A surprising situation has arisen in Iowa City that is quite alarming and eye opening on a number of fronts. Thirteen of their student athletes were hospitalized on Monday with a condition called Rhabdomyolysis. This syndrome is often associated with elderly individuals who experience some type of physical crushing injury to a muscle in their body and is not typically normal for young athletes perceived to be in the highest physical condition.
As a certified personal trainer, athlete, and parent I’m not only alarmed by the sheer number of athletes involved but the negligence associated with allowing this to take place. First, a little background on the syndrome: Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Myoglobin (a protein) is harmful to the kidneys and may lead to acute kidney failure if not treated quickly and efficiently. Treatment often includes intravenous fluids, and dialysis or hemofiltration if necessary.
According to the news reports on this situation the athlete’s are all football players for the University of Iowa that were beginning their off-season winter workouts. Information received from a parent of one of the young men stated that the workouts involved “heavy squat workouts” that required the athletes to complete numerous repetitions of a certain percentage of their maximum rep weight in a specific time frame. The protocols also called for a power sled workout with corresponding upper body movements the day after.
You may find yourself thinking that the workouts above don’t sound very difficult but we must take into account the weight involved and the time-frames for completion. Squatting your bodyweight 100 times in a couple minutes may not sound illness inducing, but incorporate up to 75-80% or more of your bodyweight and the issue becomes frightening. Hiding deep down in this scary situation is a very important lesson for all of us to take seriously.
Most veteran exercisers are well aware of protocols that are not only important and imperative for building strength, speed, and flexibility but are ambitious in challenging our musculoskeletal and nervous system to provide progress and development. However, that comes with an inherent danger that our bodies may not be physically or biologically prepared for the breakdown that can occur from the workouts.
It is highly important whenever beginning a workout program that you take into account your fitness level or lack thereof before ever touching a weight or piece of equipment. We need to be aware of how this workout is going to affect our muscles and will the breakdown be so severe that a trip to the hospital is imminent. As a parent and fitness professional I would like to find out how the strength and conditioning coaches at The University of Iowa allowed this to happen to the athletes under their care. What factors were taken into account before beginning this program? Were preparatory workouts meant to be completed when the athletes were away from campus or without supervision? Were there qualifying tests or evaluations completed beforehand to identify the young men who may not have been physically ready for the intensity of this type of program?
These are all questions that we need to be asking before we begin a workout program and more importantly before our children are put through exercise protocols by coaches and/or trainers. This situation drives home the point that exercise and training is a year round commitment that pays dividends when practiced and completed regularly. We can also help to fight the effects of extreme muscle breakdown by staying properly hydrated as dehydration can contribute to Rhabdomyolysis and its effects on the kidneys.
Please use this unfortunate situation in Iowa City to ask all the right questions when beginning an exercise program or trusting your children to the well being of a coach or trainer. Proper procedures and examinations need to be completed before we ever begin working out and challenging our body’s in a manner that could cause harmful damage. Exercise programs should be challenging, rewarding, enjoyable, and most importantly safe at all times! Don’t sacrifice the health and safety of yourself or your children for a program that promises dramatic results. The only promise that may be guaranteed is a long and painful recovery in a hospital bed.
Until next time, here’s to a fitter and SAFER tomorrow!——-> R’s