Intensity Should Be Relative Not Harmful


Last week an article appeared in the New York Times entitled “As Workouts Intensify, a Harmful Side Effect Grows More Common”.  What could it be you ask?  Injury of some kind perhaps?  Maybe risk of heart related issues?  That seems reasonable considering the headline uses the words Intense and Workouts. The answer is rhabdomyolysis.  Huh?  WebMd defines it as;

“Rhabdomyolysis is a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to serious complications such as renal (kidney) failure. This means the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine. In rare cases, rhabdomyolysis can even cause death. However, prompt treatment often brings a good outcome.”

I had never heard this word/condition until about 10 years ago.  As an athlete that played many sports throughout my lifetime, not once had I heard of a friend, foe, teammate or anyone going to the hospital from working so hard that they were hospitalized.  And, honestly I don’t think it should be on people’s minds now either.  This should not be more common.  It seems silly to even talk about because IT SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN!


As The Times states cases of rhabdo have occurred in group exercise settings or classes led by an instructor.  These situations are simply gross negligence by the instructor.  In my opinion, almost never would a person push his or her self to such a level unless asked or told to do so.  Most people stop on their own at some point.  In a situation where someone is the “leader” it simply means that the coach did an awful job of properly progressing the individual.  In some cases there are adults pushing young athletes to hospitalization.  Read about that herehere and here.  How does something like this happen in a college or high school setting?  Simple.  Those leading the workouts are dummies.  Plain and simple.  It’s not ok.  You don’t win games with multiple kids in the hospital.

Let me be upfront that I’ve never taken a class like Spin that The NY Times is referring to but let’s think about this logically.  I know that regardless of what “shape” I’m in if I try to hop on a bike for 1 straight hour, even at the slowest of paces I’m going to get very sore and very tired.  Now imagine if I actually attempted to work hard for an hour.  Like the athletes in the above linked articles I can sympathize with a person who is relatively new to exercise or a new modality that they’ve never tried before.  No one wants to look like the weak link or feel embarrassed that there’s no chance that they can keep up with seemingly everyone in the class/group.  I get it because I have been in this particular situation myself.  10 or so years ago when I dabbled in that exercise sport thingy seen on ESPN these days I was asked to do some what I would now call ridiculous “things”.  It’s hard to look around and see everyone else “doing better” than you and have the control and confidence to just worry about yourself and not be concerned with everyone else.

Removing group exercise or team sports from the scenario, if you are a person that on your own pushes yourself to the brink of death and hospitalization simply because you want to get in better or tip top shape then I think you need to reconsider why you are doing that and how.  I would venture to guess that there is a deeper issue that may need to be addressed, a complete lack of information or a combination of the two. Ask yourself, why am I doing this?  Did someone tell me I should?  Do I think it’s the only way?  Can I get the same benefits in a much safer manner?  As I stated before, cases of rhabdo should never happen!

I’ve heard stories on more than one occasion that an instructor warned a new individual of the risks and dangers of rhabdo.  At first this seems like the responsible thing to do.  But, again let’s consider the lengths that an individual needs to go to for this to even be on the radar.  I find issuing a warning about rhabdo, either as an instructor or New York Times writer, akin to issuing a warning that lifting a weight overhead can also be deadly.  Sure, it’s unlikely that the weight will fall and hit you in just the right spot to cause massive head trauma, but it could.  After all, things could go wrong at any time!  Heed this warning: Overhead presses may result in brain damage or possible death if you push beyond your limits.  Consider yourself warned.

  • Mike Baltren