6 Reasons Why Powerlifters Pass out (How to Avoid It)


As we all know, powerlifting is a pretty intense sport. When you put your body under these extreme conditions, weird things can happen, like passing out. But why does this happen when you’re lifting weights?

Put simply, there are only a few reasons why you’d pass out, or faint, while you’re lifting weights. These include:

  • Holding Your Breath
  • Low Blood Sugar
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Lifting Too Much Weight
  • Dehydration
  • Not Controlling Your Lifts

Now while many of these can cause you to pass out outside of the gym, they can happen even easier when you’re working out.

Smelling salts are one way to be woken up from being passed out, which you can pick up from AmazonOpens in a new tab. if you’re really worried about it.

While smelling salts are a great way to fix passing out, they don’t fix the underlying problems that caused it in the first place.

Taking the proper precautions, like controlling your breath, lifts, as well as diet, can all help you prevent fainting.

Despite being embarrassing, passing out in the gym can have some serious consequences. You can drop the weight on top of yourself, as well as fall and break teeth or even bones.

If you learn about why people pass out, and how to avoid it, you can save yourself from injury. Taking the proper precautions can also save you money, say at the dentist if you broke a tooth after passing out.

Overall, it’s not likely that you’ll pass out while you’re working out. In a casual session, it’s more unlikely, but for powerlifters and weightlifters, the risk is greater.

Pinterest image explaining why lifters can pass out in the gym.

You’re Holding Your Breath

This might sound weird, but holding your breath while weightlifting can actually be helpful. This is known as the Valsalva Maneuver, which is when you close your airway and put pressure against it using your lungs.

I’ll go over this more in depth later, but it’s not too important for now. As I said, holding your breath can be a good thing, but doing it too much or in the wrong way can cause you to lose consciousness, or pass out.

You pass out because your blood, and in turn your brain, isn’t getting enough oxygen. Your brain shuts itself down to save you until your breathing becomes normal again.

That’s when you wake up, and there are usually no consequences. You can actually do this yourself if you’re in a safe place, but I don’t recommend it. Babies and young children also do this, and while it’s annoying, there’s usually no long term damage.

The danger from this comes from falling in the gym or dropping the weight you might be holding. If you were in the middle of a bench press, and you passed out with or without anyone around, you’d be in trouble.

That reminds me, make sure that you’re always lifting with at least one other person, and never alone.

Later on in the article, I’ll go over how to breathe properly and not faint while you’re lifting.

Passing Out Because of Low Blood Sugar

Powerlifter in the gym who has passed out.

Blood sugar is a complicated medical topic, and I’m not very qualified to talk about it if I’m being honest. This being said, I do know some of the basics.

Low blood sugar can be caused by many different things, including different diseases and conditions, or simply what you’ve eaten, or what you haven’t eaten recently.

Your body uses sugar as a fuel, and without enough of it, it will fail. If your lack of blood sugar is severe enough, which is somewhat rare, you’ll pass out. If you don’t get the help you need soon, you could even go into a coma.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not trying to scare you. This rarely happens, and unless you have a blood sugar related condition, you should be okay.

However, in some circumstances, you might have something like diabetes and not even know it. If you avoid eating to lose weight and go to the gym, low blood sugar combined with other factors could cause you to pass out.

The best thing to do to prevent this is to go to the doctor regularly and make sure you’re healthy. Below, I’ll go over some extra precautions you can take to make sure low blood sugar isn’t an issue for you.

Passing Out From Low Blood Pressure

Holding your breath, as I mentioned before, was just one way that you can get low pressure while you’re working out. While this is one of the major causes, there are a few more:

  • Dehydration
  • Poor Diet
  • Changing Position Too Quickly
  • Your Gear is Too Tight

All of these things can cause you to have lower blood pressure, and the first three I’ll go over down below.

Your gear being too tight is another way that you can get lower blood pressure. While fainting might not be directly caused by wearing gear, it can definitely aid in passing out actually happening.

By gear, I mean things like wraps and sleeves. These are meant to compress your muscles, and they’re pretty helpful. This being said, if they’re too tight, they can negatively affect your blood pressure.

If your gear is causing you problems, try stretching them out. If that doesn’t work, you should buy new wraps or sleeves.

