JOHN DOHERTY: Exercise should never translate into punishment…

You must be fluent in Latin or Greek to understand some of the news in the latest sports section.

Just after the month began, “Commotio Cordis,” appeared the most likely explanation for the collapse of Bills safety Damar Hamlin. Translated, the term means “agitation of the heart.”

What Hamlin’s heart suffered was little more than agitation. Regardless of the origin of its language, its cause on the ground was the result of a collision intended but lacking malicious intent. Considering it had never happened before in an NFL game and happened so rarely at any level of football – as opposed to youth baseball – the incident could not have been foreseen.

More recently, the definition calling for a diagnosis was “Rhabdomyolysis.” Recent incidents involving the disease may not have drawn as much national notice as Hamlin’s but they probably should have.

Translated, this means the “destruction of muscle tissue.” Major traumatic injury and stroke are common causes. However, among athletes, the origin is too strong an exercise in one session. Too much too much.

When it happens to one athlete, over-enthusiasm on the part of a novice participant may be to blame. As was the case with Hamlin, it is accidental.

When it occurs among multiple teammates at once, though, after an organized team workout, rhabdomyolysis is not an accident and the result of the coach’s intent. Serious injury to athletes may not have been intentional but, in almost every case, the penalty or “setting the tone” was.

Last week, a story came out of metropolitan Dallas, where a high school head football/athletic director was placed on administrative leave after several players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis. Somehow, according to several published reports, a soccer team workout session on January 6 evolved into a punishing session that required participants to perform 300-400 push-ups in less than an hour.

Closer to home, NCAA Division III Concordia University Chicago postponed its four most recent men’s basketball games, including Saturday’s tilt at Marian, after six players were admitted to the hospital with rhabdomyolysis. The Cougars reinstated head coach Steve Kollar on Friday after an investigation determined a particularly intense practice on Dec. 31 — which caused players to become ill — was not intended to harm them. Four members of the athletic training staff at Concordia, on the other hand, resigned following the decision to reinstate Kollar.

But it was intended as punishment, after several players broke curfew during a west coast trip where the team lost both of its contests. News of the incident emerged after the school’s athletic director sent a letter to the players and their parents on January 5, regarding the nature of practice and game postponements.

A better definition of the affliction comes from Medline which reports, “Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the blood. Some of these they damage the kidneys and often result in kidney damage.”

During any workout, we break down the muscle fiber.

Done regularly, this stimulates the body – over the weeks – to build more muscle. If one exercise session is completely overdone, the amount of myoglobin released into the blood ends up being greater than the kidneys are able to handle. Symptoms include severe pain in the overworked area and dark brown urine, which is often called “kola urine”.

A satisfactory outcome depends on rapid rehydration, which flushes the myoglobin from the kidneys. Worst-case scenarios include permanent muscle and kidney damage, even death.

A 2013 study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine looked at a famous incident where 13 University of Iowa football players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis after an excessive January 2011 workout. Not only did the authors of the study want to know why the 13 were injured but why other players escaped injury. The researchers found that athletes who consumed a protein shake within 30 minutes after the workout were less likely to get sick, with the risk decreasing by 30 percent for each shake consumed.

Episodes of rhabdomyolysis are not only harmful to the health of athletes, they have served as expensive lessons for athletic departments and coaches. In May of last year, University of Oregon offensive lineman Doug Brenner reached a $500,000 settlement with the school over a January 2017 workout that left him hospitalized. (A teammate had previously received $300,000.)

The settlement was reached during a trial that included former Ducks strength coach Irele Oderinde and former head football coach Willie Taggart, and the NCAA as defendants. Midway through the process, Oderinde was fired from the University of Southern Florida. As part of the settlement, the claims against the coaches were dismissed but the case against the NCAA continued and went to the jury. Oddly, they found the NCAA negligent but awarded no damages.

These things almost always happen after returning to campus from summer or winter break and are completely predictable. Results like these are among the reasons that both the NCAA and the NFHS (National Federations of State High School Associations) have issued guidelines prohibiting the use of exercise as punishment.

According to an FAQ document accompanying the NCAA guidelines published in 2019, “Punishment workouts are more than just ‘excessive exercise.'” In general terms, punitive workouts are motivated by anger or frustration and can include a volume and intensity of exercise that corresponds to that anger. and frustration. Such volume and intensity are not part of a planned workout and are not based on sound principles of exercise science and physiology, but rather are used to make athletes ‘tougher’ or to create a team culture of ‘accountability. ‘ Punitive exercises are unplanned, spontaneous, are inconsistent with the level of conditioning of the athlete or team, are not logically progressive in intensity, and are not sport-specific in nature.”

Locally, former NFL strength and conditioning coach Ken Croner, now with Fitness Pointe in Munster, said, “When you use exercise as punishment, you devalue it.”

Consequently, he cautions coaches, particularly those of off-season athletes returning to school and winter conditioning programs. “When you start increasing resistance, it takes time,” he said. “Just look at each week, how many times a week we’re going to train, and make sure there’s enough recovery time. Because, we know, the body only gets stronger when it rests and recovers. If you keep beating these kids, you won’t get any benefit from it.”

And not even the athletes. Instead they can do harm.

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