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!
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. (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.
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?
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!
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.
(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.)
(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?
Megan – I can’t tell you how awesome your post was. I spent three days during and after Labor Day weekend hospitalized with rhabdo. It was embarrassing. I had been traveling for work a lot, didn’t make time to work out, got back in the saddle with what I would consider a challenging, but not over the top workout, and wound up with rhabdo. I didn’t know my own limits, didn’t stay hydrated, and didn’t listen to my body. My first workout was Wednesday night. I started to get soreness in my arms right after my workout, but just thought that was “the price I would pay” for getting back in it. Thursday and Friday passed. Saturday was a tough leg workout (because I still couldn’t straighten my arms, you see) and the swelling started. It wasn’t until Sunday when nausea set in that I realized I was in trouble. Normal CK levels are 100, by the time I got to Urgent Care on Sunday, my levels were at 40,000. They thought they may have to cut open my forearms to relieve the swelling, or “compartment syndrome.” Luckily, I didn’t do any permanent kidney or liver damage, my arms remained intact and uncut, and I only spent a few days under excellent care.
The bad news? I’m embarrassed because I’m a well educated woman who normally has better judgment. I don’t trust my body, because honestly, I’ve done way harder stuff and trust me, I’m not at all a bad ass. I wasn’t in a large amount of pain. I gave up my gym membership and joined the Y. I went back last week to do a very light workout, 20 minutes on the elliptical, some very, very light deadlifts, some bicep curls, and some planks, only to wind up with shooting pains in my arms. This is after three weeks off of exercise. So now what? And I haven’t been able to find a whole lot about rhabdo recovery.
So thanks for being brave enough to post this. Know that there’s someone else out there who loves the challenge of CrossFit and bootcamp as much as you who’s done the same thing, and if you find more information on recovery – let me know. 🙂
One thing I do know, now that we’ve had rhabdo once, we’re more susceptible in the future. At least according to my docs in the hospital. So BE CAREFUL! 🙂
Danielle, Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. Wow – your story is so scary as well. 40,000!! My goodness! I am so glad you are OK. I completely relate to the sense of embarrassment and losing trust in your body. I’m glad you’re slowly getting back to exercise, because I don’t think that the lesson from all of this should be to stay away from exercise! It’s just about learning to trust our bodies’ signals and not over-doing it. Like you, I haven’t found much information on recovery. My doctor seemed to think I was good to go after a few weeks of no strength training (and cleared me for cardio even the day after, so obviously my levels were not as bad as yours!). Even now, I take it easy in bootcamp class when I’m feeling fatigued. Thanks for sharing!
Sorry to be late to the game, but glad you shared this — and glad you’re still coming to boot camp! It makes my mornings so much brighter. And while he said today that he knows people are slacking when they run together, well, he was talking to you and not to me — running with YOU makes me push myself harder!!! But years of balancing boot camp with distance running and sometimes other things like Bikram (and an inherent laziness despite all that) means I think I’m pretty good at knowing my limits and just phoning it in some days, probably actually the next 8 Mondays in fact! And besides trying to be careful after long runs and before important races, if I ever feel on the verge of an injury, I will skip ALL the running at camp and you’ll find that the instructors are great about modifying it for you, especially when you have the credibility of being a generally hard worker, which you certainly have. So glad it’s working for you (and so glad you’re a friend IRL now!).
Like I told you in person, I love running with you, too! I definitely wouldn’t push myself as hard as I do every time without you there, and I appreciate that! We have a good balance between sometimes running together and waiting for each other on exercises and sometimes pushing ourselves at our own levels! I’ll be phoning it in and / or skipping bootcamp over the next few months when races roll in, too! I’m also so glad we’re IRL friends!
I have a client who has a whole laundry list of issues and believes that she will be okay if she “just gets stronger.” It’s tough when you are young and think you are invincible. I applaud you for sharing your story and I passed it on to her. Thank you!
Thank you for your support and for sharing with your friend, Missy! I hope it can be helpful!
I’m so glad you’re okay. Isn’t it funny what we do to prove to ourselves that ‘we got this’ when we totally don’t! Take it easy recovering and thanks for the great post.
Yes, sadly, it is that mentality of “I got this” that got me! Thanks for the support, Kris!
How scary! I hadn’t heard of this before, but I appreciate the information as I get ready to start training again. Thanks for sharing, and glad you’re ok!
Glad it could be helpful, Amanda!
I’ve read a few other stories like this. It can be really dangerous. I think it’s great that you shared your story so that others may realize the dangers of over doing it in this way. I am glad that you caught it early and that you are ok. Speedy recovery!
Thank you for your support, Deborah!
Hi Megan, I have a friend who was born with rabdo as a genetic condition so he has to play it cool with exercise. Glad you are ok. So brave of you to be open about over doing it. I suppose everyone can say they overdoe it in some aspect of their life…exercise, eating, gossiping, internet…the list goes on. In your case listening to your body sounds like it will keep you grounded. I’m always interested in this topic from a psychological point of view, especially if there is a pattern. So for myself I’ve dug a little deeper and uncovered some interesting stuff. Love your blog, you did what you said you were going to do. Yay!!
Wow Kathy, I had no idea that rhabdomyolysis could be a genetic condition! How interesting.
