"Who woulda thought OVERTRAINING is a real thing?!”... 

If you thought the same thing, give this article a read because this can happen to anyone whether you are new to lifting or have been training for 15+ years… and if you are competitive like me, this is far more likely to happen to you! 

It’s hard to tell an athlete, don’t go so hard and take it easy..." This is what Dana Linn Bailey, 2013 Olympia women's physique champion, had to say about her battle with Rhabdomyolysis.

In the fitness community over-training is an issue that has been getting more and more attention over recent years. As athletes push themselves harder for better results, over-training can happen at any time and without warning (AND it won’t be considerate for your competitions). 

Rhabdomyolysis is a disease of overworked muscle cells which leads to the breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of myoglobin into the bloodstream. This can be life-threatening if not treated properly with rest, hydration, education, and awareness on how to prevent it from happening altogether!

What is Overtraining?

Overtraining occurs when the body is subjected to excessive physical or mental stress. This can be from overworking the muscles, doing too much cardio, not allowing for adequate recovery time, or any combination of these things. 

Signs that you may be overtraining include: feeling constantly tired and run down, decreased performance in the gym or at competitions, increased resting heart rate, increased appetite and strange cravings, overuse of over-the-counter pain relievers on a regular basis and inability to sleep or wake up feeling refreshed.

Overtraining is extremely common in the fitness community because so many athletes are trying to improve their physique through lifting heavy weights for long periods of time without taking adequate rest days. 

It goes back to that whole "no pain, no gain" saying...which is a very common thought process in the fitness community. Working out should not be painful! Of course, there is some intense muscle stimulation, sweat, and possibly some tears involved, but this shouldn't be that kind of painful.

What Kind of Pain Should I Feel During a Workout?

Most professional and educated trainers will say that if you are feeling pain with your workout then something is wrong. If it hurts to do an exercise then don't do it! This goes for weight lifting and cardio exercises as well. 

There should be some discomfort associated with overloading the muscles which lead to growth over time, as we all know. And yet, the amount of strain on those muscles should never be so great that it hurts. Discomfort is good, pain is not! Here is a new quote to possibly adopt at the gym: "Growth starts where comfort ends."

If you are feeling pain in your joints, head or ligaments during and/or after your workout then you are most likely over-training.  And if you are overtraining then it is time to back off and give yourself an extra rest day or two. 

If the pain isn't that bad, but you still feel like something just doesn't seem right about your training regimen or diet plan, take a step back! You can always change things up by incorporating more active recovery into your routine instead of overworking yourself and ending up in a hospital bed like Mrs.Olympia. If you don't decide to fix it at its source your over-exertion will only get worse.

What are the Risks of Overtraining?

There are many risks associated with overtraining including decreased performance, overuse injuries, chronic fatigue, hormonal imbalances, loss of appetite and weight loss, increased resting heart rate, insomnia and anxiety. Below is a list of other possible risk factors  of overtraining:

  • Muscle pain

  • Acute kidney injury

  • Muscle breakdown

  • Kidney failure or acute renal failure (acute kidney failure)

  • Muscle injury

  • Kidney damage overall

  • Underlying muscle disease

  • Crush injury

  • Severe hyperkalemia

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation

  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome 

  • Acute compartment syndrome

  • Sickle cell disease 

How over-training Affects the Fitness Community Negatively

In recent years, overtraining has been seen as a growing health issue within not only athletes but also those who are just trying to get into shape and live an active lifestyle.  Many individuals overwork their muscles without knowing the dangers that come with it. With the constant insane and sometimes even impossible standards putting pressure on natural lifters, this issue only becomes worse. Especially as new steroids and physically enhancing options (that not everyone has access to) appear in the market today. 

In the overtrained state, muscles produce less force and are more susceptible to injury. This is because overtraining can cause a decrease in the muscle's ability to produce energy, as well as an increase in lactic acid production which leads to muscular fatigue. Overtraining also damages the myofibrils (the contractile proteins within the muscle cells) and can cause a loss in muscle mass.

Overtraining can lead to a number of health problems such as adrenal fatigue, decreased immune system function, renal failure, hormone imbalance, and worst case scenario: Rhabdomyolysis.

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What is Rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis is a disease/ medical condition that results from overworking muscle cells to the point of damage. This can lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue and the release of myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is a protein found in muscles that helps shuttle oxygen to the  muscles. Rhabdomyolysis occurs when the myoglobin is released into the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney damage or even kidney failure because of how taxing that process is on our kidneys over time. Acute exertional Rhabdomyolysis is a less intense version of the aforementioned exercise-induced Rhabdomyolysis. 

How can I prevent Rhabdo?

As with anything, the only 100% guarantee is prevention and not over-train. However, if you find it hard to understand your physical limits and boundaries, below is a list of easy things to do instead (or in conjunction with proper training):

  • Proper hydration

  • Take those rest days

  • Educate and make yourself aware of the possible negative outcomes (you're already doing this, keep up the good work!)

  • Avoid over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs

What can I do to Prevent Over-training and Gym-Related Injuries?

  • Use mats, either provided by the gym or your own

  • Wear shoes that fit and are proper for the workouts you will be performing

  • Warm-up and cool down before and after EVERY workout

  • Practice proper form

  • Take time to let your body recover! Your body won't be able to keep up if you don't let it, therefore leaving you tired and small.

Finally, to prevent severe rhabdomyolysis, the best option is to get an early diagnosis. Noticing rhabdomyolysis symptoms and causes of rhabdomyolysis early on and being sure not to participate in excessive physical exertion can help you, others around you, and your doctor to diagnose Rhabdomyolysis within you.

If you are participating in strenuous exercise frequently, you have an increased risk of prolonged immobilization, recurrent Rhabdomyolysis, and even Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation.

The over-training epidemic is growing, but it can be prevented. Educate yourself on the dangers of over-training and know your limits! The risk isn't worth taking if you have to visit a hospital bed every time you step foot into the gym. Remember: This doesn't just happen in the fitness community! Burnout is common in over-zealous workplaces, especially in outdoor construction where you can often be overworked with the combo of not enough hydration. Stay diligent and be patient with your progress. Let's all help prevent overexertion in the health community, and across the world.