When it comes to exercising, especially high-intensity efforts, pushing yourself to the point of fatigue is how you build muscle and get stronger. So it’s little wonder that you may feel exhausted by the end of a weightlifting session, sprint intervals, or HIIT class.
But what about when you find yourself yawning during workouts? This is something that happens to me on occasion—once repeatedly in front of a coach who asked me if I was bored and needed to do more burpees….
In case you’re unfamiliar with what those are:
I’m not alone: Yawning during exercise is a common phenomenon—and it’s most likely to happen during our most hardcore workouts. Seeing as high-intensity exercise offers about the same energetic boost as a cup of coffee, it’s unlikely that we’re yawning because we’re tired—or disinterested in what we’re doing. Likely, this reflex is being activated by something else entirely, according to science.
The physiological reason you may be yawning during workouts
“It’s a common misconception that yawning is about getting more oxygen,” explains Florida-based exercise physiologist Sharon Gam, PhD, CSCS. That myth is largely based on a 1987 study that’s since been debunked by further research, she says. Instead, while science doesn’t currently know exactly what causes yawning in general (it’s an involuntary reflex, after all), when it happens during a workout, yawning is likely your body’s way of trying to cool down.
“Yawning has been linked as a physiological response to higher brain temperatures,” says Chelsea Long, CSCS, TPI, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “The moments before and after a yawn are thought to promote a better temperate climate in the brain.”
Because HIIT and strength training both often recruit a lot of major muscle groups, your body tends to heat up quickly, Dr. Gam says. “You may yawn as a response to that rapid rise in temperature to stop from overheating.”
Everybody has a different response to increases in body temperature and dissipates heat differently, Long says. “Some individuals are heavy sweaters, or they turn bright red or purple instead of sweating,” she adds. This could explain why not everyone yawns during workouts. If you do, however, both Long and Dr. Gam say it’s not necessarily something to worry about.
When yawning during workouts is cause for concern
“Yawning doesn’t seem to be correlated to a lack of safety or signify a big health concern,” Long says, “but taking note of how you’re feeling and what your breathing mechanics are could help stimulate a better brain cooling mechanism.”
If yawning seems to be a recurring thing and bothers you, she says, utilizing a forehead ice pack, wiping your sweat with towels, drinking cooler water, and being well-hydrated for a workout could help. Dr. Gam adds that if you experience excessive yawning, you should get it checked by a doctor just to be sure nothing else is going on you need to know about.
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