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After experiencing severe muscle soreness, fatigue and discolored urine, thirteen Iowa Hawkeye football players were hospitalized last week with an unusual muscle disorder. If you’re a high-performing athlete who takes off-season training to another level, you must be aware of rhabdomyolysis.
Rhabdomyolysis is the rapid breakdown of skeletal muscle due to injury to muscle tissue. The destroyed muscle cells, released into the bloodstream, can damage the liver and kidneys, in extreme cases permanently.
The condition can be caused by excessive exercise or traumatic injury. What constitutes "excessive" exercise? In the case of the Hawkeyes, grueling workouts took place in the first week of their off-season program, the same week they returned from their holiday break—meaning many of the athletes were probably in a prolonged state of atrophy.
Whenever you resume weight training after a long period of inactivity, you must prepare your body for the workload to come. We call it training for the training, and it is especially applicable to and important for high school athletes, many of whom are new to resistance training.
"Training for the training" is generally referred to as hypertrophy. This is the process through which muscles grow in size and mass due to the enlargement of the muscle cells.
The main objectives of the hypertrophy phase are to condition the muscles, establish foundational strength and prepare the body to deal with lactic acid and other physiological changes caused by resistance training. Once your base strength is established, you will experience improved core strength, balance and flexibility.
A typical four-week hypertrophy phase is characterized by a high volume of sets [4-5] and reps [10-15] performed at low intensity—i.e., with low resistance (50 to 70 percent of your one rep max). For example, if you’re a football player who can squat 300 pounds, your first set would start with 15 reps at 150 pounds. For the second set, you might add 5 or 10 pounds and aim for 12 reps.
Remember, off-season training will help you get faster and stronger to help improve your performance. But the main objective, and a clear focus at the start of the program, is injury prevention. It’s hard to prepare your body to combat injuries when you’re already hampered with one.