When creating marketing content, is there a magic number?

Early last year, I plastered two big sheets of white poster board to my office wall and grabbed a fresh stack of sticky notes.

Then I went through every piece of content I’d posted for my business in the last year and decided if it worked or not.

The process was a little subjective.

I think I said something worked if it got more than a certain number of likes, or if it generated comments.

The stuff that didn’t work, well, it’s not hard to define that. It’s the stuff that sits there untouched, like that congealed salad your great-aunt always brings to your mom’s birthday dinner.

The whole reason I went through this process was because I wanted to:

  1. find out what type of marketing content was working
  2. narrow down my marketing content o focus on the stuff that works

After all, “Don’t do stuff that doesn’t work” is a decent mantra for small business marketing and life in general.

So here’s what I found out:

  • I studied 59 pieces of content, including landing pages, Facebook posts, Facebook Live videos, blog posts, videos, downloadable PDFs, and a webinar
  • 19 pieces of content worked
  • 40 pieces of content didn’t work

From there I tried to see if the stuff that worked had anything in common. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the stuff that didn’t work.

To me, it looked like the pieces of content I posted to Facebook got the most love. Facebook Live videos and Facebook posts linking to my blog material did the best.

I have no idea if that would still hold true. More than a year has passed and getting business content to survive the gauntlet of the Facebook algorithm without spending money is tough. Let’s be honest, even if a business owner does pay to push their content on Facebook, it’s still hard to understand how to do it well.

The big lesson I learned is that without sitting down and going through an exercise like this, “What worked? What didn’t?” routine, I’m spinning my wheels creating content that:

  • is interesting to me
  • isn’t landing with the people I want to serve

Also, let’s be honest: it’s hard not to feel a little dejected when you’re putting your content into the world and people are surfing right by. You start to feel like a guy in a kiosk at the mall.

When I looked at the numbers, it got me thinking: is there a magic number to this? In a perfect world, 100% of a marketer’s content would work 100% of the time. But, and I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, this ain’t a perfect world.

I’m showing that 32% of the marketing content I created worked. But what’s the magic number? Sixty percent? Eighty percent? More than that?

The process also helped me shift my thinking from “success vs. failure” to “worked vs. didn’t work.”

From here, the jump I need to make is from making content that’s interesting to me to making content that’s either entertaining or informative for the people I want to serve.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally for me, so I’ll have to track down some ways to learn that skill.

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Long live the five Ps of marketing

During the summer after my sophomore year of college, my dad suggested I take an accounting class at the local university.

So like any good son, I drove to the local university and enrolled in a marketing class.

There’s more to the story than that, but at that time what I was hearing in my head was, “Dad says take a business class.” And marketing was taught in the business department. Done and done.

I don’t know what advanced classes in marketing are like; I can tell you what a very basic class is like.

Here’s the quick version:

  • buy a thick textbook
  • learn the five Ps of marketing
  • do group projects clipping advertising out of magazines

Just out of curiosity, I googled “the five Ps of marketing.” The first hit was this article from the Corporate Finance Institute (which sounds like a place where they buy white button down dress shirts in bulk).

I clicked through and the fine people at the Corporate Finance Institute have put together a tidy little article that nicely covers the basics of marketing. If you want a textbook, academic-style intro to marketing, you could start with their article.

And there in its full splendor is a graphic showing the five Ps of marketing and the elements of each P.

Take a look:

Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 8.13.10 AM

A few quick takes after looking at the graphic:

  • I’m biased to put about 80% of my attention on the promotion column. It’s a cousin of, “If you build it, they will come.” My brain tends to think, “If they know it exists, they will come.”
  • I’m fascinated by discounts — and for some reason especially grocery store discounts. Why are cans of soup marked at 10 for $10? Who needs 10 cans of soup at a time? I wonder how often a product is discounted simply because the store manager needs people to physically pick stuff up and move it off the shelf, regardless of the impact on the store’s P&L.
  • Service levels are a marketing variable, and believe it or not, not every company focuses on providing great service. With a lot of software products I’ve bought, you have to buy a premium version if you want the company to service it. Otherwise they’re like, “Yeah, we have a guy named Chris who answers questions via email twice a year. But there’s a four year waiting list to even email Chris.”