If your gear is getting too small, hopefully that means you’re making some gains!

You’re Lifting Too Much Weight

Powerlifter trying to avoid passing out while deadlifting.

Lifting too much weight could also cause you to pass out. You probably know this, but your body is only able to do so much. When you try to make it do more than it can, the result can be losing consciousness.

If this happens to you, stay calm. Once you wake up, there’s almost never any long term effects. As I’ve mentioned, the only real danger is while you’re knocked out, falling, or dropping weight.

To stop this from happening, listen to your body. You should always push yourself in the gym but listen to your body. When your body and your muscles are telling you it’s too much weight, listen, and either stop or use less weight.

We all want to get stronger, but we have to do it slowly, otherwise, your body will give out. If you want to get stronger, set goals, progress slowly, and consistently.

If you do this and combine it with a good diet, you’ll get stronger for sure, all while keeping yourself safe and avoiding injury.

Dehydration Can Cause You to Faint

As we all know, water is essential for us to keep living. Without it, you’d be in trouble. When you lift weights or work on in any way, it’s even more important that you drink enough water.

If you don’t, there can be some pretty extreme side effects. One of those extreme side effects is passing out. When you have low fluids in your system, your blood is thinner.

This makes your blood pressure lower, and I’ve already gone over why you don’t want that to happen. This is usually a problem for people that are doing a lot of physical activity, like hikers, bikers, or even powerlifters.

It’s pretty common in outdoor sports especially but can happen to anyone that’s not getting enough fluid. Thankfully, aside from a disability in your body, passing out from dehydration is an easy problem to avoid.

Before you start lifting, make sure that you drink water. Along with this, keep drinking throughout and after your lifting session. Just make sure that you don’t drink too much water, or you may throw up, which I don’t think anybody wants to do.

You’re Lifting Too Quickly

Something that can also cause you to faint is lifting your weight too fast. This can happen to a lot of athletes when you’re moving too fast or doing too much at once.

For powerlifters, it can happen when you’re tossing your weight around and not lifting slowly. When you lift quickly, it can raise your heart rate by a lot.

When this happens, sometimes your body isn’t able to carry oxygen to your brain fast enough. This causes your brain to shut down temporarily, saving itself from brain damage.

Aside from you potentially passing out, moving your weights quickly is horrible for actually making progress in the gym. If you throw your weight around, instead of doing controlled movements, you’re using momentum to lift rather than your actual muscles.

Do yourself a favor to avoid passing out and actually make some progress in the gym. Stop lifting so quickly, and do things slowly, in a controlled way, instead.

How to Avoid Passing Out in The Gym

weightlifter passing out on the floor of a gym.

While passing out while working out is definitely something that can be dangerous, it’s usually something that can be avoided.

Aside from a medical condition, passing out isn’t something that normally happens. If you know how to lift properly, it can be avoided with ease.

In fact, most weightlifting and powerlifting injuries can be avoided with the right precautions. Just keeping safety in mind and being aware of your body and surroundings are some of the best ways to stay safe in the gym.

Anyway, here’s how to avoid passing out specifically, rather than all around gym safety.

Control Your Breathing

Changing the way you breathe while you’re lifting can definitely be a challenge. This being said, once you have it down, it’ll be second nature for you.

The best way to breathe while lifting is to breathe in during the “easy part” of the lift, and exhale during the “hard part”. I know, that’s a weird way to put it, but you’ll understand.

An example of this would be during the deadlift. You’d inhale while standing up, or while you’re going down. Next, exhale as you push yourself back to the starting position.

If you need a deeper explanation, here’s an article from Built Lean on how to properly breathe while lifting.Opens in a new tab.

All this being said, there aren’t any actual studies that show this method of breathing is better. Although, breathing this way creates consistency and ensures that you’re actually breathing while you’re lifting, so you don’t pass out from lack of air.

Another benefit to this style of breathing is bracing. When you breathe in, out, and hold your breath, it puts pressure on different parts of your body. Adopting this breathing cycle will help protect your spine, and ensure you a lower risk of injury.

Adopt A Better Diet

As I mentioned before, a poor diet can cause deficiencies in your body that can lead not only to passing out but poor gains in the gym as well as other health problems.

