A recent report has come out about participants attending a Studio Cycling class and becoming ill and suffering from a rare but life threating condition called Rhabdomyolysis. Also known as Rhabdo. Like the wheels on a bike, this word is circling the fitness community.
I am a certified indoor cycling instructor, and when the New York Times came out with the article on July 17th about a 24-year old girl suffering from rhabdo after her first spin class, my messenger ignited with questions and references to the article. Then days later Cosmopolitan came out with a follow-up article about Spin classes cause rhabdo, and then like a wild fire in Arizona, everything about the high aerobic interval training style of indoor cycling is being ravaged by rhabdo. Even Bicycling.com has come out against the false claims of Spin Class causes participants to suffer from rhabdo.
So what exactly is Rhabdomyolysis?
It’s a rare condition where muscle fibers break down quickly and release a protein into your bloodstream and can cause kidneys failure or muscle death if untreated. There have been reported cases of death because of rhabdo.
Some of these cases can be linked to individuals prescribed statin medication, but in the cases said, it’s directly connected to eccentric or severe overloading during a workout. For some reason, the summer of 2017 has connected rhabdo to spin classes. Though the most often reports of people suffering from rhabdo in the fitness world are those who attend Crossfit or Crossfit-styled fitness programs. Outside of the fitness community, rhabdo is reported amongst those with jobs like construction or firefighting, and other physically demanding careers.
What’s the connect behind Rhabdomyolysis and Spin Class?
In April, The American Journal of Medicine cited 46 cases of rhabdo developing after a spin class. However, 42 of the 46 were first-time attendees.
Following the class, once the participants went home they felt extreme discomfort and muscular swelling. As the pain became unbearable, they were taken to the ER noting severe muscle soreness, headaches, nausea, and the most common sign of rhabdo, dark urine that resembles tea or cola in color.
One connection among all newcomers to Spin Class was they were considered to be in moderate to good shape. This is a point of emphasis because when trying out a new exercise program, regardless of fitness level, there needs to be some adaptation to the new structure of the program. If a person is not used to cycling and then decides to go full-out 100% in their first class, just like any other kind of high-intensity exercise plan, form and the development of the correct muscles to be recruited will allow for the individual to perform at their best. And also get the most out of the workout.
However, when you get participants who are already pretty fit, they believe they can work outside the comfort zone. The soreness can be rationalized and chalked up to "a new routine, and I’m sore because it was my first time." This rationality makes some sense, but if you took an Olympic power lifter and told them to go on a run, do you think they would immediately run marathon distance? No, that would be crazy. You would expect them to ease into running with mastering one mile at a time.
The same mindset should be applied to ANY new workout routine. Muscles have to adapt to the new variable, and that first stage is often referred to as the Alarm stage of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
GAS outlines how the body adapts to stressors, both physically and psychologically. But what can be applied to fit individuals taking on new programs are the principles of specificity. To become better at an exercise or skill, you’ll need to perform that activity or skill. Let’s take the power lifter who’s incorporated running because of a friend’s suggestion. If that power lifter wants to get better at running, they will need to run.
So don’t avoid your spin classes at your gym. Instead, listen to your body and don’t over exert on a new high-intensity workout class, and make sure to ease into it!
If you have severe muscle discomfort and shockingly dark urine, call your physician and seek medical assistance.
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