Also when I look at the five Ps of marketing, I wonder how much of the marketing mix happens organically as a product or service takes shape and finds its market — or — how often a product or service is carefully sketched out using the five Ps before anyone ever sees it?

All told, I think the five Ps of marketing are alive and well, even if much of the landscape has changed.Screen Shot 2019-06-16 at 8.12.47 AM

 

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What I learned looking through years of saved articles

If you ever want to take a really wild ride, go to wherever you bookmark articles and blog posts and scroll back.

Now scroll back more. Okay, a little more.

Ever since what I call, “the saddest day in the history of technology,” otherwise known as the day Google shot itself in the dick by killing Google Reader, I’ve been saving articles and blog posts to Pocket.

Do you know about Pocket? It has a pretty interface, but basically it’s just a big folder where you can stash things from the internet you want to save for later.

See an article you like? Slap it in your Pocket and come back to it later. They make it so you can click a button in your browser and send stuff straight to your Pocket. What’s that called? A widget? A gizmo? I dunno. I’m not great with tech.

A couple times a year, I scroll back through my Pocket. Like I said, it’s a wild ride.

There’s unequivocally fantastic stuff saved in there, like the kick-ass flatiron steak marinade recipe I’ve used to charm heads of state and seduce lovers.

And there’s gut-wrenching stuff saved in there, like when my wife’s mom was descending into Alzheimer’s and I wanted to see what was coming for us. Also gut-wrenching was seeing several articles about how to get started in standup comedy.

What I can see from looking back through my Pocket is that it’s almost like a journal keeping track of what was on my mind at the time. What’s more, of the things I’ve saved I can see that some were to scratch a momentary itch or fulfill a temporary need, while others are pretty consistent over a long period of time.

Some of the momentary itches I’ve scratched include:

  • learning the traits and habits (especially when it comes to money) of Generation X. I did a pile of research on this when I was starting my business.
  • studying up on customer happiness and satisfaction. I was on a project to enhance our customer experience at my last job and wanted to bring good ideas to the table.
  • figuring out if it’s possible for a fully-grown yet painfully skinny main to gain weight or add muscle. I’m proud to report that through a combination of Crossfit, having two or three more kids than I can reasonably handle, nauseating stress, and a hot-and-heavy love of carbs, gaining weight is no longer a problem.

I also found my Pocket is stacked with articles along the topic of Marketing. Turns out I’m just a sucker for an article about some new facet of marketing.

Here’s a look at just a few of the articles I’ve piled up over the years:

  • 18 Email Marketing Stats That’ll Make You Better at Your Job
  • Ditch Cold Calls. Why Content Is King.
  • Marketers Use These Sly Psychological Tricks to Get You to Spend

I think what I’ve figured out is that while I’ve definitely used many of these articles to try new things in my business, I’m also just a really big fan of the game.

It’s kinda like your friend who’s a golf junkie. Sure, he plays golf when he can. But he also follows golf Instagram accounts, reads up on the history of famous courses and tournaments, and stays sharp on technology and rules that affect the game.

And honestly, it took me a lot longer than it should to figure out that’s what I am. I wasn’t just a guy trying (with healthy doses of success and failure) to make my business better. I’m a guy who, if I was ever allowed to leave the kids section at Barnes & Noble, would naturally gravitate to the business and marketing books.

And honestly, figuring this out about myself has taken loads of anxiety off my shoulders. Until then, I always thought I needed to put whatever I learned into practice. If I read a book about principles of advertising, I’d better start using those principles. And if I couldn’t implement it or if I wasn’t competent, it would stress me out.

But now I know it’s perfectly fine to learn simply for the sake of learning. Being a marketing nerd, even if I’m a shoddy marketer, is a worthy hobby.

That’s what I learned by scrolling back through years and years of saved articles in my Pocket.