When going on a diet, one of the first things people recommend is to cut out sugar. While this seems good, it can be detrimental to your health. Don’t get me wrong, cutting out junk food and artificial sugar is definitely a good thing.

This being said, your body needs sugars to function properly, because as I said before, low blood sugar can cause you to faint, and is one of the most common causes of that.

Make sure that you eat fruit, as well as carbohydrates, which your body turns in to sugar. Trust me, your body and brain will thank you. Of course, you also need protein to build muscle.

Aside from sugar, carbs, and protein, there are countless other nutrients that you need to be healthy. Check out this article I wrote on the best foods for weightliftersOpens in a new tab. to make sure that you have a diet built for success.

Lift According to Your Ability

As I’ve said, lifting more than you should is also another huge cause of passing out while you’re powerlifting.

his usually happens because you try to push yourself too far, which causes your blood pressure to drop. To combat this, know your limits. I said this earlier, but you really have to listen to your body and know when too much is too much.

Not only is overworking yourself bad for making progress, but it makes it even easier for you to hurt yourself. If you routinely lift too much weight, you put yourself at risk of insomnia, neurological issues, as well as fainting and further physically injuring yourself.

If you lift a normal amount of weight that’s suitable for your strength, you can alleviate many of these risks and keep yourself safe. Once again I’ll ask you to trust me that your body will thank you for taking the proper precautions.

You can also use a belt to further protect yourself while you’re lifting. In fact, I wrote an article about all the benefits of wearing a beltOpens in a new tab., so check that out next!

Learn The Valsalva Maneuver

Weightlifter doing the valsalva maneuver while bench pressing.

If you haven’t heard of it before, the Valsalva Maneuver is a way of breathing that helps regulate your heart rate, as well as your blood pressure.

Doing the maneuver is a great way to avoid passing out, but can also help you lift more and keep your energy in the gym. To do it, take a breath in, hold it, and push your ab muscles like you’re going to the bathroom.

It sounds silly, but trust me, it works. Just make sure to not actually go to the bathroom while you’re doing this.

As I said earlier, low blood pressure is one of the main causes of losing consciousness, especially while working out. Practicing the Valsalva Maneuver is a great way to alleviate that risk and keep yourself safe in the gym.

The Valsalva Maneuver works because it builds up intro-abdominal pressure. This puts pressure on different arteries within your body, which helps to steady your blood pressure and heartbeat.

I talk more about the Valsalva Maneuver in my article about why powerlifters sometimes get nosebleedsOpens in a new tab.. You can read up on it there and be even more safe!

SourceOpens in a new tab.

Control Your Lifting

Lifting correctly, in a slow, controlled way, is one of the best things you can do for your health in the gym, as well as for making real progress.

If you lift quickly, it might seem like you’re getting more done, because you lift more in a shorter period of time. This being said, when you lift fast or throw around your weight, you’re using momentum to lift instead of your muscles.

Lifting this way raises your blood pressure, heart rate, and increases your risk of letting go of the weight, potentially dropping it on yourself or throwing it across the room.

Instead, lift slowly. It’ll activate your muscles, and make you more progress with the same amount of sets and reps. While you’re doing this, focus on your form as well, which will help you make even more gains.

Doing so will help you become a better lifter, but also avoid passing out, which is why I’m writing this anyway. Adopting better form and slower lifts will keep your heart rate down, and blood pressure in check, so you won’t go unconscious during your next lifting session.

The Bottom Line

To not get too repetitive, I’ll keep this part short.

Passing out while you’re lifting can be caused by a few things: low blood pressure and low blood sugar. While these are the two main causes, there are many other factors that cause these two conditions.

The best advice I can give you for this situation is to keep your health in mind in and outside the gym. Keep a good diet, and listen to your body.

Make sure that you’re lifting slowly, and keep a good form. On top of this, go to the doctor and make sure that you’re healthy enough to lift, about once a year.

If you follow this advice, you shouldn’t have to worry about losing consciousness in the gym.

Pete Schenkel

My name is Pete Schenkel, and I've been into weightlifting since I was a teenager. Now, my main focus is growing Powerful Lifting and putting more information out there. In fact, I'm also currently working on becoming a certified personal trainer.

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