Confession: I Put Myself in Danger

I debated whether or not to tell you this story for quite some time.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to share these personal details, or open myself up to potential criticism.  However, the point of this blog is to share valuable information that might help you all with your health, so here’s my story… I hope it’s helpful!

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I’m telling you this story today to remind you to listen to your own body.  It’s something I pride myself in doing: I believe that my constantly improving half marathon time is an example of the fact that I’m learning just how far I can be pushed before I crash, for example.  I always know in a workout if I’m “sandbagging” it or pushing myself as hard as I can.  I also know when I should stop or pull back … but sometimes, I don’t listen.

The Good Stuff

You see, I’ve been going to this amazing bootcamp for seven weeks now.  (In case you didn’t see my post on The Lyons’ Share Facebook yesterday, I shared this D Magazine article showcasing the trainer).  I got invited to the bootcamp by a fellow blogger (she can pipe up if she wants!), and immediately fell in love with it.  Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.48.36 PM(picture source)

It’s SO intense, and that’s why I love it.  There’s no question in my mind that when I roll myself out of bed before 5am three times per week, I’m going to leave having gotten an amazing workout and improving my fitness every single time.  It’s not a pat-yourself-on-the-back-for-trying type workout, but rather a yell-in-your-face-until-you-cry type workout, and (this may surprise you given my Motivation Monday posts!), that really motivates me.  Plus, the workouts are always different, they’re always a challenge, and they’re always fun.  In just seven weeks, I feel tons of improvement in my fitness, strength, and stamina.  And even though we don’t talk all that much, the community is great.  So that’s all the good stuff.

The Bad Stuff

The bad stuff is all on me.  During my 5th bootcamp workout, I knew I was hurting myself. It was a high repetition workout (100 military presses, 100 bicep curls, 100 burpees, 100 push ups, 100 jumping lunges, 100 squat jumps, and several other sets of 100 that I don’t remember), and I simply had weights that were too heavy for me, but I was new and didn’t want to admit that I had only brought one set and couldn’t handle it.  It was my first time in a new location, with a new teacher, and I didn’t want to show up with less than ‘my best.’  Because I was new, I also hadn’t figured out my entire workout plan, so after that workout, I headed out for a run without hydrating enough in between.

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That’s four strikes – pushing myself too hard, pushing hard in a workout when your muscles aren’t used to it (remember, I was a “newbie”), doing a second workout after pushing myself too hard (just because it was planned and I hate deviating from my schedule), and not hydrating adequately.  With all four of those together, I developed rhabdomyolysis.

what is rhabdomyolysis

What is rhabdomyolysis?

If you’ve never heard of rhabdomyolysis, this article describes it in a way that’s direct and easy to understand (and here’s WebMD’s version).  Basically, when you work too hard, your muscles break down more than usual, too much muscle tissue enters your bloodstream, and your liver and kidneys cannot process it effectively.  This is problematic, because if it gets too bad, you can go into kidney failure.  In case you didn’t click on the link above, let me share a few quotes:

  • “Why should I care about rhabdo?  Because it can kill you.  Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a rare but serious health condition sometimes caused by working out at a high intensity.”
  • “Even if you have been exercising regularly, jumping to a much higher intensity too suddenly can be dangerous.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out at a high intensity.  This means that you should ramp up your intensity slowly.”
  • “Rhabdo is very rare.  It’s like the opposite of winning the lottery … the odds of catastrophe are far outweighed by the positive effects we get from training.” (So don’t let this hold you back from exercise at all!)

(By the way, the fact that I took that article from a CrossFit blog was strategic – I don’t do CrossFit, but wanted to stand up for it here.  CrossFit gets the bad rap of treating “rhabdo” like a ‘rite of passage,’ glorifying it, or joking that you’re not working hard enough if you don’t have “rhabdo.”  I believe, on the contrary, that most CrossFit coaches out there are well-educated and have the safety of their athletes in mind, and this article demonstrates that.  If your CrossFit coach does not treat your health seriously, then you obviously have a problem on your hands). 

I want to reiterate that this was not the fault of anyone besides me.  There were people in this very same workout who were less fit than me and pushed less hard than me (because they were listening to their bodies).  No one made me push as hard as I did!

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What Can You Do to Prevent Rhabdomyolysis

Let’s make sure you get something out of this, and never run into an issue with rhabdomyolysis yourself!

  • Listen to your body. “Feeling the burn,” gasping for air for a few seconds, and struggling to complete an exercise are good things, and you should push yourself in workouts to get stronger. But real pain or exhaustion is different, and you need to know the difference.
  • Lose your ego.  Know your limits, and don’t ignore them.  Your limits are not anyone else’s, and no one really cares whether or not you have heavy weights or light weights.  Just do your own thing and be proud of your own progress.
  • Build up slowly when doing something new.  By all accounts, I’m a fit person.  I was running 40 miles per week and doing Focus T25 when I started bootcamp, so it’s not as if I went from ‘zero to hero.’  But serious strength training, plyometrics, and high-intensity training for multiple hours per week was new to me, so I should have ramped up a bit more slowly.
  • Hydrate.  I can’t believe I am having to remind myself of this tip, since I talk to my clients (and you!) about it daily.  I drink tons of water and am almost never dehydrated.  However, I didn’t drink enough before, during, and after this particular workout, and I think I could have prevented damage if I had.
  • Don’t ignore the signs.  I was sore like I’ve never been sore before for several days after that workout.  I couldn’t move my arms without pretty intense pain.  I didn’t do further workouts, but I also didn’t go to the doctor like I should have.  I happened to have my annual physical 4 days later, and the rhabdomyolysis was caught via routine blood work, but that’s a mistake.  If you have doubts, just get it checked out.

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(By the way, I’m completely fine now.  My case was mild and fully resolved itself.  I went in for another blood sample a few days later and my strong liver and kidneys had done their job and fully recovered.  I am grateful for the reminder to listen to my body, and I still push myself super hard, but not beyond the limits that I know are safe for me.)

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(I am not a medical doctor, so please do not interpret this as medical advice.  If you suspect you have rhabdomyolysis, go see a professional!)

So tell me in the comments … Did you learn anything from this?  Have you ever pushed too hard, and how do you prevent yourself from doing that now?