What’s waiting for you inside your stacks of old reading?

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Eighty thousand tuition dollars later, I can sleep anywhere

There are two things you should know about the guy I roomed with during the spring of 1997.

First, he kept weird hours.

My schedule looked something like this:

  • wake up, shower, go to class
  • work, goof off with friends
  • dinner
  • homework, study for tests
  • go to bed

It sounds kinda low-key for a college junior since I didn’t mention anything about how to keep a backpack full of Icehouse beer cold for several hours or where to get Plan B in a small town.

I’d just add that “goof off with friends” can cover a lot of things.

I don’t have any facts to back this up, but I’d say almost 90% of the people I knew kept a schedule that closely resembled this.

Of course, there were always those guys who completely skipped over the “wake up, shower, go to class” part. One of those guys is a partner in a law firm now. Think about that next time you slip on a wayward Bloomin’ Onion at Outback or need to do a title search on your house.

My roommate was one of the guys who kept odd hours.

Nearly every night, I’d come home from the library to find our room empty, with the bright overhead fluorescent light on, and my roommate nowhere to be found. No message on the door-mounted whiteboard to tell me where he was.

The second thing you need to know about the guy I roomed with is that he had a fantastic stereo.

You see, back when life was entirely sepia-toned, music worked differently than it does today.

Back when I was in college, if you wanted to hear music you had to find a bandshell on a town square somewhere. If you were lucky, you’d catch a barbershop quartet doing an entire set of songs about “if you’d be my sweetie.”

What I’m saying is: compared to how it is today, listening to music used to be primitive.

It was a time when there were very clearly defined “haves” and “have-nots.”

My roommate was a “have.”

I don’t even know where the “haves” went to get their stereos. Maybe they just handed them out at their parents med school reunions?

The first thing that set my roommate’s stereo apart from every other stereo on our hall was that it was big. The speakers alone were the same size as our dorm fridge.

The rest of the stereo was made up of stacks of black metal boxes, most of which nobody knew how to operate. One entire block was devoted to playing cassette tapes. Think about that. If you were moving one of these stereos into your dorm room, you had to make an entire trip just to bring in the tape deck part.

By far the most mesmerizing part of the stereo was the equalizer. The equalizer was an entire block full of knobs, sliders, and push buttons that nobody every touched but rest assured, the equalizer was part of what separated my roommate’s stereo from the piece of shit I bought with $45 of high school graduation money.

Fully assembled, the stereo was something to behold. It looked like something you’d plug Darth Vader into if you were going to re-program him to sing Ace of Base covers.

Let’s take a break and review what we’ve learned so far:

  • my roommate, one of the nicest guys I’ve known, and who possessed an unmatched mental library of movie quotes, kept odd hours
  • his stereo was in a league of its own

Early in our time rooming together, I tried to wait my roommate out so that we’d call “lights out” at the same time.

The hours ticked forward into the deepest recessed of the night and into the early morning.

“This is dumb. I’m going to bed,” I thought.

Another night, as a football game raged in the hallway just outside our door, I discovered my roommate’s stereo had a set of headphones that would stretch from the front of the stereo on one side of the room aaaaallllll the way to my spot on the top bunk on the other side of the room.

During that semester I learned to fall asleep in any circumstance since most nights I’d stretch the headphones across the room, climb in bed, and fall asleep with music in my ears and fluorescent light in my face.

Of all the things I learned in college, being able to fall asleep in almost any situation is one skill that has served me well. I fell asleep at a Counting Crows concert once.

These days, the noise at bedtime is different. Instead of someone running the I-formation in the hallway, I’m usually distracted by the sound of my wife softly crying herself to sleep.

I’m entirely joking about that.

The noises are all in my head. It’s imagined conversations. Years-later realizations. It’s drafting the combat plan for tomorrow’s stresses.

Most nights, the sheer exhaustion from spending a day being me is enough to mute the noise and I fall asleep feeling well and happy.

Every now and then, there’s still a night when I grab my earbuds and put on some music, or to be a perfectly on-brand fortysomething suburbanite, a Headspace meditation.

