Nausea or vertigo when exercising?
June 6, 2014 7:49 AM   Subscribe

I recently started exercising for the first time ever (in my early 30's) by joining a gym and trying out their HIIT classes. They're really hard but I'm doing it. I'm running into some problems that only occur with certain exercises, and I'm wondering if there could be an underlying cause.

I noticed that any time I had to do burpees, the dropping motion left me feeling really barfy and the room started to swim. I thought it was just because they were hard, but realized that any move where I had to go from standing to not-standing (vertical to horizontal) quickly left me feeling like this. It's an almost overwhelming feeling like I've been dropped off in an MC Escher painting and I'm going to vomit. It gets better as soon as I get upright again.

The instructor said I'd feel better once I was at it for two weeks or so, and while I believe that the exercise itself will feel better soon (I've been to seven classes so far, going each day they're offered, M-Tu-W-Th-Sa), something is telling me that this barfy feeling is not related to my being out of shape but is maybe motion sickness, or something inner-ear? I'm not hypoglycemic. I typically eat healthfully, and my pre-workout snack is usually a yogurt parfait with cheerios, lowfat yogurt, and fruit or a toaster waffle with jam and sunflower seeds.

They've been really nice about me just doing jumping jacks while everyone else is doing burpees, etc., but I'd like to know if only exercising vertically is my destiny. Yes, ideally, I'd go to my doctor, but I'm HMO and she doesn't have an opening for another couple of weeks, so asking here so I can at least come in with a list of possibilities. What could this problem be?
posted by juniperesque to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you properly hydrated? It's important to drink plenty of water before exercising, in addition to after.
posted by krakus at 7:50 AM on June 6, 2014

This happens to me. It's when my heart rate approaches maximum. Slow down, make sure you breathe in when you come up, and exhale when you go down. Getting a heart rate monitor and making sure I stayed below 80% of max helped a lot.
posted by bensherman at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2014

The first thing that comes to my mind is post-exercise hypotension (exercise induced low blood pressure). For about 3-4 hours post-exercise for me, I can't stand up or sit down quickly without similar feelings. If I was working out four consecutive days, I think I would have the feeling constantly. Changing position is the key detail for me here, and the second link provides a bit more detail about that.
posted by saeculorum at 7:54 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you overdoing it at the gym? Five days a week of intense physical activity can be a lot for someone whose body isn't used to it. It took me a long time to get up to that level.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:59 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like a blood pressure thing to me, but I'm not a doctor or any kind of health care professional.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:00 AM on June 6, 2014

That happens to me when I actually go upside down (headstand, handstand, touching my toes etc.) because of low blood pressure, especially when I'm dehydrated and my heart rate is high. That happens to my spouse because of an inner ear problem that he's had since he was a kid.
posted by instamatic at 8:05 AM on June 6, 2014

I just had a checkup a week ago and the nurse practitioner informed me that getting dizzy when you stand up too fast goes along with the territory of low blood pressure. I've experienced something similar all my life. From what I gather of what she told me (e.g. I am not a professional), in general, low blood pressure is a good thing because your heart doesn't have to work as hard to do its job (certainly, dizziness which you can notice and be careful about is preferable to silently dying of hypertension). But yeah, low pressure obviously means it's going to take a bit longer to get up there. Check on your blood pressure when you go to your doctor and see if that describes you.

For exercising, can you back off on the speed a bit? Make sure you've well-hydrated, and that your electrolytes are good.

Remember that high intensity is pretty hard on your body. Exercising really hard doesn't automatically mean greater health, and if you're experiencing distressing symptoms (sounds not-fun and unhealthy) you may have to trade off and back off a bit. It's about what's best in the long run for you and your body, not keeping up with the others.

On preview: 2nding saeculorum.
posted by spelunkingplato at 8:05 AM on June 6, 2014

futureisunwritten's comment is well-taken - it took me a while to realize you are doing HIIT five days a week! If done right, you shouldn't be able to do HIIT five days a week - two or three times a week is the most many people suggest. Otherwise, you won't be able to meet the "high intensity" part of HIIT due your body not sufficiently recovering between workouts to perform at "high intensity". HIIT is only effective if it is actually done at "high intensity", so you may consider reducing the number of HIIT workouts per week and consider lower intensity workouts on other parts of the week. Variety in training is a good thing regardless.
posted by saeculorum at 8:05 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

i, like instamatic's spouse, have an inner ear issue that causes this for me. i also have exercise induced asthma. at the gym i'm like the turtle - slow and steady.
posted by nadawi at 8:14 AM on June 6, 2014

Agreeing that five days of HIIT classes a week is a lot for your body to handle. That said, if you really want to go that frequently, you may just need to take some time building up your work capacity. It may also be a blood pressure issue. Since those have been covered, I'll provide a potential third angle.

