
posted by imalaowai at 5:59 PM on October 13, 2011

I agree with the doctor thing, but I would add that as someone who also started working out while at least 100 pounds overweight, it was my experience at first, too. Pre and post workout nutrition is KEY (within a half hour on either side, it can be a half a banana beforehand and a small chocolate milk after) and I didn't know that then. Still, I found that after a few weeks I'd feel bad around the 10 minute mark, then start feeling better.

Now that I'm only (!) fifty pounds or so overweight I'm pretty dang fit, and my trainer's main goal recently has been to get me used to working through the slight nausea and lightheadedness that comes with working Hard so that I don't get anxious or quit when I can and should keep going. Best to walk that line with a professional, though.

One of the things that I've come to realize throughout my whole fitness journey is that professionals really Can be helpful. I've talked with my doctor, worked with teachers and a trainer, and a nutritionist (all at my Y - knowing it's a non-profit made me more comfortable). None of them are forever (while the fitness is), but I've learned a lot of ways to be more effective and efficient from them.
posted by ldthomps at 6:13 PM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hello! I was in almost your identical situation at the beginning of summer (same age, same weight goals, same lack of activity) and to start I absolutely experienced what you're describing. I was also, as it turns out, overdoing it. A lot.

I would strongly recommend getting a heart rate monitor and figuring out your target rate for fat loss. I found that for us larger folks it was a lot lower than I thought it was, so doing (for example) 30 second jogging intervals was pushing me WAY over the target. Once I started more carefully monitoring my heart rate I was able to relax a bit and do more measured cardio and I felt much better afterward.

I know I am TOTALLY prone to going overboard when I make a big decision like getting fit or losing weight, and it bites me in the butt later. Do yourself the favor of pacing your activity -- it will pay off in the long run!
posted by jess at 6:13 PM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Make sure you're well hydrated and eating some protein after exercising. Candies are totally not needed and counterproductive. This is a normal reaction to being out of shape. Keep at it and it will go away.
posted by schroedinger at 6:33 PM on October 13, 2011

ONLY 20-30 minutes? That's fantastic.

Just stick with it. You will get fitter and the light headedness will go away. Any major medical problems notwithstanding.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:13 PM on October 13, 2011

I started working out about three months ago. I think I weigh more than you and I had been very sick for two years so felt that I was very out of shape, and I never had this experience. It may be "normal" but my experience says it's certainly not universal. I do 50-60 minutes of cardio in a session. I have something with protein shortly before I start my workout--usually a glass of milk with Carnation Instant Breakfast in it-- and then something with protein shortely afterward--usually a greek yogurt. Not because I think those are the optimum things but because those are what I have time for and have a taste for, and they have seemed to be good enough because I haven't had problems with dizziness or nausea, etc.

Because I'm guessing I started out even less fit than you, I'm going to add my voice to those suggesting you check in with a doctor, and also with someone like a reliable trainer who can help you figure out what degree of discomfort is normal and OK in a workout and what is over the line.
posted by not that girl at 7:17 PM on October 13, 2011

You can buy a glucometer for not a lot of money... they practically give them away. Maybe you can get one and actually test yourself for low blood sugar. Normal range is less than 120, and low blood sugar is about half that.
posted by crunchland at 7:37 PM on October 13, 2011

Seconding getting a heart rate monitor and using it to gauge how intensely you're exercising.
posted by anaelith at 7:55 PM on October 13, 2011

Seconding getting a heart rate monitor and using it to gauge how intensely you're exercising.

Hey, I'm all for gadgets and statistics and motoring my progress [eg. I was MORTIFIED the day my bicycle computer battery went dead half way thru a 60km ride]. But a heart rate monitor is one thing I've rarely used [having boobs complicates matters even more].

Best advice I got: Two fingers on the carotid. Count heart beats for 6 seconds. Add a zero. Hey presto, there's your pulse.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:07 PM on October 13, 2011

Yeah, check with a doctor, but it sounds like you are overdoing things. Getting some advice from a doctor about the heart rate range you should be working within and, probably, more frequent but shorter intervals of training within that range will get you started.
posted by dg at 8:46 PM on October 13, 2011

Like uncanny hengeman, I "have boobs" but I was able to find a heart rate monitor that fits around my chest and presses against my skin underneath the bottom band of my sports bra.

I thought I knew how hard to push myself, but I was surprised when I saw my heart rate exceeding its appropriate level. You really do have to ease into this stuff, but don't give up! You'll be very pleased with the results, I'm sure, if you stick with it.

Good luck.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:14 PM on October 13, 2011

I have boobs, too, mine also goes underneath the band of my sports bra. I like that the HRM talks to the treadmill at the gym so I can see what's happening without breaking my stride; I'm one of those people who falls over if I try to drink from my water bottle while walking so I have to come to a dead stop to get my heart rate the old fashioned way. Also it's interesting to see how ridiculously quickly my heart rate rises when I start jogging, even though it drops pretty quickly, too. (Also, I have a recorder which I wear, so I can save my heart rate data to my computer and keep amazing records.)

If you're having trouble getting a good reading even when it's under, um, everything, then put a little conductive gel (such as plain aloe gel) on the sensors.
posted by anaelith at 11:04 PM on October 13, 2011

2ding the this may be common but nut universal experience. Get a check up because whilst I walk fair bit in my daily life my cardiovascular fitness is shocking and I am pretty overweight. But I would be able to get on a treadmill or a treadclimber and walk at an incline with my heart pumping and sweating profusely for half an hr without feeling light headed or shaky, irrespective of time of day or food intake. For some reason I was always able to sustain a low to moderate intensity level of cardio for longer than an inactive person my size should be able to.

If the check-up rules out any medical issues look at diet and get a personal trainer to help you come up with a good routine that allows you to build your stamina up slowly.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:57 AM on October 14, 2011

Also, I have a recorder which I wear, so I can save my heart rate data to my computer and keep amazing records.

This sounds pretty awesome for tracking progress — can you give a recommendation as to what you use?

(I have and and am a big fan of the FitBit, but it doesn't do HRM directly so I'm not sure if it's necessarily the best bet for the OP's immediate needs, although I think it makes a great component of an exercise program.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:16 PM on October 16, 2011

I use an Oregon Scientific SmartSync, which I chose because it was so very, very cheap. 1) It only works with non-coded heart rate monitors, and maybe not all brands. 2) You will probably need to replace the battery when you get it (takes a common watch-type battery, I spent about 3$ for two at the grocery store). 3) I think the included software kind of sucks, so when I download my data I immediately export it to a comma separated text file and import it into my normal spreadsheet program.
posted by anaelith at 5:04 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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