I’m Facebook friends with that roommate, the one with the stereo that would make a Saudi prince jealous.

He’s no worse for the wear of living with me for a semester.

He’s married with a good job and a beautiful family. And since he’s a guy who’s used to odd hours and little sleep, the universe listened. His wife had twins a few years ago.

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What just happened?

I was driving home from yet another run of the kid shuttle last night listening to a favorite album, “Plans” by Death Cab for Cutie.

Been in a throwback mood lately.

The title “Plans” made me think of a post I wrote here years ago, and I started thinking about the piles and piles of stuff I’ve posted here.

A couple years ago, I locked up behind passwords nearly everything I’ve written, which included years of posts on this site. It made sense at the time.

I was thinking about all those posts last night and thought about how I want to preserve them somehow, because they so closely followed what was happening in our family when the kids were little.

(Update: the kids are not little anymore)

There are apps that can turn blog posts into rich leather-bound books, so I thought about printing one of those. But most of what I’ve written here is nonsensical and I think it would make for a very odd read in book form, even if it was just me reading it.

So this morning, I sat down and tried to dig all these old posts up. And let me tell you, it was no easy feat.

I’ve moved the posts from host to host, domain to domain, platform to platform. But I finally cracked the code by digging up an old email address and resetting a few passwords.

And how here we are. I have my big archive of almost everything I’ve blogged, except for:

  • a few things I tried to start that flopped
  • things I’ve written for a different context (my business, etc)
  • things I’ve written for other people (I did some ghostwriting a few years ago)

I’ll tell you this: looking back through the archives, it’s a little cringe-y.

I saw a tweet this morning that summarizes the situation pretty well:

“In hell they just make you hang out with yourself from four years earlier”

Pretty funny, right?

Resurfacing this site also makes me a little sad. There’s a huge gap that isn’t documented here. Sure, some of it exists in Facebook posts and Instagram photos, but a lot of stuff happened that I’d love to have nestled in the archives here.

C’est la vie.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed and/or learned after scrolling through the archives:

  • I spent a lot of time and energy trying to find a niche or voice of my own
  • I ran in a lot of directions I couldn’t sustain
  • I wrote many, many things that are still very dear to me even if I might not say it the same way today
  • There are many loops left open that I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back and close

Despite the things I don’t do anymore (man, I used to be way into Christian self-help) I’m still really proud of myself when I look at the sidebar and see month after month of content indexed there.

One thing’s for sure: after sheltering this site for three or four years, there’s literally zero audience. So if you’ve somehow stumbled across this, I’m glad you’re here.

I can’t tell you what to expect, other than I like to write what’s on my mind. Some days that’s entertaining and other days it’s boring as hell. I just want you to have realistic expectations 😉

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How Sit-ups Landed Me In The Hospital With Rhabdo

A few weeks ago was the first time I’ve ever been admitted to the hospital.

The situation I found myself in…and the condition I was treated for…are both things I know you can avoid.

I knew to go get checked out after reading other people’s experiences in forums and blog posts, so I’m adding my story to the online collection.

If you read this post and are able to get catch something before it turns ugly…we’ll have done a good thing.

Okay, on to the post…

Make A List

Make a quick mental list of “Dudes I Know Who Will End Up In the Hospital From Exercising”…

…got your list made?

Good.

Now…tell me where “Leighton Hart” ranked on that list.

[crickets chirping]

Wait…you’re saying I’m not on that list?

It’s okay. My feelings aren’t hurt.

I wouldn’t even put myself on a list of people who would end up in the hospital from exercising.

And yet…

That’s exactly what happened to me the first week of July.

So how did that happen?

How did Leighton Hart end up in the hospital from exercising?

Did I drop a weight plate on my foot?

Did I get my earbuds wrapped around my neck?

Did I slip off a pullup bar and crack my noggin?

Those are all good guesses…but they’re all wrong.

Here’s a short version of what happened…

I shredded my abs at the gym and the muscle got into my bloodstream and started to poison me.