Have you tried exercising on an empty stomach instead of after eating? I get nauseated if I do cardio or strenuous weightlifting within about 45 minutes or so of eating - or longer with certain foods. Fatty foods like nut butter do it, as do dairy products even if they're fat free (I eat fat free greek yogurt). Try experimenting with what you eat before working out, and how much time you give between eating and exercising. The dizziness says to me that it's probably not a food thing, but you never know.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:18 AM on June 6, 2014

You're exercising "for the first time ever" with some really intense workouts, and you've been going nearly every day for just over a week, so you don't have any recovery time and haven't been doing it long enough to build conditioning. I agree with others that the cause is most likely pushing yourself too hard and/or not hydrating enough. Since you're not used to exercise, it's really likely that you aren't fully aware yet of when you need to take a break and how much water you need to drink (it's a LOT, especially for high intensity/cardio stuff).

Try taking more breaks before you need to (if you really don't know when that point is, maybe a heartrate monitor would help, and aim to keep your heart rate under a certain amount), and also drink more water throughout your workout, not just at the end or when you feel thirsty. Even for non-newbies, some people are just really sensitive to overheating/dehydration and have to be really careful about pushing too hard. I'm one of them, and maybe you are too.

Also the food may be an issue - try waiting longer after eating before exercising, or go on an empty stomach entirely, and see if that helps. Eating even a small amount before a workout makes me feel pukey.

I'd rule out all that basic stuff first before going for medical advice, unless you're having really severe symptoms like passing out or unexplained puking.
posted by randomnity at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2014

Senses work best when they're exercised, too. You know what doesn't get a lot of work in the life of an average sedentary adult? Your vestibular sense, the thing that kicks in when you're moving to tell your body what direction you're moving in, and how fast. The vertical is especially unusual, especially at speed. You may have an actual inner ear issue, but even a lot of people with totally normal inner ear function will have trouble with sudden repeated vertical movement over a sustained period of time, coming off of nothing.

The advice I got from an occupational therapist was basically that you should do gentler, slower versions of just that vertical movement, for example going from sitting to standing, on a daily basis, starting slow and working up to faster and bigger distances, and see if it improves. I wasn't doing burpees or anything, but my problems at least eased up a bit as my body got used to it.
posted by Sequence at 8:28 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very common cause of vertigo: Benign proxysmal positional vertigo.

You talk about the 'swimming, nauseated' feeling, which doesn't stand out to me as hypotension- I've experienced both these things, and they are very different. Your description, along with the activity that causes it, screams BPPV to me. The nice thing is that there is a simple fix (though you may be plagued with recurring bouts), and my doctor basically prescribed me youtube videos to learn the Epley manoeuvre.

Not a doc, talk to yours, etc. Good luck!
posted by Violet Femme at 8:50 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

BPPV would not resolve itself just from standing up, though. But it cannot possibly hurt in any way to try out both Epley and Semont and see if there are any benefits.

And yes, 5x a week of HIIT as a beginner is a bad idea, and I'd be a little wary of any gym or trainer who encouraged this.
posted by elizardbits at 9:31 AM on June 6, 2014

To clarify, I mean if you told the instructor that 01) you were experiencing dizziness and nausea and 02) that you were taking 5 classes a week as someone brand-new to any kind of exercise, and their suggestion was to continue at that level for 2 more weeks, I would not think that they have your best interests or your health in mind.
posted by elizardbits at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

elizardbits makes an excellent point. I don't subscribe to the "no pain, no gain" attitude when it comes to fitness. Also, I have noticed that people who start exercising excessively from out of nowhere are usually the first to burn out and lapse back into not working out at all.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:07 AM on June 6, 2014

Your instructor is not taking your health and safety very seriously. Are they certified?
posted by srboisvert at 11:37 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Toot toot beep beep   |   Easy Peasy iPhone and Android App Creation. For... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.