Last week this article popped up on the interwebs and has absolutely blown up. I've seen it on Facebook and Twitter..the author was even interviewed on Good Morning America, and people everywhere suddenly had a strong opinion on a topic they had no familiarity with.
First off, let's define exertional rhabdomyolysis: the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue due to muscle damage. Extreme cases can lead to kidney failure and/or death.
Now that I've played the sensationalist card, it's time for you to know more about what causes it, how to prevent it, and why you almost certainly won't get it.
What causes rhabdo?
There are a lot of factors that need to align in order for someone to develop rhabdo, but at the end of the day it requires major muscle damage to happen. While muscles are definitely put under large amounts of stress during our workouts, there are a few specific types of movements that cause the damage necessary for rhabdo to occur. These are movements with large amounts of eccentric loading.
Basically, this is any movement that extends a joint against a contracted muscle. Imagine you contract your bicep as hard as you can and pull in your hand to your shoulder. Then imagine I grab onto your wrist and force your arm straight while you fight it. That's an eccentric load, but even that won't cause rhabdo. You see, your body is very resilient and it requires a huge volume of these types of movements to even approach the amount of damage necessary.
Examples of movements with great amounts of eccentric load include jumping pull ups, GHD sit ups, and movements with slow negatives (like slowing yourself on the way down to the bottom of the squat).
Aside from volume and the type of movement, a few other factors play into rhabdo, but the most important is dehydration, which can increase the chances of rhabdo when other circumstances are present.
Even with all these environmental factors present, rhabdo isn't a sure thing. Above all else, you have to physically push yourself past the point of discomfort, past the point of pain, and get to irresponsible levels of exertion.
Because of this, unless you currently are a phenomenal athlete or were at some point in the past, you will almost certainly never get rhabdo.
How do I prevent it?
Preventing rhabdo is very very easy: don't overload on eccentric movements, stay hydrated, and don't try to commit suicide in the middle of a workout.
We take a lot of care not to program workouts that will increase the risk of causing muscle damage, and we strongly encourage everyone to stay hydrated, and not only do you stop yourself from crazy levels of exertion, we step in a stop people who may be pushing themselves too hard.
My experiences with rhabdo
With 5 years of CrossFit under my belt, I've done a lot of CrossFit workouts, met a ton of CrossFitters, and have gotten to know a lot of people. I personally know 1 person who's gotten rhabdo (a mild case that's commonly referred to as "butt elbows" because there's minor swelling of the elbow and they look like butt cheeks), and I know of 3 other cases which were significantly more serious.
Every one of those people were in great shape before developing rhabdo. The first case was a friend of mine who is a pretty fantastic yogi, but not a great CrossFitter who just got the bad end of some jumping pull ups. The other 3 cases were high level CrossFitters. All three were very dehydrated and all three pushed themselves way way way past a prudent level of exercise.
About that article
At this point, CrossFit has grown enough that just adding in "CrossFit" to the title of an article will attract pageviews (And therefore ad revenue). To put it mildly, that article is terrible. It lacks a coherent argument, doesn't present any meaningful evidence, avoids any discussion of the types of situations that can lead to rhabdo, and falsely concludes with the idea that CrossFit = rhabdo.
The truth is rhabdo is exceedingly rare and can be easily avoided through intelligent programming, taking care of yourself outside of the gym, and listening to your body and your coaches.
Most important, don't be afraid to communicate with us. If you think you've gotten hurt or are experiencing something you're not familiar or comfortable with, then tell one of your coaches. We're world class professionals who have had a lot of training and experience in the strength and conditioning world and we can help you, but only if you communicate with us.
A. Find the heaviest weight you can in the following complex:
1 strict press + 3 push press + 5 push jerks
B. 4 rounds for time:
300m farmer's carry (53x2/35x2)
20 toes to bar
Posted by Armen.