Tag Archives | soreness

13 Football Players Hospitalized After Saturation Workouts

Saturation Workouts Hospitalize Iowa Hawkeyes

Saturation Workouts Hospitalize Iowa Hawkeyes

Yesterday the Associated Press reported on thirteen football players from the University of Iowa being hospitalized after a workout that included 100 squats.

Highlights of the article:

– they were all diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, “a stress-induced syndrome that can damage cells and cause kidney damage and even failure in severe cases”

– even with severe muscle soreness and discolored urine they did more workouts

– Thursday, 100 squats and pull a sled 100 yards; Friday, (while having unusual pain) upper body workout!; Monday, another workout!

– the athletes are expected to ensure better hydration in the future

Let’s hope all 13 of them make full recoveries and don’t continue to pay the price of compromised health in later adult years. Every football season high school and college football coaches engage in lethal training regimens (about 10 football players die every year from dehydration) and it all stems from the macho, bonehead “make ’em tough” training that displaces reason and finesse with saturation and overkill. Literal overkill.

Just as bad, these philosophies filter down through all strength training so when Joe Accountant, and Suzy Lawyer decide to improve their health by lifting weights they inherit the sick, stupid legacy of this bonehead mentality. More volume, multiple exercises per muscle group, multiple sets every workout, no pain – no gain. Too tired to do your workout? Don’t rest – do a different workout to ‘confuse your muscles’ and ‘keep it fresh’. Coaches, personal trainers, magazine articles and workout-de-jour books all tout more and more of the above.

Matt Hayes at Sporting News says this, “Is this really what we’ve come to? After Rashidi Wheeler collapsed and died during a conditioning test at Northwestern. After Devaughn Darling collapsed and died after mat drills at Florida State. After Dale Lloyd collapsed and died at the end of 16 100-yard sprints at Rice.”

And none of these coaches, trainers or workout authors wants any form of objective measurement, because that would put the lie to their ridiculous workout regimens. And next year ten more kids will die on the football practice field. Fortunately these thirteen were ‘only’ hospitalized.

Is it any wonder reasonable people like Joe and Suzy give up in the gym? Please . . . train with your brain.


What About Soreness?

Believe it or not, this subject makes me chuckle more than any other subject related to weightlifting. But not for any malicious reason. It’s because I get two categories of e-mail about soreness and they go like this:

Pete, you’re a genius, I just did a Static Contraction workout and I’ve never been so sore in my life!


Pete, you’re a genius, I did just a Static Contraction workout and I have no soreness whatsoever!

So it’s funny because both groups are wrong about my special ability to increase or reduce soreness. But I’ll explain the two hypotheses behind these conflicting conclusions.

“Never Been So Sore”

The assumption here is that because Static Contraction training permits lifting the absolute heaviest weight your muscles can lift it utilizes the maximum possible number of muscle fibers. This is correct since it’s the fibers that do the contracting and lifting. Conventional training, which always uses lighter weights, would not use all fibers. So the hypothesis is these muscle fibers are sore later because of the higher intensity of work.

“No Soreness Whatsoever”

The assumption here is that because Static Contraction training is so brief – just 5 seconds per exercise – and only one “rep” per target muscle it greatly reduces the wear and tear on muscles, tendons and ligaments. Conventional training usually stipulates 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 15 reps per target muscle, which represents as much as 60 times more wear and tear every workout. So the hypothesis is there is little or no soreness later because of the reduced work volume.

They both sound plausible because Static Contraction really does involve higher intensity and also really does involve less volume of work. So why do some people suddenly have extra soreness with SCT and other suddenly have no soreness with SCT?

Muscle Pain?

To complicate matters, there are no pain receptors in muscles. In other words a muscle literally cannot feel pain. So what is the soreness we feel? Also, some people never experience workout soreness. Champion bodybuilder, Mike Mentzer, said he never had soreness and he certainly had a reputation for very tough workouts; his moniker was “Heavy Duty”.

Most advice on reducing or avoiding workout soreness is to be well hydrated before and after a workout and to perhaps take a mild anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. (But remember all drugs offer a trade-off, e.g. less pain and swelling now vs. wear and tear on your liver and kidneys from the drug.)


The key issue is this: science requires measurement. To make strength training a science we need things we can measure. And how would we measure soreness so we can make universal conclusions? On a scale of 1 to 100 was this workout’s soreness a 57 but last workout’s was a 38? Do you have to wait until your soreness is less than 20 before you can perform a new, productive workout? And does a 20 feel exactly the same for you as it does for me? Or is my 20 your 32?

How can we use soreness as a guide to our training when it all seems so subjective? I don’t think we can. So, it boils down to this: soreness is irrelevant. It can’t objectively measure how effective your workout was and it can’t objectively measure when you are sufficiently recovered.

I wish we had a way to quickly and definitively measure when a person had sufficiently recovered from his last workout so that today’s workout would be productive. Right now we use an approximation by spacing workouts farther apart as time goes by. If your exercise weights went up – you waited long enough, if they did not go up – you returned to the gym too soon and need more time off. That’s a classic trial and err method, but it works.

But it would be superior to have a simple pass/fail indicator to tell us whether today is the day we could successfully return to the gym and set personal records. I heard once that old-time strongmen used a test of grip strength to measure their state of recovery. That might work. It would be great if you could walk over to a grip machine, give it a squeeze and see whether today would be a good day to go for a bench press or deadlift record or whether to rest longer. Grip strength can be exactly quantified whereas muscle soreness cannot.

One of these days I’d like to run a study on that.