Thanks so much for your support – yes, I agree that most people do tend to overdo it in at least some aspect of their lives. And yes – I did do what I said I was going to do! It took me a while to do it, but even back when we met I KNEW I would do it. So glad that your winding path is now leading to what YOU want to do, as well! I’m excited for you!
Wow, relieved to hear you are okay- this really is an eye opening scenario, and one I’d never heard of. I’m guilty of at times, going beyond my limits and not voicing up but after reading this…never again!
Thanks for your support, Arman! Glad to be a reminder!
it’s so hard to take our own advice, isn’t it? but so glad you shared and are honest! we need that reminder. Heal fast!
Thanks for your support, Lindsay! I’m back in the game now (it only took a few days, thank goodness) and feeling great!
Thank you for being honest and warning us about this condition. I think there are too many of us who don’t listen to our body, especially when it comes to hydration. Glad you are okay!
Yes, I agree, Kellie! Listening to our bodies is a lifelong journey 🙂
Yikes, girl! I totally understand the pressure and how you felt. I’d take this as a lesson learned. It definitely opened up my eyes.
So glad it opened up your eyes, Lauren! It can be tough to listen to ourselves :).
So glad you are ok Megan! I have heard of this but never suffered from it myself. We all make mistakes and they are hard to admit sometimes, but I think it’s important to be up front about them. I know I have made my fair share of them in the past! We live and we learn 🙂
So glad you are feeling better!
Thank you for your support, Sara!
I”m so glad you’re ok! Ironically, I have a put myself in danger post coming soon…I think. Like you said sharing so much that is personal and putting myself out there. But, if what I share is helpful to even one person it will be worth it.
Very interesting information!
Did I miss your post on putting yourself in danger, Jill? Glad you’re sharing, too!
So glad you’re okay and that you decided to put the info out there. I’ve never heard of it and it’s always good to know about these things even if they’re rare. Listening to your body, though we talk about it seemingly endlessly, is no joke. I hope we can all move away from the “no pain no gain” mentality because real pain I don’t believe is ever necessary to improve, and likely means you’re hurting performance.
I’m so glad to be able to share something that’s helpful, Michele. Yes – I agree that we all need to move away from ‘no pain, no gain’ – it’s a fine line because of course I believe in pushing yourself, and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with doing speed work and pushing harder than is comfortable or feeling a bit sore after a strength workout, but it’s all about balance and listening to our body’s true signals.
OH MY GOD my husband just dealt with this with someone in the hospital–thank GOD you are ok!! Please be careful going forward! This person had just started Crossfit (I won’t go into my thoughts on that), and ended up in the hospital. Terrifying.
Yikes. Stories like yours make me feel even more lucky that I wound up just fine. Lesson learned!
Awesome of you to share – and good lessons to learn! xoxo
Thank you so much, Clare! I learn a lot from other bloggers like you who make themselves vulnerable and share their imperfections! <3
I’m so glad you’re ok now! I have heard of this happening a lot with Crossfit… based on the time I tried it out, I can see why! Unfortunately when something gets so popular so fast the education doesn’t always keep up. Hopefully it’s improving!
Yep, I know. Like I said, I do believe that there are great CrossFit coaches out there, but unfortunately there are some that push people too hard and are not educated enough. In my particular case, it was my fault though. Thanks for the support!
I applaud you for posting this Megan – as you said: you will help someone out there and someone will listen to their body better upon reading your story. I know you were nervous about putting this out there but I hope you are proud of yourself for doing so. I am currently trying to prevent myself from pushing too hard now. My silly knee has been bugging me a bit so I am learning to scale it back and take more rest than I would like. Thank you for always being an inspiration and for the reminder to listen to my body and give it what it asks for.
Thank you for your support … yes, I was nervous to put it out but grateful for the support! I’m glad your resting is paying off and your knee is improving!
First off – THANK GOODNESS you are OK! I am so glad!
Now … MEGAN DID A STUPID! haha
Seriously, I poke fun for several reasons:
– We all want to push ourselves hard, sometimes too hard
– Things ‘we all know’ sometimes pass us by when we’re in the heat of a workout … hydration is a great example
– Even someone with all the credentials in the world will STILL make mistakes
– We never stop learning.
I think that it was a great and important idea to share this … because I think that one of the great strengths you present is your openness and honesty and hunger for knowledge … and if you did NOT openly put out that you too make mistakes and do things you should know better, you would be less ‘real’.
Anyway … so glad you’re OK and thanks for sharing!
Yes, yes, Megan did a stupid. A big stupid. I feel so fortunate that the stupid turned into a great reminder for myself (yes … I already knew to listen to my body, of course, but now realize that I fall prey to thinking I’m invincible at some times!), and hopefully for others as well. I do appreciate your words on being ‘real’ – I struggled with whether or not to post about this, like I said, but in the end … NO ONE is perfect, and we can all continue learning!
Wow, Megan I have never head of this disease before. I am so sorry you had to go through all of this, but I bet you help so many people by posting about this. Thank you for sharing and being honest. 🙂
Thank you for your support, Becky! It means a lot!
Wow, that is really scary and I’m so glad you’re ok. I’ve never heard of that before, but I’m glad you shared your story to make others aware. It can be a fine line between pushing to improve and pushing too hard to the point of overtraining or other health problems.
Thanks for your support, Lisa. I appreciate it and hope it helped!