By the time I realized what was happening, my kidneys may have shut down or I could have had a heart attack.

That’s some real shit, right?

The word for that condition is rhabdomyolysis.

It’s a mouthful, I know. Rhabdomyolysis.

Let’s just call it rhabdo for the rest of this post.

I’m going to tell you a lot more about rhabdo, but first let me tell you about how I got it.

I already told you the short version: I shredded my abs.

But I think it’s helpful for you to know the road leading up to my rhabdo because I know a lot of you are asking yourselves: “Can this happen to me?”

How I Got Rhabdo

Here’s how it went down…

The last week of June my kids were at camp about an hour from here.

We were staying at our family’s mountain house near the camp and I was making the hour commute each morning.

I made it to the gym three times that week, which means I got up at 4 a.m. to make sure I didn’t miss the 6 a.m. class.

The lack of sleep took its toll. I could barely stay awake at work that week.

For Friday’s WOD, the strength/skill portion was GHD situps. The program was to accumulate 60 reps.

Here’s a YouTube clip of a lady doing GHD situps.

I’d encourage you to click over because it’s really helpful to know what a GHD machine is and what the full range of motion for a GHD sit-up is. Just promise you’ll come back after the video.

Are you back? Great!

It worked out there were four of us in the 6 a.m. class on Friday. Two guys and two ladies. It also worked out that there was a tall guy and a short guy…and a tall lady and a short lady.

We split up on the GHD machines. The tall-ies took one machine and I joined the other small-y on the other.

We swapped out every 10 reps.

I got about 25 reps done and then started having to really work.

Someone offered this pointer on my form: I wasn’t straightening my legs to initiate the upward part of the situp. The quads are part of the exercise, too.

I got to where I was doing three or four at a time, then needing to rest.

At 42 reps, I quit.

From there, it was on to the WOD…

50 ground-to-overhead with a 45-lb. plate

1 mile run

50 wall ball shots with a 20-lb. ball

The WOD was tough but not unusual.

I went home and showered then went to work.

I remember thinking about how sore I felt even 90 minutes after the workout.

Okay, so let’s pause for a minute and see how we’re doing.

If you’re a CrossFitter, you might look at that and think, “Where’s the rhabdo in that?”

If you’re not a gym person, the last 200 words sound like complete gobbledeegook.

It’s okay. I understand.

So let’s talk about rhabdo.

What Is Rhabdo?

Let’s talk about what rhabdo is and how you get it.

I’m going to go all clinical on you because I know you’re smart people and you can handle this.

I’ve already given you the super-simplified definition, so let’s work through what rhabdo really is:

“Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown is muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the blood. These substances are harmful to the kidney and often cause kidney damage.” – MedlinePlus

A good analogy I heard was this…

Think of your muscle like a Tootsie Roll, with a wrapper on the outside. With rhabdo, that wrapper breaks and various things inside your muscle spill out into your body that are harmful to you.

But…how harmful?

I mean, so some muscle tissue gets into your blood. Is that a big deal?

Is Rhabdo A Big Deal?

Let me tell you a little bit more about my story and you can figure out if it’s a big deal or not.

I mentioned I was sore almost immediately after working out.

That’s unusual.

I woke up Saturday morning and almost couldn’t move.

My entire mid-section…from my chest to my thighs…hurt when I tried to get out of bed.

In fact, I couldn’t sit up. I had to roll off the side of the bed and then stand up.

My abs weren’t sore…I was in pain.

The pain stuck with me all through the weekend.

On Sunday after church I was walking up two little steps into our kitchen from the garage.

I paused to groan and I remember telling Mary Craig how hard it was to fully extend my hips…like, to fully straighten up.

Later in the day on Sunday, my youngest daughter wanted to have a “fitness challenge” in the front yard. It’s a thing we do.

To warm up, she wanted us each to do 10 pushups.

I found a spot on the sidewalk, laid flat, and as I felt my core tighten up to push up I felt incredible pain in my abs.

I couldn’t do a single pushup. The pain was too much.

I decided to rest for the balance of the day.

