The Terrifying Condition Caused by ‘Extreme Exercise’

SoulCycle at the Spotify House during SXSW. Photo: Alli Harvey/Getty Images for Spotify

Spin classes are the workout of choice for the thin, rich, and famous. But before you drop $30 to sweat to EDM and maybe see a minor celebrity in bike shorts, you might want to practice alone first. This week, an article inthe New York Times detailed some of the horrifying effects of rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that occurs when too much stress is placed on muscles, and one that is increasingly prevalent in first-time spinners.

The Times highlighted the case of Christina D’Ambrosio. Three years ago, D’Ambrosio, a kindergarten teacher who exercises regularly, took her first spin class. Following the intense, hour-long workout, her legs were “sore and wobbly.” Then:

Over the next two days, her legs throbbed with excruciating pain, her urine turned a dark shade of brown, and she felt nauseated. Eventually she went to a hospital, where she was told she had rhabdomyolysis, a rare but life-threatening condition often caused by extreme exercise. It occurs when overworked muscles begin to die and leak their contents into the bloodstream, straining the kidneys and causing severe pain.

D’Ambrosio’s story was also included in a report by The American Journal of Medicine, which noted that “at least 46 other cases of people developing the condition after a spin class were documented in the medical literature, 42 of them in people taking their first class.”

Previously, rhabdo, as it is known in medical circles, was primarily seen in soldiers, firefighters, and athletes, people whose work is physically demanding. With the rise of high-intensity fitness classes like CrossFit, P90X, and spinning, however, doctors have seen a rise in the cases of rhabdo among the general population.

“These are people who are not unfit,” said Dr. Todd S. Cutler, an internist at NewYork-Presbyterian who authored a study on the subject. “They are being pushed too hard, and they’re not trained to do this, and so they get really bad muscle trauma.”

Despite the fact that I have already cancelled my gym membership and all future fitness plans, experts are quick to point out that this does not mean one should avoid intense workouts altogether. Instead, they recommend giving muscles time to adjust to a new exercise before going full force, and slowing down in class if you ever feel you’re pushing yourself too hard (no matter what the perky instructor screams at you).

The Terrifying Condition Caused by ‘Extreme Exercise’