If you’ve ever done a plank or squat hold, you’re familiar with that shaky feeling your muscles get when they really want to quit. Though that trembling feels a little funny, it comes with the territory. Shaking after workouts, however, could be cause for concern.
A few different things could leave you feeling shaky, woozy, or weak after exercise—the most common being plain ol’ fatigue, according to J.P. Rodriguez, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Austin’s Texas Orthopedics. “However, it’s important to know that other, less common causes of shaking can be at play,” he says.
Whatever the reason for your shaking, a little investigation and TLC can typically have you feeling strong again in no time—though there are, of course, some circumstances in which you’ll want to get help from a pro.
If you’ve been shaking after workouts (or just feeling next-level exhausted), here’s what you need to know.
4 Reasons You Might Be Shaking After Workouts
Sure, there’s something satisfying about giving a sweat sesh your all—but if you feel like you’ve been hit by a train afterward (and have the quivering muscles to prove it), one of the following factors might be at play.
1. You’re seriously fatigued.
In some cases, shaking is simply the result of your muscles having burned through their energy reserves, Rodriguez says. But it’s also a possibility that your actual nerves are fatigued. Basically, your spinal chord sends signals to the nerves in your muscles to tell them what to do—and the chemicals used to send these messages can become depleted during a workout sesh, he explains. As a result, you tremble like a tree in the wind.
“When these chemicals become depleted or small groups of muscles in large muscle units become exhausted, uncoordinated movement occurs, giving the appearance of shaking,” Rodriguez says. No wonder you feel a little spazzy after a long, hard effort!
Though long, intense workouts can leave you in this state of fatigue, even less-hardcore movement can push you into this zone if your body is short on the fuel it needs to keep those muscles (and nerves) firing away. (More on that in a sec.)
2. You’re dehydrated.
If you’re finishing your workouts with a near-full water bottle and experiencing some shakes, dehydration could be the culprit. Your muscles are a whopping 75 percent water and need that H2O to transport important nutrients and waste, so they can’t perform at their best when you’re low on fluids.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of H2O (think: a standard water bottle) a couple of hours before exercise, followed by another eight ounces (about your standard glass) 30 minutes before lacing up. Then, during exercise, they recommend drinking seven to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes. If that sounds like a lot, well, it is—and that’s because even slight dehydration seriously messes with your performance.
If you’re feeling parched and shaky, finish of that water bottle stat—and make a plan to drink up before your next sweat.
3. You went overboard on caffeine.
Whether you fuel your workouts with good ol’ java or mix up some sort of pre-workout supplement, too much caffeine is a common cause of feeling jittery during or after exercising.
Though the FDA suggests that most healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about four cups of coffee), everyone handles the stuff differently. So, even though studies have noted that taking 200 milligrams of caffeine within 60 minutes of exercise can help boost performance, it may not the best move for sensitive folks, suggests Rodriguez.
That caution is even more necessary if you’re taking a pre-workout product. “Some pre-workouts can increase adrenaline in the body and contribute to jitteriness,” Rodriguez adds. So, when in doubt, stick to plain water.
4. Your blood sugar is low.
True hypoglycemia (notably low blood sugar) is pretty rare in otherwise healthy people and an unlikely cause of shakiness during or after a workout, Rodriguez says. However, if you have diabetes (or suspect you might), your blood sugar could factor into occasional trembling.
In this case, it’s important to chat with your doctor on the best ways to approach working out. If you have diabetes, ACE recommends eating some extra carbohydrates before sweating if blood sugar levels are less than 100 mg/dL. Sticking to a regular exercise, eating, drinking, and medication routine is also helpful.
How To Stop Shaking During And After Workouts
If your arms, legs, and core start to tremble 30 seconds into a 60-second plank, it’s probably safe to hold that position, even with trembles, for the remainder of the rep.
However, if you find yourself shaking mid-workout in a situation that could be dangerous (like if you’re rock-climbing or performing heavy squats), it’s important to stop ASAP, Rodriguez says. “If you find yourself shaking mid-workout, the most important thing to understand is that your muscle control is failing,” he explains. So if you’re on the side of a mountain or beneath a heavy weight, take a break.
While rest is your best bet to stop the shaking, consuming electrolytes and carbohydrates to refill your energy reserves can sometimes help speed up your recovery, Rodriguez says. Definitely not a bad idea to keep an energy bar and some sort of electrolyte drink in your gym bag.
That being said, if you can crank out a few last push ups after mild trembling sets in, it’s probably okay to go for it. (Worst-case scenario: You fall a few inches to the ground.)
The Best Way to Prevent Post-Workout Shakes
While some minor muscle shaking after HIIT or barre may be unavoidable, if you know you’re going to do some sort of demanding workout in the next few days, leave some gas in the tank during your workouts before then, Rodriguez says.
You can also take some steps to prepare yourself day-of. “Maintaining a healthy diet balanced with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is the best way to ensure your body is ready to perform,” he explains. Before you get to it, you might also want to consider sipping some sort of electrolyte drink or adding some extra carbohydrates (think bananas or potatoes) to your pre-workout snack or meal.
When To Seek Professional Help
While some mild shaking during and after challenging workouts is no cause for alarm, it’s important to know when to be concerned.
“Persistent shaking or shaking that does not resolve after rest and recovery should be investigated,” Rodriguez says. Same goes for any trembling or convulsions in parts of your body that you’re not working (like your hands during squats).
The bottom line: While some muscle shaking is normal after higher-intensity workouts, be wary of dehydration, over-caffeination, and low blood sugar as potential causes. If shaking persists, give your doctor a call.
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