Making Some Sense of the Iowa Football Scare
Written by Curt Popejoy on 01/26/2011
I love Twitter. I access it on my phone many many times per day. It’s great for keeping up not only on breaking sports news but news in general. Unfortunately sometimes when I don’t get to check it on a regular basis I get bits of things and I feel like I am walking in on a conversation mid-stream. That’s how I was introduced to this whole situation with the Iowa football players.
The Cliff’s notes version of the story is a dozen Iowa football players were sent to the hospital after a voluntary offseason workout and by all accounts they have a condition known as Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (ER). I decided to reach out to the mainstream media to see what they were saying about this.
It only took me about an hour into my search before I was really having a good laugh at the expense of these clowns. “they almost trained themselves to death” and “the Iowa coaches should be fired for what they did to these athletes.” Give me a break you dopes. First off you don’t understand what ER is, and what causes it, and second you are sensationalizing what is in essence a non story.
Let me explain a little about just what ER is. There are essentially three factors that indicate someone has ER. First is extreme muscle soreness. We are talking serious pain, but something that may not feel much different than the muscle pain associated with a hard workout. So this alone does not indicate ER nor should it be cause for concern.
Second is an elevated level of creatine kinase (CK) in the blood. This is the primary diagnostic tool for ER, and obviously must be done by a doctor.
The last factor and the one that gets everyone into a tizzy is when an athlete exhibits an elevated level of myoglobin (a muscle protein) excreted via the urine. It causes the urine in many cases to turn rather dark. If you are dealing with the first symptom and wonder if ER might be the problem, the third symptom will be your tip off that it might be a problem.
The myth here is that somehow the Iowa strength coaches had something to do with this. Can a hard workout cause ER? Yes. But does that mean that it’s something unique to some sort of barbaric workouts that would make the Marquis de Sade cringe? Hardly. According to the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness here are some of the activities that patients participated in that caused ER. Extreme Frisbee, karate kicking, cheerleading, mechanical bull riding and conga drumming. Can we all calm down a little?
So why did all these players get this at the same time? I would guess there are 3 factors that affected it. This is just my educated guess. I consider myself knowledgeable of subject matter like this, and since I experienced ER back in my early 20s I feel I can speak on the subject a little. First factor was almost certainly the training. Most of these guys have been doing nothing but football and whatever in-season training Iowa allows. I can’t say for certain, but I’d be willing to guess the amount of hardcore weight training these guys have done has been minimal since before the start of the season. This is not to say these guys were out of shape, but their fitness level for this type of training was diminished. Think of it like a marathon runner trying to power lift. Not to say the marathon runner isn’t fit, but it’s a different kind of fitness required and one they haven’t trained in for months.
Second was what they did after the workout. No one in their right mind who’s trained heavy doesn’t understand the importance not only of hydration during the workout, but what you take in directly after the workout. Research has shown that if you take in an adequate amount of protein post workout, it greatly diminished the chances of ER. My guess is none of these guys gave much thought to protein after this workout, instead turning to carb filled sports drinks that did nothing to help their situation.
Third is what I’m going to call, “all the other stuff”. ER is a very unpredictable condition and has a lot of external factors, not the least of which are illness. Things like the Flu, herpes(yes you college students), and other viral conditions can increase the tendency to get ER. It is the cold, flu, and herpes season on college campuses everywhere. Another sort of catch 22 of this is the medication for some of these illnesses, particularly antihistamines, can add to ER. Other neuroleptic type drugs found in some anti-psychotics can lead to ER in greater frequency too.
I think it’s unfortunate what happened to all these young men. And if I am looking for a reason why, I am looking for many reasons, because it’s not so cut and dry. I would assume that they were de-trained from the offseason and did not work up to the intensity they were training at. They probably did not stay hydrated during the workout and almost certainly did not take in a proper dose of protein right after their workout. It's also possible many of them could have been training while sick or on medication. The treatment for ER is quick and easy and these guys will be back to normal very quickly. I just hate how the media latches onto a story like this and tries to make it into something it isn’t. Keep in mind the medical community estimates that although there are about 26,000 cases of ER reported each year, many more are not. Why? Because it can simply go away on it’s own. I just hope this whole situation doesn’t turn into some sort witch hunt against the Iowa coaching staff.
Last Edited: 01/26/2011