5 Inconvenient Things That Can Happen During a Workout & What to Do About Them

image of Cathe Friedrich leading an exercise class during a Glassboro Roadtrip

Exercise comes with a little discomfort. That’s because you have to push yourself to see results. You’ve probably heard the phrase – “what doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you.” There’s truth in that statement! Huffing, puffing, and a little sweating are part of the game. However, there are other potential “side effects” and workout problems you might experience during a tough workout. Have you ever experienced any of these inconvenient symptoms during a workout?

Indigestion or Acid Reflux Workout Problems

Do you suffer from acid reflux? If so, exercise can worsen your symptoms. Acid reflux is where acid moves from your stomach back into the esophagus. It’s due to a weakness in the flap that separates the esophagus and stomach. Symptoms include burning in the throat, a sour taste in the mouth, and, sometimes, chest discomfort. For some people, the symptoms are severe enough to require major lifestyle changes and even medications.

How does this relate to working out? Certain exercise-related movements like bending over to pick up weights, hanging upside down, or doing a headstand can make the problem worse. Also, during high-intensity exercise or running, there’s a tendency to gulp air. When the air becomes trapped in your digestive tract, it can place pressure on the esophageal flap and cause acid to move back into the esophagus.

What to Do About It:

Don’t eat within two hours of a workout and avoid foods that frequently trigger acid reflux. Some common ones include fatty foods, carbonated beverages, coffee, chocolate, citrus, and tomato-based foods. Avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing, especially around the tummy. Constriction of the abdominal region places pressure on the esophageal flap and can worsen reflux symptoms. If you have acid reflux symptoms frequently, check with your healthcare provider, as longer term, uncontrolled acid reflux can damage the lining of your esophagus.

A Cramp in the Side

Side cramps, or side stitches, are another annoyance that can disrupt an otherwise tranquil workout. You may have experienced one in the past. One second you’re fine and the next you’re grabbing your side in pain. Sound familiar? Side stitches are most common in runners, although you can get one during a high-intensity workout as well. Fortunately, side cramps usually don’t last long, but until it subsides, you can’t do a lot except rub your side. Strangely, we don’t know exactly what causes side stitches to occur. One theory is that exercise, especially when you don’t breathe properly, irritates the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle just above your abdomen that helps you breathe in and out.

What to Do About It:

Don’t eat a large meal before working out. Studies show that having a full tummy increases the odds of developing a side stitch. Also, learn how to breathe properly during exercise. The goal is to breathe in and out through your nose in a controlled, steady manner without gulping for air. If you get a side cramp, stop what you’re doing and take slow, deep breaths. Then, do some gentle stretching. If the cramp is on the left side, reach your left hand toward the ceiling and stretch as you lean toward the right to stretch. Gradually ease back into exercise.

Dizziness or Lightheadedness Workout Problems

Have you experienced slight dizziness or lightheadedness during or after a tough workout? It may be related to a phenomenon called exercise-associated postural hypotension or EAPH and it usually comes on after you suddenly stop exercising. During exercise, your muscles are actively contracting and pumping blood throughout your body, including your brain. If you quickly stop, the muscles lag behind and can’t pump blood as quickly from the lower part of your body to your brain. As a result, blood pools in your legs and less goes to your brain. So, your blood pressure drops and you feel dizzy or slightly lightheaded. Another time you might experience it is when you get up off a mat too quickly.

What to Do About It:

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration makes this problem worse. If you’re prone toward a drop in blood sugar, make sure to eat a small snack before a workout. Check your medications too. Certain meds, particularly diuretics and some blood pressure medications, increase the likelihood of this happening. Get up from mats slowly and don’t stop exercising abruptly. Also, minimize exercise that requires quick changes in position. Gradually decrease the intensity and then do a cooldown. Also, see your doctor about this problem to rule out more serious causes.

A Runny Nose

Does your nose run when you work out? This is another common problem, especially if you exercise in a cold or dry environment. When you work out, your body releases certain hormones, like adrenaline, that cause the air passages to open wider for better air exchange. This can cause a runny nose. When the air passages close off again after exercise, you might feel stuffy.

What to Do About It:

Your doctor may be able to prescribe a nasal spray that will help with these symptoms. Otherwise, make sure you’re well hydrated and avoid exercising outdoors in the winter.

Increased Urge to Go Workout problems

Another unpleasant symptom exercise can bring on in some people is an increased urge to have a bowel movement or diarrhea. This is a surprisingly common symptom among professional and amateur athletes alike. In fact, a study carried out by the Oklahoma Foundation for Digestive Research found that 70% of athletes experience symptoms related to their lower bowels, including diarrhea, after exercise. When you work out, blood flow shifts from your digestive tract to your hard-working muscles and digestion becomes a low priority. That’s why digestive issues, including diarrhea, are so common during exercise.

What to Do About It:

Again, it’s probably not a good idea to eat a large meal before a workout. Stick to a light snack. Coffee can be a performance enhancer, but it can also increase the urge to have a bowel movement. So, skip the coffee if you’re prone toward “the trots” when you exercise. As healthy as fiber is, consider limiting the amount you take in within 12 hours of a workout.



EXOS. “Everything You Need to Know About Side Stitches”
Michigan State Extension. “Managing postural hypotension during exercise”
Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006 Feb;96(2):334-40.


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