JOHN DOHERTY: Waste from haste leaves more than bad taste

2013-09-23T18:00:00Z 2013-09-23T19:09:12Z JOHN DOHERTY: Waste from haste leaves more than bad tasteJohn Doherty Times Columnist
September 23, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

Driving home Saturday night after watching Butler play Dartmouth, my daughter and I were listening to the radio when Frank Sinatra's “Fly Me to the Moon” came on.

At that point, I asked her if she remembered which movie ended with that song.

It was “Space Cowboys,” starring Clint Eastwood. Then I asked her if she recalled the point in the film where, to impress the younger astronauts, James Garner's character spots Tommy Lee Jones' character bench pressing 225 pounds. Upon completion of the set, the younger astronauts praise Garner and Jones but then Garner leans in close to Jones and says, “I'm gonna go to my room now and cry.”

The memory was as funny as seeing it for the first time on screen.

However, what is funny in the movies is often far from it in real life. Someone not physically prepared to perform such a feat of strength could suffer a serious injury from dropping the weight and/or tearing a muscle.

More insidiously, an individual who does too much too soon in a weight room could develop a potentially fatal condition known as rhabdomyolysis which, according to Medline, "is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. Some of these are harmful to the kidney and frequently result in kidney damage."

Symptoms include severe pain and swelling in the overworked area and dark brown urine, often referred to as "cola urine."

Which is precisely what happened to 13 University of Iowa football players who required hospitalization in January of 2011. I first reported on the incident in this space in April of that year.

The team had just returned from winter break and had not lifted as a group for three weeks. During their very first conditioning session, they were required to perform 100 back squats at 50 percent of what was calculated to be their one-repetition maximum.

The strength coaches had used this high-intensity workout before but never after a long layoff. In the post-incident investigation, the staff members claimed never to have heard of rhabdomyolysis and were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Even though they were cleared, they stopped using the workout and the university president asked several medical school professors to find out what went wrong.

The results of that effort were published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this month. Among the findings? The closer the weight lifted was to a player's actual body weight, the more likely rhabdomyolysis was to occur. Also, those who took longer to complete the task or chose to do extra repetitions were more likely to have fallen ill.

Finally, getting back to Space Cowboys, in a scene in the NASA cafeteria, the younger astronauts send Garner and Jones a can of Ensure. Marketed as a dietary supplement for the elderly, at its most basic, Ensure is a protein shake.

Which — in real life — is precisely what the Iowa football players needed. Those who consumed a protein shake in the 30 minutes following the workout were less likely to have become ill, with the risk decreasing by 30 percent for every shake consumed.

Food for thought after any hard workout.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT

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