SHANTEECE Smith could not move her legs, her muscles were breaking down and her kidneys were damaged – all from a simple personal training session.
Had the Pacific Pines office manager not been treated at the Gold Coast University Hospital when this happened to her last week, she could have gone into kidney failure. Ms Smith was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition also known as “muscle meltdown” that causes the muscle tissue to break down and release muscle fibre into the bloodstream. Caused by severe exertion, it usually only afflicts elite athletes. But with “cowboy” and uneducated fitness trainers, and shows like The Biggest Loser pushing people to the extreme, cases are becoming a concern.
Dr Ian Gillam, accredited sports scientist and a fellow of Exercise and Sports Science Australia, said trainers were working outside their scope of practice, pushing people to a medically dangerous intensity.
Ms Smith was like many other young women her age, returning to the gym after the holidays with the intention to get fit. Having trained in “crossfit” high-intensity core strength and conditioning programs and after exercising daily, she did not think a simple weights session could leave her seriously ill.
Ms Smith did the session on Monday night last week and by Thursday she could not move. After seeing her doctor she was taken to hospital by ambulance. She was released yesterday, having spent almost a week waiting for the swelling in her legs to go down and her tests to return normal results.
“It was really scary not being able to move, just from exercise,” Ms Smith said. “It was such a shock because I didn’t know what was happening. “I pretty much could have died. I’ve done crossfit and I do cardio every day so I didn’t think a PT session would hurt me.”
Ms Smith warned people not to “struggle in silence” and to tell their trainer if something was too hard. Personal trainer Pete Tansley predicted more than 80 per cent of PTs were unaware of the condition.
“But considering it can kill you, it’s largely unheard of in fitness circles,” Mr Tansley said. “Sadly I believe a combination of crossfit-style workouts, paired with a lack of trainers’ knowledge on rhabdomyolysis means it is likely to occur again. “A lot of trainers who are new to the industry are encouraging clients to exert well above their maximum in only their first months of training.”
Pilates instructor Jo Brown said she regularly had inquiries from people at her Pilates 101 studio who had injured themselves in extreme exercise. “I work with clients who have injured themselves,” she said. “We devise plans for them to improve technique and work towards rehabilitating their weaknesses, increasing strength and flexibility.
“General complaints are back pain, lumbar and/or around the thoracic.”