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When I do push-ups, I notice pronounced pressure increases in my head, eyes, ears. I do 20, with what I hope is top form: slow (about up and down in 2 sec), chest and forehead touch floor each time, raised all the way up. I just did 20 and my ears feel sort of ringing. Note that I don't find doing 20 terribly hard--I feel I could push myself to do perhaps 25 or maybe 30 if I really strained. But even after about 15, I begin to feel that pressure. I do breathe in and out throughout the movements, though not in any particularly careful way.

I do not get this when I do bench press or any other weight lifting (preacher bench curls, pull ups, tricep press downs), even to near failure with high reps (15, 12, 10, 8), nor with jogging/running. Just push-ups.

Considering that at least one person has had eye capillaries rupture due to push ups, and 2 people have had aortic aneurysm dissections following push ups (or, of course, other intense weight lifts), this has me concerned. (Sure, of course, millions haven't had such things happen, too...just erring on the side of caution).

Push ups strike me as a simple and good exercise I can do at home easily, and a good measure of muscular endurance, but I am rather put off them every time I feel this unpleasant pressure.

How common is this? Is there a way to avoid it and do the push ups more safely? Or perhaps are push ups just not for all people (as if there are some systemic differences that happen during push ups in only some people)? I am willing to try altering my approach, but if I can't get around the "pressure problem", push ups are out of my repertoire.

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    Are you holding your breath too much while pushing up? – Ivo Flipse Nov 13 '11 at 8:25
  • @IvoFlipse It depends what "too much" is, in that I am sure I am not constantly inhaling or exhaling. But I'm pretty sure I am also not holding my breath unnaturally at any point during the movements. – Chelonian Nov 13 '11 at 16:09
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    This strikes me as a little unusual; if it were me I might try breathing very consciously, in time with the pushups, to avoid any blocked exhalations. – Dave Newton Nov 13 '11 at 22:01
  • Have you figured out what the issue is and how to resolve it? Just wondering since I'm having same "symptoms" when doing push ups.. I'm pretty sure I don't have an issue with blood pressure and I'm in pretty good shape all in all.. But this thing is stopping me from maxing on my push ups.. 40 is easily doable, but when I start fighting trough to 45-50 it starts to feel like I can't hear anything (because of the ringing in my ears), and I can even feel some pressure in my eyes.. This hasn't happened in any other exercises except push ups and leg press. – user23784 Oct 8 '16 at 9:57
  • @vss Uh, a bit? Currently do 30 push-ups, but at faster pace than wrote in this post (to the beat of this song). Each time I touch my nose/torso to floor (forces me to brake to not slam nose into the ground, which takes extra effort). After 20, can't keep match beat and slow. By 25, I pause at the top of the push-up and breathe 1-3x before trying another one, and by 28 those pauses are longer. 30 just squeaked out. I am in much better cardio shape than b4 (run 4+ mi every other day). Now pressure is better, though on 29th/30th it gets iffy. – Chelonian Oct 19 '16 at 21:05
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My first thought would be that you are holding your breath. Since you say that is not the case, it would be best to check with your doctor because as you point out you may have an increase in blood pressure that causes symptoms when doing push ups. So, it would be best to check it out.

You could also try making the push up a little easier and see if you still get the symptoms. For instance, stop short of the floor by a couple of inches to see if that lessens the strain. Hope that helps and good Luck.

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Any time you exert yourself using strength, your heart will respond by pushing blood with more force. This is a bit different than aerobic activity where the heart responds by becoming larger and pushing more blood with each beat. The net result is increased blood pressure during exercise. This action is intensified if you use the Valsalva Maneuver, which is the body's natural response to pushing heavy things.

People with normal blood pressure have nothing to worry about, as the blood pressure does return to normal fairly quickly after you exert yourself. However, if you have a history of high blood pressure, you should get that under control before doing anything that requires exertion (like pushups, lifting weights, etc).

With weights that are not near your maximums, you can learn to breath properly under pressure. The key is to breath using your abdomen and not your chest (something that singers learn to do). However, when attempting maximum effort work, the Valsalva maneuver is the best approach to making it happen.

  • My blood pressure at rest is typically about 115/80, and if I am in better shape, perhaps 110/70. So I don't have high blood pressure. Still, this pressure does not seem normal and so far no one else has reported these sensations in response to my question. Lastly, wouldn't doing Valsalva only exacerbate my problem, by increasing pressure? – Chelonian Nov 15 '11 at 18:24
  • Yes, as I mentioned, "this action is intensified...". Question: do you have a diet high in sodium, or have a large amount of sodium before attempting exercise? I only ask because the only times I have experienced similar symptoms is when I'm performing deadlifts on days where I happen to have a high sodium intake (like eating at 5 Guys burgers and fries). – Berin Loritsch Nov 15 '11 at 18:42
  • Breathing and hydration! Proper breathing will surely help, as mentioned by many here. Hydration is a a process that should take place days prior and regularly. It's not just about drinking while you exercise; that's a bit too late. Proper hydration will also help alleviate pressure. Blood pressure is normally higher from morning till mid day, and lower toward evening. So, you may want to watch the timing of your exercise & see if it might make a difference. Your resting heart rate? While your pressure might be normal when measured, your heart's responses might tell a different story. – người Sàigòn Feb 12 '17 at 16:57
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I've had the same problem before.. if you breath in when lowering and breath out when pushing up it should relieve the pressure/ear sound that's so irksome. I have a tendency to hold my breath, but when I'm conscious of it and breath regularly I have no problem.

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pressure increases in my head, eyes, ears

Doing deadlifts with standard breathing causes this sometimes too, hence why most programs restrict them to a set of 5-8 and no more without a rest. In a deadlift you hold your breath for the entirely to brace your core, which can lead to high blood pressure blackouts in some extreme cases.

Focus on breathing, out when you move up and in when you move down. Also make the up movement fast and the down slower, you want to explode up and lower gently.

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