On Monday morning, I wrestled with myself about whether or not to go to the gym.

On one hand, I told myself my muscles needed time to heal.

On the other hand, I thought moving my muscles and getting some blood flowing might help me feel better faster.

I went to the gym.

For the strength portion of the class, we were testing our personal maxes in the back squat.

Back in April I set a personal best for myself by squatting 195.

During this class…messed up abs and all…I topped out at 205.

From there it was on to the workout, a classic CrossFit WOD called Cindy. Cindy is:

5 pullups

10 pushups

15 air squats

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes

The clock counted down 3, 2, 1, GO and it was on.

Pullups weren’t terrible…squats were fine…but every single pushup felt like murder.

When the clock ran out, I’d finished 11 rounds.

That’s 55 pullups, 110 pushups and 165 air squats.

I was so happy when it was over.

When I was getting ready for work, I noticed that my belly seemed bloated.

I recalled the waist of my shorts feeling tight on Sunday, but I had chalked it up to eating junky food the prior week.

When I buttoned my suit pants, I noticed again that my waist felt really tight.

At this point, my abs were still completely shot.

To give you an idea, it was painful to bend over to put on socks.

When I got to the office, I started Googling to see what was going on with my abs.

I searched “GHD ab swelling” and clicked through to CrossFit’s message boards. I read a few posts about people getting rhabdo from the GHD.

I got nervous.

I clicked to a few other sites and read blog posts of people’s first-hand experiences with rhabdo and the stories sounded a lot like mine.

When I started reading about people being hospitalized for rhabdo, I thought I better go get checked out…just to be safe.

I wrote “rhabdomyolysis” on a sticky note, grabbed a bottle of water, and went to my doctor’s walk-in clinic.

The lady at the desk asked why I needed to be seen.

“Well,” I said. “I messed up my abs at the gym and now I think some other things are wrong…”

“You think something is wrong with your stomach?” she said.

I handed her my sticky note.

“I need to get checked for this,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “You think you have this?”

“I hope not,” I said. “But I want to be sure.”

She gave me a little smirk.

“You know you shouldn’t go looking stuff up on the internet.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” I said.

A few minutes later a nurse called me back and I talked her through what was going on.

This nurse had seen rhabdo before, so she was kind enough not to look at me like I was an alien.

“Let’s get a urine sample and some blood, then the doctor will decide what to do from there,” she said.

Pretty soon a doctor came in and we chatted for a minute.

The doctor confirmed that I had blood in my urine…which they tell me is a bad thing…so they wanted to put a rush on the blood work.

She said I might just need to drink water and flush out my system…or she might call me back and tell me to go to the hospital if I had rhabdo.

Either way, the blood work wouldn’t be back for a few hours so I was free to go back to work.

I called Mary Craig on the way back to the office and filled her in.

She was worried.

By late afternoon I was feeling as if the storm had passed.

And then my phone rang.

“You’re going to need to clear your calendar,” the doctor said. “I need you to go check into the hospital.”

Suck.

She explained the problem…

A normal level of creatine kinase (CK) in the blood is 50-400 units.

My CK was 46,000.

Not good.

I explained the situation to the people at my office as quickly as I could and then headed home.

“I overdid it at the gym and the doctor says I need to go get IV fluids,” is the simplest explanation I could give to the people at work.

On the way home, I called Mary Craig.

She was…alarmed.

At home I packed an overnight bag with a few books and my phone charger, then changed into a t-shirt and gym shorts.

I drove to the hospital and they showed me to a room that was already waiting for me.

Once I was in the room they weren’t speedy about getting in to see me.

So at this point, what did I know about the seriousness of rhabdo?

I knew it was serious enough to require me to be admitted to the hospital.

I also knew it wasn’t so serious that they needed to rush right to me and start working on me right away.

I sat in my room for about 30 minutes before all the check-in stuff started.

They asked what happened to me.

Neither of the nurses knew much about CrossFit or had heard about GHD sit-ups, so I gave them a condensed version.

They asked about my medical history.

