Why It IS a Good Idea To Scale Down Your Workouts

workout barbel13 University of Iowa football players were hospitalized after an intense workout with symptoms that point to rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition “that may arise when muscle tissue breaks down and the contents of muscle cells are released into the bloodstream. One molecule in particular, myoglobin, is toxic to the kidneys and can cause kidney failure and, in the most severe cases, death,” (Ray, CrossFit Journal, p.1). 


This unfortunate situation reminds us of the dangers of rhabdomyolysis, commonly referred to as “rhabdo.”  The workout that overtaxed the Iowa football players was grueling:  Jim Poggi, a 215 pound freshman linebacker reported performing the 100 squats under 17 minutes with a 240 pound bar.  Try doing 100 squats with more than your bodyweight on the bar.  I would expect a religious experience!

Should I worry?

“The athletes at highest risk seem to be those with a reasonable baseline level of fitness they have obtained through some non-CrossFit training, or those who are returning to CrossFit after a layoff. These athletes have sufficient muscle mass and conditioning to go hard enough to hurt themselves but do not have the protection that develops with regular exposure to real intensity,” (Ray p.3). 

Jim Poggi’s father reported that over the break, “I could tell you he didn’t do anything except eat a lot and lay around and then this was kind of the first day back,” (Morehouse). 

Dr. Mike Ray assures us, “In real terms, the risk of serious rhabdo is genuine, but it is low…. There is no way to separate the effectiveness of the training from all risk. A completely safe training program is doomed to produce only couch potatoes. The safety of strength and conditioning programs across the board, including CrossFit, is very good, especially when compared to sports like basketball, football and soccer,” (p.4).

At CrossFit Mt Olympus we strive for a safe, yet challenging environment.  We INSIST you listen to the coach leading your workout.  We will push you to your limit and will also scale you back when you go too far.  Our creed asks that you leave all egos at the door.  Your ego will cause you far more damage in the gym than any of the exercises.  This shows up most often with people lowering weight in order to “compete” with a friend.  If your muscles aren’t conditioned to the constant demands of CrossFit, you need to develop them.  There is a reason we call it ‘conditioning,’ it takes time! 


Dr. Ahmik Jones identifies 3 symptoms common to rhabdomyolysis:

  1. Pain out of proportion to the amount of soreness you would expect, often coming on much faster than you would expect after a workout, and often accompanied with weakness.
  2. Swelling of the body part involved, either with or without pain.
  3. Decreased urine output or dark urine. This is the scary one and the one that gets you admitted to the hospital. (http://www.board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=38220)


First, listen to your coach.  If the coach asks you to lower or raise the weight, DO IT.  If they ask you to stop, DO IT.  If you feel a bit off, tell the coach. 

Second, using a band or a lighter weight so your score will seem better is not only cowardly, it is stupid and could land you in the hospital.  100 pullups with a green band and pushing off a box each rep NEVER equals 100 real pullups, no matter how fast you did them. 

Third, stay hydrated and eat real food.  Water helps your kidneys and food  helps maintain an electrolyte balance.  Too much water can lead to hyponatremia, which has lead to several deaths since the increase of interest in endurance sports. 

Fourth, if you have been away from CrossFit for any length of time, allow your body to recondition.  DO NOT attempt to set any personal records after spending Christmas break sitting on the couch and eating poorly. 

Several people have taken breaks for valid reasons, then get discouraged when they return because of increased soreness and lack of performance.  Get over yourself, get back in the class and realize you are temporarily a beginner again. 

I really hope that this helps any of you at all. If you have any questions, feel free to ask anytime. Train hard and remember to have fun.

Check out our crossfit footwear guide at: http://www.workoutgearlab.net/crossfit/best-shoes-for-crossfit/



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