Hey John,

Did you hear about the recent case of rhabdomyolysis at the University of Iowa? I was curious as one of the players said he had to “squat 240lbs for 100 reps and it was timed.” 13 players were affected and I was just hoping that with your experience you might be able to shed some light on why this type of training is beneficial for D1 football players at this point in the off-season. What are your thoughts on this incident?


Any chance on getting a comment or position on the developing Iowa State “rhabdo situation”. The WOD seems to have been 100 back squats at 240lbs for time followed by a 100 yard sled drag; my football experience is limited to high school but this seems a little extreme even for college or NFL.



Talk to Me Johnnie and CrossFit Football got hit with more than a dozen questions and requests for comments concerning the 13 Iowa Hawkeye football players would were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis. For most outside of the CrossFit community, the word “rhabdo” brings on looks of confusion. Honestly, I had never heard the term until I started training at CrossFit gym. Even then, rhabdo sounded more like “Kaiser Soze”, than a crippling condition. I had played professional football for 9+ years and had 5 years of college football and 4 years of high school training and had never heard of it or met anyone who had it. Or had I?

It was explained as the rapid destruction of skeletal muscle resulting in leakage into the urine of the muscle protein myoglobin resulting from intense physical exercise or trauma. Its symptoms include extreme muscular soreness, stiffness, pain and a dark colored urine.

Muscle soreness, stiffness and Guinness-colored urine? Sounds like the majority of our training days in college and all NFL games.

Hate to break it to you…but the NFL is extreme. I am not sure I am the best one to answer this question, as my perception when it comes to training is skewed. The amount of work these division 1 athletes did does not concern me in the least. What bothers me is the results of the training, not the training itself.

I have to ask, what was the major breakdown between the coaches and athletes that resulted in injury?

Just to provide some background for those who were not involved in college football, the end of January is the beginning of winter conditioning. School began two weeks ago and this is the first week of team organized training. Most players are expected to lift and run during their winter break and are asked to show up in shape. The first week of conditioning is more a test to see who worked out and wanted to improve upon last year’s 8-2 season.

Knowing all this, what was the major breakdown?

Did the coaches safely ramp up volume?

During the first week of training were these athletes prepared for this volume of work?

Had they prepared their athletes for a workout consisting of 100 back squats at 240 lbs and a 100 yard sled drag done as quick as possible?

I guess not, as rhabo usually follows a dramatic increase in volume.

Maybe many of these young athletes did not train during their winter break. They might have shown up to conditioning out of shape, and their football coaches and strength coaches wanted to give them a gut check workout; find out who was training and whom they can depend on. So they programmed something they felt “should” be doable for an 18-22 year old Division One collegiate football player who had been training since high school and had followed the Christmas break training program. (Just for reference, every strength coach I have ever had from college and NFL, provided every athlete program to follow when they were away from the facility.)

The problem is, these athletes might not have been ready to handle this workload and the coaches should have realized it. Many times as a coach you design something that looks great on paper only to change it dramatically once the workout starts.

Football is a very different animal. While the physical attributes are discussed often, the mental toughness and fortitude to survive the game is not always mentioned. Off-season is where the mental training begins; coaches make it tough – to test players and make the lesser ones quit. Every off-season program across America is designed to weed out the ones without the heart to play the game. Football is not for everyone and the training is hard.


What other factors could contribute to rhabdo?

Poor nutrition?

We know that a pro-inflammatory diet is a contributing factor. A pro-inflammatory diet is one high in processed foods, grains and gut irritants. Most college athletes are relatively poor; at Berkeley I lived off a $740 monthly scholarship check and without the $300 my parents gave me I would not have made it. We can assume that most student-athletes do not have the time, understanding or financial ability to invest in a diet free from fast food and processed foods. I am sure the decision between “2 for Tuesday” or the purchasing of grass-fed meat and fresh vegetables is an easy one for an 18 year old college athlete.


Dollar Drinks?

If the workout was on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday morning during the first two weeks of school you have to assume more than a few of the athletes could have shown up to training having consumed alcohol the night before, later in the day or both.

Lets face it…the best time to go out is during the first few weeks of school. No one has to worry about finals or midterms, you have a few dollars in your pocket and you have been gone for a month. Time to go out and have some fun. I am sure there are a dozen spots that are Hawkeye-friendly in Iowa City.

Anytime 13 football players out of a team of 85 get a life-threatening condition as a result of their training, there is a major disconnect.

As a coach, you have to understand how crippling volume can be and the need to be increase it intelligently. The coaches need to realize these are 18-22 year old men in college and might not be making the best choices when it comes to nutrition, sleep and alcohol consumption. However, the players need to take responsibility for their bodies and report in the off-season in shape and ready to train. They need to be well rested, not hung over and ready to get better each day.

The coaches need to be smart and realize the goal of the off-season is to strength and speed and the “Go Fuck Yourself” workouts should not come the first week of the off-season. I am sure if this workout had been programmed in the 8th week of the off-season you would not be reading this.