The Unexpected Side Effect Of Intense Workouts Nobody Knows About

Written by Kate Wilke
The Unexpected Side Effect Of Intense Workouts Nobody Knows About

I went back to my kickboxing gym after three months of taking a break to save money. On my second day back I attended a strength class. I didn't know what muscle group we'd be working, but I had been to strength classes before so I didn't give it a second thought.

Biceps. And there were more men than I had ever seen in a class before (ahem, first red flag). Not only that, but these men were ripped. I reminded myself that just because I'm a small, petite woman with nonexistent biceps that didn't mean I wasn't deserving of being in that class.

The red flags I didn't see but should have

The hourlong biceps class was a mix of TRX bands, kettlebells, power cleans, and dumbbells. There were 15 stations with a short break in the middle before repeating all the stations.

I remember after just a few stations of bicep work, I wasn't able to lift myself off the ground using TRX bands (second red flag). When I made it to the "power clean" station I began taking the weights off the ends until the trainer came up to me and said, "Well, you have to put some weight on the bar." So I put 5-pound weights on either side of the bar and had a difficult time pushing the 55-pound bar over my head. It wasn't long before I couldn't even pick up a 10-pound weight, let alone swing a kettlebell over my head.

During our water break the trainer announced, "Now, many of you have never taken my class before. I don't take excuses. When you get to a station I want you to first try the weight that's there before lowering it." In a class of macho men who are curling more than 25 pounds per arm, I had a hard time justifying this.


Don't let anyone else tell you what your limits are.

I found the trainer's "come on guys, don't be so pathetic" attitude intimidating, and while he clearly saw me struggling, he never told me to take it easy, take a break, or even to stop. I never considered stopping myself because I didn't think you could injure yourself in class unless you felt a sharp pain, and I never considered myself incapable of completing a class.

My biceps class was on Friday afternoon, and that night I had felt nauseous. When I woke up the next day my arms were locked at 90 degrees, and they were painfully sore. I did some Google searching and was reassured that many people can't move their arms after a tough bicep workout, and as long as you're not peeing brown you're safe. I would later discover that just because you're not peeing brown does not mean you're safe.

My trip to the ER, where I first learned about rhabdomyolysis

On Sunday morning the swelling was worse and only got worse as the day went on. Realizing this wasn't normal, my boyfriend decided we had better go to the ER.

I had an IV giving me fluids after they finally told me that I had a bad case of rhabdomyolysis. My creatine kinase (CK) levels were at 8,000, and hospitals will overnight patients at 5,000 CKs. Creatine kinase is a product of muscle breakdown that is released from damaged muscles.

Rhabdo is when your muscle fibers die and release their contents into the bloodstream. In extreme cases, this leads to complications like kidney failure and in rare cases even death. Prompt treatment is crucial in the healing process.

Common symptoms include muscle pain and weakness, nausea, fever, dehydration, confusion, and dark red or brown urine. I experienced all of these symptoms except for the discolored urine.

Rhabdo isn't something to be proud of.

I got rhabdo in both of my biceps, so I couldn't move either of my arms for several days. When the results came back on day two, my CKs had increased to 10,000. Another night in the hospital.

Day three came and my CK levels had plateaued. The doctors wanted to make sure I had fluids continually until they saw proof that my CKs were headed down. Finally on Thursday I got the thumbs-up to head home, and I've never cried tears of joy like those. I spent two weeks resting with no alcohol, caffeine, or exercise.

I want to share my story to encourage people to be careful in the gym. Rhabdo is nothing to be proud of, and weight training shouldn't be a competition. Be mindful and listen to your body. Lately I've been going to yoga classes and playing tennis. I think it's important to work out because you love to and not because you feel like you have to. I've found gratitude in loving my body for what it can do and respecting it for what it can't.

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