Headache Exercise Ideas – Conditioning and Cardiac Considerations

Modified German Superset System

Consider this system if your goals are to increase your strength and endurance quickly while working out at home. You also want a good cardio workout at the same time. In addition, you can more easily monitor your headache-producing muscles. Avoid flare-ups from overloading your neck and shoulder blade muscles.

This high-volume system builds stamina rapidly just doing the exercise program once per week. You may double your starting lifting weight in less than two months just doing a once-a-week exercise session. Work any section of your body, but I find the system works well doing two exercises.  Use dumbbells, not barbells, by the way.

The high-volume repetition German superset system was advocated by famous body-builder Charles Poliquin. The modifications presented here make this program a less-intense, more heart-rate conscious endeavor.  However, you can make tremendous power gains, nonetheless.

Your Tendons, Ligaments and Joint Surfaces Need Proper Exercise, Too!

Do not focus just on building your muscle bulk, particularly once you move past young adulthood. For the long haul, realize that the muscles do in fact hypertrophy with fewer reps. But an emphasis on muscle work may leave your tendons and ligaments behind. They are lower metabolic tissue than muscles. Higher repetitions foster more blood flow and build up these structures. Heavy loads can tear them down.

Hence, you have less risk of injury with this higher repetition system. You have good muscle tone and power, but you do lose some of the beach-body muscle display. Do not expect to look like Charles Poliquin did in his prime.

Exercise Program Specifics

The first exercise for your consideration is the arm press. Lie flat on the floor or on a half or full foam roll. Point your palm toward your chest with your thumb pointing towards your head. You protect your rotator cuff in this position. Work your chest, abdominals, and triceps with the arm press.

The other exercise is the biceps curl. You can put one knee on a chair to keep your spine stable and in neutral posture. Your other leg is straight. You therefore avoid arching too far backwards when standing. Sitting bicep curls can place excess strain on your low back as you bend forward excessively. As you work your biceps, other abdominal core muscles and leg muscles kick in as well.

Now, determine what is the maximum weight you can lift 100 times. You do 10 reps of 10 sets. The first few sets feel easy, but by your tenth set you feel your workout kick in.

Switch from arm to arm after every set. This method allows one arm to rest while the other arm works. The switch back and forth with a dumbbell allows your heart to beat at a steady rate, rather than a barbell workout that would double your workout heart strain. With barbell workouts, your heart rate would shoot up during workout phase and then bottom out during your rest period. An even, less choppy workout is a better choice.

How Would I Progress My Weights?

You can structure your program in this way. Start with a 3-pound weight. Do 10 sets of 10 reps with this weight, doing an arm press from arm to arm. Your next step up might be 5 sets of 10 with a 5-pound weight, then 5 sets of 10 reps with a 3-pound weight. Then your next session would be 10 sets of 5-pound weight. Next session is then 5 sets of 10 with an 8-pound weight. The next exercise set you move up to 10 sets of 8-pound weight and so on. Progress this way once, or at most twice, a week.

You add weight as your body tells you to, be it 10, 20 or 50 pounds. Eventually you reach “cruising altitude,” where you feel your time commitment, power gains and cardio workout are in alignment.

You may want to start with the arm press and see how that goes. Add in the bicep curls if you develop an appetite for this exercise program.

How do I Pace Myself?

Breathe out with your exertion phase, and inhale on the recovery phase. You should never huff or puff during exercise as it means you have likely blown past your target heart rate.

The system also decreases risk of injury. If you feel pain at repetition 76 for instance, stop! You avoid the damage you would get from barreling through your workout with a lower-rep system.

Once you reach the 100-repetition level you have a decision to make. Either increase your dumbbell weight or increase your repetitions to 200 or 300 for a longer cardio workout. In general, 100 repetitions will take you about 10 minutes.

Monitor your heart rate during your exercise!

Stay within your target heart rate. People forget that their heart is their most important muscle! Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.

Why do I emphasize the heart rate awareness so much? I can attest to numerous instances of men I know who were in their 40s and 50s whose arm and leg muscle strength exceeded their hearts’ ability to keep up with their workload. As a result of this imbalance, tragic results occurred.

Tragedy averted

Awareness is key! A stalwart physically-fit-looking man, 52 years old, was working out in our therapy gym. I monitored his heart rate on our elevated treadmill walking workout.  I noted a sudden arrhythmia as his treadmill walking speed reached a certain level that should not have been a problem. He felt nothing. He had no shortness of breath, no huffing and puffing, no pain or distress of any kind. However, he ended up with a 92% blockage of his coronary arteries that needed treatment. The heart rate aberration clued us in to this problem that would have gone entirely unnoticed.

Another scenario was that of a gentleman whose heart rate I checked before starting his gym workout. As a result of what I found, no workout was done that day. Instead, he reluctantly agreed to be seen by the hospital urgent care clinic. He coded shortly thereafter at the clinic during the intake process and needed emergency resuscitation measures. Staff told me it took 20 minutes to stabilize him. Fortunately, he left the hospital vertical, not horizontal. What would have happened if he had driven home, unaware of his potential demise?

Other clients I’ve seen over the years came in with undiagnosed, potentially fatal, cardiac issues. The larger point is that you should know your heart rate, not just for your own benefit. Your awareness and ability to monitor wrist pulses may not just save your life, but someone else you are close to.


You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer.

-Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.


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