Is Intense Exercise a Good Fit for You?

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July 6, 2021


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Even before the Olympics started inspiring many to get fit, intense exercise programs for use at home were becoming more popular as individuals make the choice to initiate or escalate their fitness.

But overdoing these exercises, or doing them wrong, can lead to injury and even more serious, though rare, debilitating or dangerous health scares.

These popular programs usually combine aerobics with strength training that require traditional weights, or substitutes such as sandbags, suspension systems or water-filled equipment. The routines consist of bursts of high-intensity exercises followed by short rest periods.

This concept of high-intensity combined workouts that can last for up to  an hour, mostly referred to as “circuit training,” have been demonstrated by trainers at gyms and health clubs for decades. But over the last few years they have been heavily promoted on television “infomercials” for use at home.

The popularity of these programs is a sign that many individuals are trying to get a “quick fix” with exercise, and that can lead to unnecessary injury, said Manuel Torres, M.D., a family practice physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.

Not for Beginners
But Dr. Torres adds that individuals who have not attempted intense exercise routines in the past should consult with their doctor to see if there are underlying health concerns. Beginners should start slow and ease into a more advanced exercise regimen.

“These high-intensity workouts are really meant for those who have reached certain fitness levels,” Dr. Torres said. “They may not be a good fit for those starting to get into shape for weight loss or to reduce risk factors, such as high cholesterol, hypertension or diabetes.”

The most common injuries from over-exertion are strained muscles or tendons in the back, arms, legs and shoulders. Participants should slowly build up to the intense aerobics portions of these routines to avoid any injury or over-exhaustion, and even over-heating if they are done in areas of the home that are not well-ventilated or not air-conditioned.  And you should be properly hydrated, Dr. Torres emphasizes.

“Rhabdo” is Rare But Very Serious
A rare but muscular condition, as rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo” for short), is also a major concern with vigorous exercise. With rhabdomyolysis, muscles become so severely damaged that they rapidly break down.

Muscle breakdown could lead to rapid buildup of blood proteins, eventually damaging the kidneys, even to the point of kidney failure. Rhabdo must be treated at a hospital, because it is potentially life-threatening.

Symptoms of rhabdomyolysis can include general weakness, extreme stiffness, soreness and swelling of the affected muscle, and abnormally dark-colored urine. There are a number of factors that can cause rhabdomyolysis, including alcoholism, genetics and dehydration, but it can be brought on by these extreme home-based circuit trainers that involve significant weight resistance.

Muscles Need Rest
“Many people take on these workouts without understanding that muscles need a few days of rest between intense exercises,” Dr. Torres said. “I also think stretching is an essential part of a fitness workout. It’s as great way to avoid injury.”

Dr. Torres recommends an exercise session at least 3 to 4 times a week, which allows for an appropriate amount of rest between workouts.

The mantra of bodybuilding has long been “no pain, no gain”, meaning that muscle soreness and some stiffness indicate a successful workout. But that mindset can be unhealthy, because soreness and stiffness that does not go away can be a sign that something is wrong. That can range from simple strains to rhabdomyolysis.

“The best approach is to start with simple routines and proper rest after consulting with your doctor,” said Dr. Torres. “If you’re body tells you that you’re overdoing it, then rest longer and regroup. Fitness is a lifestyle that should stay with you for years. There is no need to rush into high-intensity routines that can cause you harm.”

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