Now, before any of you sports enthusiasts come after me, hear me out. My brother really did say, and I quote, “Sis, the spinning class almost killed me.”
So yes, spinning class almost killed my brother. Now buckle up for the story, cause it’s going to be a wild ride.
Returning to outdoor sports has been exciting, especially after spending my evenings on yoga mats with Chloe Ting and Pamela Reif, outdoor exercise is like a breath of fresh air. I was also looking to try out something new, so when my friends started signing up for pilates classes and spinning class trials, it was only natural for me to join in the fun.
My first spinning class was an absolutely eye-opening experience. Picture a pitch-dark room with flashing strobe lights, blaring upbeat music and sweaty people, it was like clubbing, but healthier. Everyone was fired up, the energy was through the roof and you could feel your adrenaline pumping. After sweating it out, I felt so energised. I was seriously thinking of making spinning classes a regular part of my schedule.
I convinced my brother to join me for the next class. He went along, but things didn’t turn out the same for him. The spinning class did get him spinning in circles, but not in the way I had hoped.
He couldn’t really keep up and by the end of it, he was weak in the knees and felt sore all over, but he shrugged it off, thinking his body just wasn’t used to the intense workout.
It was not until the next day when he woke up with muscle pain and he noticed that his urine was dark brown. He was admitted to the hospital right after.
My brother was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis – a serious condition that can occur when someone engages in extreme physical activity. It happens when muscle fibers break down, releasing a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream, which can damage the kidneys and lead to kidney failure.
The symptoms are not immediately obvious, as they commonly masquerade as muscle pains, cramps, or swelling. Some may also experience fatigue and see urine in a brown or red colour. My brother was fortunate enough to catch on to the early signs before it was too late.
His creatinine kinase levels reached a peak of 92,000 units per liter (U/L) which is significantly higher than the normal level of less than 200.
My brother is one of the unlucky few who ended up with rhabdomyolysis after a spinning session, and he’s not alone. Many of our friends have also reached out with similar stories. Even doctors are raising alarm bells about the increase in rhabdomyolysis cases linked to spinning. So, what’s going on here?
You Spin My Head Right Round, Right Round
Spinning, also known as indoor cycling or partying on a bike, has been all the rage in recent years and for a good reason. With the power of music and lighting, instructors can create an electrifying atmosphere that makes riders forget they’re even working out. The high-intensity workout not only burns calories but also improves cardiovascular health, tones muscles and builds endurance.
During the 40-50 minute spinning session, an energetic instructor will lead the pack as riders ride to the same beat and towards the same goal, creating a sense of community and purpose to finish strong as a team. Spinning offers riders a chance to ride around the world (riders… if you know, you know) without ever leaving their bikes.
However, spinning classes also come with their own set of risks. This is why it’s a given that classes inform riders beforehand as to whether they’re suitable for beginners or advanced riders. Some instructors even begin classes by advising ridersnot to overwork their muscles and adjust the resistance to avoid injury. Then why do people still get hurt?
In the instructor’s defense, leading a class with loud music in a dimly lit room can make it hard to spot struggling riders. With that being the case, an instructor bears a heavy responsibility to keep a close eye on the class to make sure no one is struggling and provide appropriate modifications.
As a beginner, once your spinning shoes are clipped in and you’re locked to the pedals, it can be hard to jump off that stationary bike. And let’s face it, who wants to be the one to walk out of class? As a competitive person, I’d rather pretend I’m killing it on the bike than admit defeat. But, that’s where we need to be honest with ourselves.
With all the flashing lights and loud energy, it’s easy to ignore the warning signs from our bodies and push ourselves too hard, trying to keep up with the others. There are times when you need to tell yourself that it’s perfectly okay to leave class or stop when it gets too tough. It doesn’t make you weak, it just means that you’re still working on getting stronger. Trust me, it’s better to walk out of class alive and well than to spend days in the hospital nourishing yourself back to health.
My brother had to spend a week in the hospital, missing Dongzhi (冬至) and Christmas celebrations, he was eventually released on the condition that he drinks 3 liters of water a day. The hospital bill came in at around RM8,000, nevertheless, we were just happy that he could still celebrate New Year’s Eve with both kidneys intact.
There’s no denying that every sport has its risks, even something as innocent as hiking can lead to a slip and fall. If spinning classes aren’t for you, that’s okay! There are plenty of other ways to get your sweat on. But, for those who are determined to conquer the spinning world, spinning classes can still be a fun and calorie-burning workout as long as it’s done safely and properly.
Note: This article is in no way meant to discourage anyone from spinning, but rather to exercise with caution. Rhabdomyolysis is a rare condition, but it is important to understand your physical limitations, listen to your body and exercise at your own pace.