Workouts Gone Wrong: Ways to Injury-Proof Your Sweat Sessions
It was a seemingly normal workout: a high-powered circuit of pull-ups, push-ups, and squats. "Difficult, yes, but done in 20 minutes," says Shari Becht, a 40-year-old chef in Highland Ranch, Colorado. Seventy-two hours later she knew something was seriously wrong. "I couldn't believe how big and heavy my arms looked," she says. They were so swollen and sore she could barely straighten them, and her fingers tingled. Worried, Shari rushed to her doctor, who did blood work. "The next afternoon, I got a call saying, 'We have a hospital bed waiting for you,'" she remembers.
Shari was diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition brought on by intense activity in which muscle fibers break down and release electrolytes and proteins into the bloodstream. One of the proteins, myoglobin, can occur in such high concentrations that it overwhelms the kidneys, which can lead to kidney failure or death. Shari spent three days in the hospital hooked up to a saline IV drip to flush her kidneys. Two years later the experience is still fresh: "My biceps have damaged muscles cells and still swell up sometimes, so I avoid working them now because I'm terrified of getting rhabdo again," she says.
Even though Shari's experience is an extreme example, workout injuries routinely happen. Each year, more than 174,500 women end up in the ER with an exercise-related injury, according to the most recent government data. "Everyone gets hurt at some point, no matter what activity they choose," says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, a sports medicine doctor in New York City. "Most commonly, it's from doing too much too soon or from moving your body in a way it's not accustomed to."
With so many of today's hard-core fitness trends focused on pushing you past your limits, it's easy to get carried away. We asked experts for advice on avoiding the risks of the most popular workouts to ensure that your routine is all gain and no pain. Follow this guide to stay safe and sweat happy.
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