High-intensity spin classes can lead to disease

Spin classes and other high-intensity workouts have gained popularity in recent years, and they can, on rare occasions, lead to a condition that can be life-threatening, the New York Times reports.

A “spin class,” or just “spinning,” involves going to a gym, sitting on a stationary bike, and pedaling fast for an hour while a personal trainer yells motivational platitudes. They’re common among professionals, especially professional women, who don’t enjoy biking but have only a short time to get some exercise in.

What happens—again, I stress, on rare occasions, according to articles published in the American Journal of Medicine and by the US Army—is that muscles in the legs that get overworked end up dying and leak their contents into the bloodstream.

This condition, known medically as rhabdomyolysis, is treatable but can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms can take several different paths, depending on the course of the disease. The woman in the story, a kindergarten teacher from New York, saw her urine turn a dark shade, her legs become swollen, wobbly, and throbbing, and her constitution become nauseated.

Personally, I prefer just riding a bike, which I do for miles amid excellent scenery every chance I get. Admittedly, it takes a few hours to ride out 20 miles and back home, and I don’t have that kind of time during lunch or after work during standard time. But it beats sitting in a gym, looking at the same old thing, for an hour. Plus, I get to stop at a little deli near the trail. To each his own, and I would never say anything to discourage working out or exercising. It is, however, absolutely essential to get into shape before beginning a high-intensity regimen.

It isn’t as uncommon for rhabdomyolysis to develop after someone is punched for a long time. If that punching results in muscle death, rhabdomyolysis can develop.

One case of fraternity hazing that was resolved last week in the Philippines resulted in the death of Horacio “Atio” Castillo III, a freshman law student at the University of Santo Tomas.

Court records show he was punched for about an hour until his arms were black and blue and swollen. It was also revealed that members of the fraternity took turns hitting Castillo with a paddle until he collapsed.

Castillo may have had other medical conditions involving heart health that accelerated the kidney failure and made his system less able to clear the leakage from the dead tissue, but make no mistake: he died because of hazing.

Maria Cecilia Lim, a forensic pathologist from the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, said, “I would agree with the impression of the Philippine National Police that the patient had an acute kidney failure, secondary to the rhabdomyolysis, secondary to the multiple blunt-force trauma,” according to court records.

Of course, spin classes aren’t as intense as blunt-force trauma from a paddle or from punching, and most people who take spin classes don’t have the pre-existing kidney condition Castillo had. But if muscles die during training and leak, the same result can befall that professional woman a few days after her lunchtime workout as came to Castillo.

About the Author

Paul Katula

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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