Should you be worried about Rhabdomyolysis?

rhabdoBefore being able to answer this question, you are probably asking what is rhabdomyolysis? Rhabdomyolysis (pronounced rab-dō-mī-ˈäl-ə-səs) is triggered by the break down and death of muscle fibers that are then released into the blood stream, which can lead to kidney failure. Rhabdomyolysis has many causes including, the use of illegal drugs and alcohol, extreme muscle strain, and some medications. This article will be focusing on the potentially negative effects of muscle strain, the symptoms, as well as the likelihood of developing rhabdomyolysis after a workout.

When exercising at a high intensity, muscle fibers tear and are repaired during post-exercise recovery, this is the mechanism by which a person builds muscle and becomes stronger. Although developing rhabdomyolysis from exercise is rare, an untrained athlete is at a higher risk. There are about 26,000 cases reported in the United States annually, and about 15% of these patients experience acute renal (kidney) failure. It is important to point out, early detection and treatment of rhabdomyolysis is crucial to a full recovery.

The good news is the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis are usually hard to miss. Symptoms include muscle pain and weakness, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, fever, rapid heart rate, confusion or lack of consciousness, dark red or brown urine, and reduced or no urine output. Rhabdomyolysis can be life threatening because the kidneys cannot filter the concentrated dead muscle fibers in the blood fast enough.

Should you be worried about rhabdomyolysis? When it comes to exercise, the answer is, not if you’re exercising safely. Follow the ACSM exercise routine guidelines (FITT) outlined below to avoid rhabdomyolysis. Always remember that before participating in any exercise routine it is important to be cleared by your doctor if you have any chronic conditions or multiple disease risk facts.

Frequency: Start off by exercising 3 times a week. Increase frequency first when activity becomes easy.

Intensity: Start off at about 40-60% of your heart rate max. If you’re not using blood pressure medication, calculate using this equation.  220-age= max heart rate. Multiply heart rate max by percentage in decimal form. Ex. 220-26= 194x.60=116 beats per minute. Increase intensity last, after you’re comfortable with an increased frequency and time.

Time: Begin by exercising 20-60 minutes depending on your starting fitness level. Increase time after increasing frequency.

Type: Try different things! Cross training is a great way to get a full body workout and avoid overuse injuries.

Unfortunately, the most popular exercise routines out there, for example CrossFit and P90X, do not follow this gradual format. Going from no activity or very minimal activity to suddenly exercising all out for an hour or more is what puts people at an increased risk for developing rhabdomyolysis. If you want to participate in a high intensity workout, great! There are many benefits to strengthening your body and getting heart rate up. But when it comes to this type of exercise the safest thing to do is work up to it.


Rhabdomyolysis, American Family Physicians. (

Rhabdomyolysis, WebMD. (

About the Author:

Deanna received a B.S. degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Adapted Physical Activity from San Jose State University. She is also a certified Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Deanna manages all elements of BaySport’s Biometric Screening events, promotes and coordinates the Health Coaching programs, and provides ongoing support for BaySport Wellness services. During her free time, Deanna enjoys spending time outside. Hiking, swimming, and camping are some of her favorite outdoor activities.

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