Woman sweating at the gym

Is it normal to shake after a hard workout at the gym? Experts say it's common if you fail to fuel properly

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Ever finished a HIIT class, only to find that your hands won’t stop shaking? Turns out that there’s a very simple cause and solution to the shakes – that can’t be found at the gym. We get the experts to explain how to stop the jitters.

Ever gone so hard during a workout that you can’t get out of your soggy sports bra because your hands are shaking so violently? Shaky hands and legs can be alarming; you expect to feel energised and powerful after an hour of lifting, pushing and rowing… not fizzed up like a shaken bottle of pop.

The other day, I found myself unable to get out of my gym kit after a brutal cardio class. The workout was brilliant, I felt amazing about 30 minutes later, but in the immediate aftermath, my hands just refused to stop trembling. Is that… normal? 

I get that quite often following a heavy workout, and often it subsides as I’m walking out of the gym. But if I’m showering on site, it can be awkward. But is there something actually dangerous about shaking after a workout? 

Shaking is all about lack of fuel

Wayne Gordon, PT, former Gladiator (!) and Bio-Synergy ambassador tells Stylist that post-workout shaking is caused by our muscles no longer having enough glucose. “Especially if the workout is intense or over a long duration, a lack of fuel may cause your muscles to shake. When this happens, it may lead to low blood sugar known as hypoglycemia.”

That makes sense: I always work out before breakfast and I cycle to my gym classes after a cup of black coffee. At that time in the morning, I prefer to fuel from the big dinner I had the night before rather than waking up even earlier to force down a protein bar or flapjack. 

That’s not a bad thing; some of us work better fasted while others need that glucose hit before moving. But if you do prefer to do fasted workouts, then you shouldn’t be surprised when your body starts signalling for more soon after you’ve finished. It also makes sense that I shake after a morning workout but not a run; normally, I eat 90 minutes before hitting the road.

Osteopath Anisha Joshi agrees with Gordon: “There are many reported reasons for shaking muscles like low blood sugar, fatigue, dehydration and too much caffeine.”

Shaking after a workout usually happens if you’re doing high intensity workouts

Shaking, Gordon explains, can be normal “depending on the type of training that you’re doing and the intensity that you’re working at”. HIIT, he says, can have us shaking due to muscle fatigue or low blood sugar and dehydration, and if you shake frequently, it’s worth “increasing your carbohydrate and water intake prior to your workout”. If you’ve tried that and the shaking doesn’t decrease, he recommends seeking medical advice.

Woman opening gym back in locker room
Ever finished your workout and struggled to open your gym bag because your hands are shaking so badly? Welcome to the club.

In my case, I wondered whether shaking was a sign of needing a more elaborate cool-down routine. But while Gordon agrees that a good cool-down is always important, he stresses that it’s really about needing to replace the energy stores you’ve used up in training immediately. “Your body is crying out to be fed,” he says.

Joshi explains that shaking after a workout shouldn’t be feared “unless it lasts a long period of time, or you have an underlying health issue like diabetes,” but that it can usually be solved by “eating a well-balanced meal beforehand that includes fat, carbs and protein.”

Shaking during exercise, however, needs to be addressed

If you’re starting to shake during your workout, however, then that may be a sign you need to reduce the intensity you’re working at, or that you need to take on electrolytes. If that happens to you, it might be worth bringing some coconut water with a pinch of salt to the gym with you, a bottle of Lucozade or simply cut the session short. That isn’t always easy in a class but if you are in a group session, reduce the weight, rep speed or modify explosive movements (burpee into half burpee, for example).

While shaking might be a sign of muscle fatigue, there are other signals that you’ve had a good workout that may be more useful. How much you sweat and your overall feeling of exhaustion are reliable indicators, as is the endorphin hit you get afterwards. “It’s also natural to feel DOMS after a good workout, and these are perfectly normal and will disappear of their own accord,” says Joshi.

But, Gordon says, you don’t want to do these kinds of intense workouts every day: “You need to mix up your workouts to have some variation so that you’re not constantly depleted and dehydrated.” After a HIIT session, concentrate on rehydrating and refuelling with carbs and protein, and then aim to get other types of movement into your week. Go for a slow, easy run or a yoga class. Try a barre class that targets smaller muscles and won’t stress your adrenal system in the same way.

For more practical fitness information, check out the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.