Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a serious medical disorder where your muscles die from too much exercise. This can lead to horrible side effects ranging from muscle pain, heart problems, surgery to even kidney failure. I've been educating people about rhabdo for over 10 years and am the author of the first book on rhabdomyolysis from exercise. One striking fact many tell me is they developed rhabdo soon after joining a fitness center. Why? Here are the things you need to know. Remember these before you join a gym or when you hire a personal trainer. Also see the Can You Have A Mild Case of Rhabdo review.
Why Is Rhabdo Occurring In Gyms?
After looking at the reports, speaking with people who developed rhabdo and teaching personal trainers, I've concluded the following 5 reasons are responsible for rhabdo occurring in fitness centers:
- Lack of education
- Believing intense exercise is better
- The 30 minute workout
- The salesman/personal trainer
- Using DOMS to generate personal trainer sales
Let's discuss each of these below.
Lack of Rhabdo Education
Most of the personal trainers I meet – and I meet a lot of them – have never heard of rhabdo. It doesn't matter who they are certified by whether it's NASM, NSCA, ACE, online certs, etc., they have never been taught about the dangers of rhabdomyolysis. I have even met people with master degrees in exercise science – recent grads too! – who were never educated about rhabdo either.
How can this be? I have a few ideas.
One thing is that rhabdo is not mentioned in the textbooks of most major fitness organizations. The last time I checked, neither NASM, NSCA, ACE, ISSA, NCCPT or even ACSM discussed it. I still hold the record of writing the first personal trainer textbook to discuss rhabdomyolysis – and I wrote the original version several years ago.
I have also never attended a seminar on rhabdo at any fitness convention either – and that includes seminars specifically on eccentric muscle actions, which are often implicated in rhabdo development.
When it comes to education on this topic, the entire fitness industry has failed not only their members but the American public too. I say the same thing about most of the education system too. Given the popularity of high intensity exercise , there is no excuse to not discuss rhabdo in a college-level exercise science class. Having met gradualtes of many colleges, I know this does not occur.
University professors not including this topic in their curriculum have failed their students.
So why are so few people talking about exercise and rhabdo? While it's easy to blame this on a conspiracy by the Fitness-Industrial Complex, I think most it's more basic than this. I think many who teach college classes – and write personal trainer books -are out of touch.
- I think most are basically egg heads with little grasp of what is happening around them.
- I further think most have no idea fitness trainers are causing rhabdo .
- I also believe some professors don't even know what rhabdo is either!
What ever the reason, America now has a generation of personal trainers and group fitness instructors who have no idea the damage too much exercise can do. Since some of these trainers go on to become PE teachers, strength and conditioning coaches and team sport coaches at universities, the risk of rhabdo becomes more pervasive through out the population.
Belief That Intense Exercise Is Better
We are living in the age where people think exercise has to be intense to be beneficial. Popular magazines perpetuate this myth with articles like:
- How to Perfect the Pistol Squat
- 4 Moves to help you get Calum Von Moger's Pecs
- 5 Moves to Build Super Strength
- The Scientific Why Bootcamp Workouts Are So Good For You
Articles like these are used to sell magazines and not educate people. The result is a public which thinks they have to exercise at intense levels to improve their fitness. Unfortunately, magazine titles like these also resonate with some fitness trainers who may feel if it's in a magazine, it must be true. And so they use soundbite articles and misinformation when training their clients.
The 30 Minute Workout
Fitness centers have been trying to adapt to the public's desire to not exercise for decades. In the 1990s, celebrities like Cher and Raquel Welch was marketing the “30 minute workout” to help people fit working-out into their schedules. Sometime after that, fitness centers started reducing the length of personal trainer sessions from 60 minutes, down to 30 minutes.
I blame the 30 minute workout as part of the rhabdo problem in fitness centers. This is because personal trainers – who often don't know much about rhabdo – often treat a 30 minute workout like a 60 minute exercise session. In other words, they try to squeeze the same intensity into a shorter time period.
When you combine an intense exercise session with exercises someone is not used to doing, it becomes a scenario where rhabdomyolysis becomes more likely.
The Salesman/Personal Trainer
Don't assume that the personal trainer you hired is really a personal trainer. Sometimes they are the salesperson who signed you up for your gym membership. Remember, the personal training department makes the most money for the gym. Nothing wrong with this except when the sales person doubles as a personal trainer – even though they are not certified. One sign of this is a the salesperson who offers to train you for free to seal the deal of you joining.
This stuff goes on although some gyms are cracking down on this scam. But, the crackdown really isn't a fix but rather just a shallow attempt to legitimize this scam. Fitness centers send their sales people to get certified, sometimes taking online certs whose exams are easy to cheat on. The result: The gym has “certified” personal trainers who or may not know anything.
The “certified” trainers, often don't know how to train others, subjecting people to overly intestine workouts (split routines, super-sets, etc.) before they can handle it. Basically, they train others like they train themselves. The result: rhabdomyolysis.
See Gym Scams review for a bunch of other things to watch out for.
Using DOMS To Sell Personal Training
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). It's the normal feeling of discomfort and pain we often feel after working out too much or doing something we were not used to doing. Sometimes the pain is not much while other times it can be very bad. Fitness centers sometimes use DOMS to sell personal training.
When someone joins a fitness center, they often get 1-3 personal training sessions for free. The idea is to get the new member set up on their first workout, familiarize them with the exercises, and of course to introduce them to personal training too.
All this is great. But…
At some fitness centers, the real job is only to sell personal training. Here's what happens. The personal trainer is told to make as sore as possible – on purpose. This is to make the person think they are out of shape. If they think this way, they may be more likely to hire a personal trainer.
You can see the problem with this:
- The personal trainer has no idea about rhabdo
- The fitness director who tells them to do this has no idea ab out rhabdo
- Neither does the person being subjected to this super hard workout either
Can I prove to you this happens? Not with any official documentation. But, I've spoken to personal trainers who've told me in private this practice does occur. How much it occurs I cannot say but some of the trainers I've talked to have worked at well known names in fitness.
Many of the people I've spoken to in the past have told me they developed rhabdomyolysis after their first workout with a trainer. I think this is the result of a combination of the 5 different reasons summarized above. Of these, lack of education about rhabdomyolysis is #1. If we can improve education on the part of the fitness community – and the public – I believe this will lead to much fewer cases of rhabdo occurring. That is my hope.
Here's my rhabdo book. Please share it with your friends.