T Nation

Protracted Irresponsiveness of Overworked Muscle

For years, I’ve had a routine of supersetting pushups and pullups. I’d do the following in quick succession:

  • Knuckle pushups with fists close together (less than a foot)

  • Palm pushs, hands close together

  • Knuckle pushups, fists wide apart

  • Palm pushups, hands far apart

  • Knuckle pushups, fists shoulder width apart

  • Palm pushups, hands should width apart

  • Pullups

  • Pullups with alternate grip

For each one of these subsets, I’d go until failure (which doesn’t take too long at my age). For the pullups, I try to adjust my body position so that I’m hitting the back rather than the lats.

I’d do this superset several times a day. Sometimes half a dozen, sometimes twice, depending on stress level. Sometimes throughout the day, sometimes within an hour. It’s basically a stress relief valve, as well as a way to maintain caloric balance. I realize that going to exhaustion too frequently does not cause muscle to get bigger, but I was fine with the idea of small, taught muscles.

Less than a month ago, I weakened drastically over the space of a week, to the point where I could not do one pushup, nor one pullup. I found it odd that my strength on both exercises failed at the same time. It wasn’t Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. I don’t get those much, probably because I stretch out every day. Because of the drasticness of this weakness, and the fact that it persisted for more than a few days, I started googling. The only candidate cause I’ve found is “exertional rhabdomyolysis” (ER). But I don’t have the signs, such as dark urine, or soreness. More accurately, I feel taught on the chest and the back, but when I poke and knead the front, I do feel a twinge that might loosely be described as pain (but only loosely). It’s like the practice of using a lacrosse ball to massage one’s butt cheek. Kind of like pain, but not really.

Another symptom of ER is irregular heart rhythm. I often felt some odd quivering in the vicinity of the heart, but I was never sure whether it was really the heart or perhaps it was just the chest muscle twitching on its own. I thought it was just lack of sleep and/or streess. Since I stopped pushups and pullups, it has receded.

Anyway, it’s been about 1.5 weeks since I did any real pushups or pullups. Any “test” that I do reveals that I haven’t recovered much, if at all. I can still do my core (bridges for front, back, and sides). The minor use of arms to stabilize during the core training is enough to make my chest and back muscles feel like they’ve been through a workout. I am guessing that such minor stress might help them recover.

Without taking time off work for medical examination, is there any way to get some kind of corroboration of the possibility of ER (or just as useful, some anti-corroboration)?

Have you lost strength on other exercises as well?

No. That’s the core exercises I was referring to. I also make a habit of climbing the stairs for 20 floors, no problem there.

It has taken a month, but I’m slowly getting some muscular responsiveness back. Doing two sets to failure (that’s just a handful of reps!) every other day. Not supersetted like before, so dialed back quite a bit.

Neither the sports med doctor nor the family doctor thought that exertion rhabdo was the primary suspect, but leaves me completely flummoxed as to what could cause such a breakdown in muscular response. In any case, I’m going to moderate (relatively that is). I suspect that I was borderline exertion rhabdo for a long time, because I’ve been repeatedly supersetting to failure for years, but never venturing far into exertion rhabdo territory simply because pushups is not heavy lifting (though pullups are, so the facts are inconsistent).

Having to exercise self restraint is a real bummer. I reach for pushups and pullups not for muscle development (as should be obvious from my habit), but for stress relief. It is the most convenient exercise. Now I have to find other less optimal ways.

What a world of different it makes to load up on meat, fat, carbs, and vitamin C (oranges) after a workout. It’s as if I hadn’t done an intense workout at all.