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Yo, what’s the deal with rhabdo? By Courtney Shepherd and a bunch of people that have an “MD” after their name.
The other day Verve had a WOD programmed that contained GHD sit-ups. While briefing the workout I mentioned the importance in scaling the GHD sit-ups because, if not done correctly or done in a volume beyond our capacity, we can set ourselves up for the potential to get rhabdo. After I said this someone in class asked “what is rhabdo?”. Valid question. I know personally as a coach I made mention of it often in workouts where the risk for it is greatest, however I was awakened to the idea that merely mentioning it does not mean you as athletes understand the concept, or what the true risk actually is. Henceforthly I will be taking the next 2 blog posts to thoroughly inform you about the infamous “Rhabdo”.
Rhabdo is a key word we like to shoot across your bow as a warning when certain movements show up in WODs. Those movements include, but are not limited to, jumping pull-ups and GHD sit-ups. Rhabdo is short for rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Your blood filters through your kidneys, this is where waste is removed from the blood stream for you to later pee it out. When the myoglobin is released into your blood stream, it will eventually be filtered through your kidneys. This is a problem for your kidneys. Not only is myoglobin tough to filter but it also breaks down into substances that can damage kidney cells, and in essence destroy your kidneys. Just so you know, you really need your kidneys. Kidney destruction can lead to total kidney failure, and without any treatment, can lead to death. Yeah, I said it, death. This stuff be serious.
In the words of Keanu Reeves, whoa.
So how does this relate to our crossfit WODs? Rhabdo may be caused by any condition that damages skeletal muscle, especially injury. When the topic of rhabdo comes up you may hear the words “loaded eccentric movement”. Eccentric muscle contraction is the muscle activating while it is lengthening under load. I will use the example of a bicep curl. If you extend your forearm at the elbow while holding on to a dumbbell (loading), your muscle is activating/ contracting as it lengthens (the mind blowing concept here is that “contracting” does not necessarily mean “shortening” of a muscle). The opposite of this is concentric movement. Concentric muscle contraction is the muscle activating while it is shortening under load, the curl.
So now let’s apply this information to the jumping pull up in crossfit. The concentric movement on your bicep would be the jump and pull to get your chin over the bar. This movement is loaded with your body weight. The eccentric movement would be the decent back down to your starting position with arms locked out and knees bent in jumping position, again this movement is loaded with your body weight. “Eccentric movements are particularly stressful for muscles because the muscle cells are lengthening while trying to contract. This “stretching” increases muscle tension and predisposes the muscle cell to injury.” (Dr. Will Wright, The Crossfit Journal) During a jumping pull up it is important to have a controlled decent, meaning no rapid dropping creating a jerking pull on the arms/ shoulders nor do we want a slowed negative decent. It is also important to move through a full range of motion, chin over bar and back to locked out elbows.
There are several other causes of rhabdo as well as several ways to aid in preventing it. Stayed tuned for more info.
To be continued . . . .