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Report: Iowa football team should drop squat workout

[ 24 ] March 22, 2011 |

© 2011, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

The Iowa football program should drop an “intense, high-volume squat-lifting workout” that led to the hospitalization of 13 players in January with a serious and rare muscle disorder, a five-member committee is recommending in a report that will be released Wednesday to the state Board of Regents.

In addition, coaches, trainers and others associated with the football program should be thoroughly knowledgeable about rhabdomyolysis and other similar medical conditions that are caused by overly strenuous training, the committee recommends.

According to the report, the Iowa strength and conditioning coaches did not know about rhabdomyolysis until after 13 players were hospitalized with the serious injury. The team had begun off-season conditioning and strength training four days earlier.

The players’ hospitalizations led to a probe into the cause of injuries and recommendations to prevent future incidents.

Athletic director Gary Barta said he would comment following the presentation to the board.

Some players had dark, discolored urine in the hours and days immediately following an intense squat-lifting exercise, but failed to report the condition because most believed it was a symptom of routine dehydration, said the report, obtained by The Des Moines Register.

The report also recommends the program examine all players whenever a few become injured or ill after a strenuous workout.

The football program has since discontinued the squat-lifting workout that contributed to the hospitalizations, and the committee urged the team to reaffirm its decision to do so. Two national strength and conditioning organizations said the exercise is used at all levels of college football.

According to the report, one player said he experienced discolored urine the evening after an early-morning workout on Jan. 20. In the three days that followed, another nine players said they suffered similar symptoms but did not tell the team trainers or coaches.

Four days passed after the initial workout before a trainer diagnosed a player with high blood pressure. Blood tests led to the diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis, the report found.

Early that evening, the team sent out a text message describing the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and urged players with those symptoms to go to the hospital.

A five-member faculty and staff committee appointed last month by school president Sally Mason said in the report that it could not pinpoint an exact cause of the rhabdomyolysis suffered by the players.

“The combination of a three-week layoff from supervised workouts, the percent of their body weight lifted by certain players, and the high number of repetitions required in this workout were primarily responsible for most of the rhabdo cases,” the committee wrote in the 18-page report.

The report cleared all football players, coaches, physicians and trainers from any wrongdoing.

But the committee criticized the football program for allowing the parents of the affected players to learn of the hospitalizations through the media. The committee also faulted coaches for not recognizing the severe symptoms players experienced after the workouts.

The workout occurred three weeks after the team’s victory over Missouri in the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.

The most challenging portion of the Jan. 20 exercise regimen was the completion of 100 back squats using heavy weights. The exercise is designed to enlarge muscles, because medical literature suggests it may increase testosterone and cortisol levels, the report said.

The committee said 67 percent of players reported unusual stiffness and soreness after the workout, the first intensive exercise following winter break. Players also performed barbell snatches, pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and a weighted sled-pushing exercise.

Contrary to unfounded speculation, the report said, medical tests confirmed that none of the injured players had taken any legal or illegal substances that contributed to their injury.

“The players had avoided risky behaviors and maintained good conditioning over the three-week break before supervised training was resumed,” the committee wrote.

The report acknowledged the need for coaches to push players further than they think than can go in a sport that requires physical strength, endurance, pride and bravado.

Coaches responded to player complaints with retorts such as “everyone is sore … buck it up … stop feeling sorry for yourself … you just need to get yourself together,” the report said.

However, the committee said staff must consider outside factors when players who usually train at a high level have trouble with a workout or report extreme muscle soreness and swelling.

The report said coaches eliminated lower-body exercises from the workout the following day, but did not ask if the players had suffered any unintended injuries or symptoms because of the workout.

The players reported severe leg pain that caused difficulty walking, climbing stairs and putting on shoes and socks. Four days after the workout, players said they could not jump over low hurdles they usually cleared with ease.

Rhabdomyolysis occurs when muscle cells break down and release proteins, enzymes and electrolytes into the bloodstream. This can damage kidneys and lead to renal failure. Patients will have very sore and possibly swollen muscles, and pass dark-colored urine.

Strength and conditioning coaches told the committee they did not know the condition existed until the incident. The head trainer said he had seen one case in the 1980s.

“The coaching staff must now begin asking those hard questions and find ways to distinguish the usual moaning and groaning of players pushed to excel from signs of real distress,” the committee wrote.

Some parents expressed anger and distrust because of the incident, and said some of the coaches should have been suspended until the investigation was complete, the report said.

Most parents were troubled that the entire team was not tested for rhabdomyolysis.

Randy Peterson contributed to this article.


Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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