Taking Training Too Far: A Quick Look at Rhabdomyolysis

by Dave Heidloff | Leave a Comment

First off, thanks for making it past the title and not assuming that rhabdomyolysis wasn’t some word I made up to sound like a medical genius. Rhabdomyolysis, or rhabdo in fitness slang, is a rare, but very dangerous condition seen in athletes that are pushing themselves too far. Fitness competitions are becoming a rapidly growing phenomenon, which means more and more people testing their body’s limits, so I figured it was time to raise some awareness about this condition and how to avoid it.

Rhabdomyolysis is the condition of rapidly degrading skeletal muscle. When skeletal muscle cells break down at a fast rate, they release compounds into the body that, when floating freely, can cause a lot of damage to the kidneys, possibly even kidney failure. The body is great at filtering out toxins and normal amounts of exercise won’t push the kidneys to their limit, so don’t think of this as a reason to hold back on reasonable exercise. A sudden flood of broken down muscle byproduct, however, can be too much. Breaking down that much muscle isn’t easy, which is why rhabdo is most commonly seen in victims of crush injuries like a car accident. Having said that, it is becoming a more common occurrence in athletes that are performing very long, intense training sessions, sometimes even doing 2-3 sessions in a single day.

Signs that you may be approaching rhabdo can be difficult to pick up on, but one easily identifiable sign is having a brownish hue to your urine. The brown color comes from the presence of a protein called myoglobin – one of the byproducts mentioned earlier. Some other signs include muscle pain, tenderness, weakness, swelling, and nausea – all of which can be difficult to differentiate from normal aspects of training.

The importance of hydration in sportsTreatment of rhabdo, if caught early, is simply a matter of facilitating the body’s natural filtering process, which means proper hydration – drinking water or using IV fluids. If untreated, the damage done to the kidneys could require more drastic measures, such as dialysis. As always, prevention is key. Staying properly hydrated and paying attention to your body are paramount to avoiding this condition. If, however, you see any signs mentioned above, it’s worth assessing your hydration and seeking medical attention.

Even though rhabdomyolysis is a fairly rare condition, it’s worth being aware of, especially if you’re increasing your training volume. If you remember to stay hydrated and listen to your body, you’ll have nothing to worry about, so enjoy your training!

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