On getting Rhabdo

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Having rhabdomyolysis sucks. But, let us first discuss Olympic lifting for a moment.

Just a couple of short months after starting CrossFit, I attempted a one rep max clean. I warmed up at 135 pounds. After a few reps I started slapping on five pound steel plates until I really felt the load, then threw on two-and-halfs. 185 pounds went up fairly easy. It was a power clean, and I only weighed forty pounds less than the barbell at that point, I was excited about it. Having watched some free videos on the Journal (I had not yet bought a full subscription) and highlights of Games athletes, I knew to try to catch the heaviest weights in the bottom of the front squat. And, so, at 195 pounds I attempted my first ever full clean.

I didn’t get my elbows up.

The weight came crashing down, the barbell landing on my left quadricep. It was shitty to say the least; bruising and soreness lasted a few days, but there were no broken bones. It was one of the greatest things to have happened to me in my pursuit of fitness and all-around health.

Dropping that barbell on my quad taught me the importance of the Olympic lifts’ auxiliaries. Don’t try to clean anything you can’t comfortably front squat. Seek out coaching in regards to dynamic movements like the clean, the snatch, and muscle-ups (I had been doing CrossFit on my own, having never been coached in any way at the time of that aforementioned, unfortunate incident). Keep the weight in the heels. There’s actual day-to-day programs to increase max lifts, it’s not just shooting for a one rep max every third day. What I learned that day was astounding, and, to be sure, embarrassing I that did not know that stuff already.

It’s been almost three years since that little episode. In the last thirty-six months I’ve spent time visiting boxes, seeking real coaching, working on technique at much lighter weights; I have done research and implemented the Wendler 5/3/1 program, I bought a full subscription to the journal and read/watch it incessantly. I’ve attended a CrossFit Level I and CrossFit Kids Seminar and after educating myself began coaching at two local boxes here in Northern Virginia. But, the learning must go on. Rick Scarpulla could not have been more on point when he said the Level 1 course does not make the coach. That is only the beginning.

My son and I

My son and I

Now, about that visit from Uncle Rhabdo. Two Septembers ago the greatest thing that has ever happened to me, did: my son, Leigham, was born on the 18th of that month in 2012. I love him more than anything in the world. Since his birth my time with a barbell in hand has severely diminished, so as summer approached in 2013, school was winding down (I’m a high school teacher) and my work at a local box was about to start up, I tried to get a few workouts in to get back after it.

21 bodyweight bench press
42 GHD sit-ups
15 bodyweight bench press
30 GHD sit-ups
9 bodyweight bench press
18 GHD sit-ups

That’s the WOD that did me in.

I should have seen it coming. All the things that make CrossFitters susceptible to rhabdo, I had going on. Formerly fit, though had taken some time off; dehydrated (I woke up, had a cup of coffee, then hit the box); and was doing a ton of GHD sit-ups. Rhabdo wasn’t a “dirty little secret” the seminar staff at my L1 hid from me, I know about it. I knew a lot about it. I read the articles, did external research, heard from people who had experienced it.

I was fine the following day, Sunday. Upon waking up Monday I was a bit on the tender side, but at 4 in the morning I drove to my coaching job 45 minutes away. When I got there, I could not stand up straight and by that afternoon I was peeing a light brown-color. I went to an urgent care facility and got my numbers checked. The initial results were somewhat normal, so they sent me home. Things seemed to get better by Tuesday. By Wednesday my lab work had come back and I was told to get to a hospital immediately. I was admitted and my numbers were tested again. Creatine phosphokinase is an enzyme found in muscle tissue, when muscle tissue breaks down it is leaked into the bloodstream; it can be damaging to the kidneys if left unchecked and excess levels of CPK can potentially lead to kidney failure. My CPK level was in excess of 50,000. “Normal” is in the range of 10-120. Still, this was considered a somewhat mild case of Rhabdomyolysis.

I had three days and two nights in the hospital to contemplate all that went wrong, what they meant for me as a husband and father, and my future as CrossFitter. I wasn’t in tremendous pain at this point, and simply needed to wait for the IV drip to do its job, so contemplate I did. My doctors offered little-to-no insight on what to do to recover and actually deferred to me on how to go about getting back in the gym–they had never had a case of exertion-induced rhabdo before, so didn’t know what to tell me: one week, four-to-six weeks, three months?

While the doctors didn’t have answers, personal acquaintances most certainly had an idea of exactly what to do next: give up…

“Colin, you should really take it easy and not ever work out like that anymore.”

Oh, because that’s how human progress came about: setback suffered, let me go ahead and never attempt something difficult again. I heard this from friends, family, coaches, and various colleagues. All of this wonderful advice was coming in despite constantly hearing those same people say, “You need to push yourself!”, or “Get comfortable being uncomfortable!”, or putting up the ubiquitous classroom motivational posters with something to the effect of “The only reason we fall is so we can pick ourselves back up” plastered below a picture of some vast mountain range. In reality, it turns out, not many believe those things or don’t live by them themselves; they just espouse them to young students and athletes.

In the short term, yes, I will take it easy. But I’ll be damned if I never try that nasty little couplet again.

As far as I was concerned, CrossFit (by way of myself) is what got me into this mess, and CrossFit will get me out of it. Mechanics, consistency, then intensity. Nutrition, metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, weightlifting and throwing, then sport. I have had an opportunity to start all over again. I jumped into CrossFit having no idea where to begin. I was picking up random workouts from CrossFit Park City’s website, the main site, and attempting my own programming with not much to go on as far as mechanics, technique, methodology, etc. That’s how near 200-pound barbells land on quads.

Laughable, but it's my PR...

Laughable, but it’s my PR…

I started slow, and for some time did nothing at all. I work two jobs in which I’m constantly on my feet; I need to leave enough in the tank to play with my now very mobile, and very active 16-month old at the end of the work day. Even a few weeks after leaving the hospital, I remember running to the car to get my rain jacket before going for a walk with the dog. Fifty yards to the Ford and back felt like the round of 15 in Fran.

I’ve taken away a few conclusions from Uncle Rhabdo’s visit that I would like to share with community:

Briggs and Bridges had their knee injuries; I got rhabdo. While I would never want any fellow athlete to ever experience either of those things (and in no way will my return precipitate a birth to the CrossFit Games), there is something to be said for getting back to the basics and forcing yourself to work on weakness, form, and consistency. Start fresh, look at CrossFit the way my little boy looks at the world. Taking on CrossFit [for the second time] almost four years after actually beginning my journey into the world of constantly varied, high intensity, functional fitness has astound potential. After spending almost a year working on nothing but gymnastics movements, improving form on my Olympic lifts, and almost no time on heavy lifting, I have actually PR’d on both my snatch and clean. Form has begotten intensity. Work the basics.

Secondly, don’t be a god damn hypocrite, and don’t let such people tell you what is best for you. I am absolutely not advocating you go against doctors’ orders, but don’t let the non-experts tell you not to push yourself. Progress only comes from going back into the fray despite the scars and bone breaks you suffered the last time you did just that.

By all means, please do not lay down on your back only to never get up again. Find the silver linings, listen to your doctors and trainers on how best to get back after it, and by all means get the fuck back after it.

And finally, avoid rhabdo like the plague. That shit sucks.

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