They asked about medications I take.

They asked if I’ve ever seen Dave Matthews in concert…and I said yes, about 12 years ago in Charlotte.

I’m kidding about that last question…just checking to see if you’re still reading.

The nurse and her trainee finished their 20 questions and then they left.

A while later a nurse practitioner came in and talked to me.

This was the first real “let’s talk about what’s going on with you” interaction I had at the hospital.

She was nice and had been working the same time another rhabdo case came in from my walk-in clinic…so it was good she’d seen it before.

I don’t think she’d ever heard of anyone getting it from sit-ups, though.

She said she was shocked at my CK numbers and asked me several times how I was feeling.

I told her that other than the muscle pain I didn’t feel all that bad.

This seems like a good place to stop and talk about what rhabdo can do to you…

Because since I didn’t feel all that bad aside from the muscle pain it would have been easy to dismiss the pain and soldier on.

We posed the questions earlier…

How is rhabdo harmful?

What are the risks?

Is rhabdo really a big deal?

Let’s tackle those head on…

Rhabdo can kill you.

It’s that serious.

That’s why they hospitalize you…because it’s a very serious condition.

But fatality isn’t the big risk from rhabdo.

There are plenty of other risks rhabdo poses to your body.

How Rhabdo Endangers Your Body

The biggest problem is this: rhabdo is very dangerous for your kidneys.

When muscle tissue disintegrates, it releases myoglobin into the bloodstream…and the kidneys and myoglobin don’t get along.

The big risk is that rhabdo will permanently screw up your kidneys…or that your kidneys will fail completely.

There are other risks…

Rhabdo throws your body’s chemistry all out of whack.

Here’s an example…

After I was settled in at the hospital and receiving IV fluids, the doctor ordered an EKG to check out my heart.

I guess someone asked for proof that there is, in fact, a heart buried somewhere deep within my chest.

Anyway, the nurse ran the test and the doc came back PRONTO.

“Have you had any chest pain?” he asked.

Nope.

“Any pain or weakness in your left arm? Nausea or vomiting?”

He was working me over with the heart attack questions.

“I haven’t had any of that stuff,” I told him. “Why?”

“Your EKG looks like you had…or are having…a heart attack,” he said. “So I’m curious if you’ve had any other symptoms.”

Oh.

They did some lab work and confirmed that I wasn’t having a heart attack…so that was good.

But that’s a tricky thing about rhabdo…it goofs up the electrolytes in the body to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s really going on.

And it is possible…because of a huge release of potassium into the system (a condition called hyperkalemia)…to have a heart attack during rhabdo.

So…

What are the risks of rhabdo?

The risks of rhabdo are:

  • kidney damage
  • kidney failure
  • heart attack
Is rhabdo really a big deal?
Judging by the looks on the faces of the healthcare providers who helped me, I’d say YES.

Who Gets Rhabdo 

A lot of you who are active people have asked this great question: “Was there a point when you felt like you should stop but you kept going anyway?”
The short answer is: no.
From what I’ve read, rhabdo is most likely to bite you in a few scenarios:
  • when you’re overheated, fatigued, or dehydrated
  • when you dramatically increase your physical output from one level to another
  • when you’re doing eccentric (also known as “negative”) movements
Here’s how that relates to your question and how it might relate to your workouts.
When I was doing the GHD situps, I did reach a point where my ab muscles started to wear out. I had to rest in the middle of 10-rep sets.
I didn’t really think anything about it. I chalked it up to having weak muscles…something I’m pretty accustomed to.
Think about a strict shoulder press.
You know the feeling when your shoulders wear out…and you rest, then get back to your next set?
That’s how I treated the GHD situps.
The trouble is that the GHD is a dramatic eccentric contraction…meaning there’s tension on the muscle as it lengthens.
I didn’t feel it at the time, but this type of contraction can be very tough on the muscle.
This deal with eccentric contractions is why people who do a ton of pullups in one workout can get stung by rhabdo.
But getting back to the original question…
No, I didn’t reach a point where I thought I was hurt but chose to “play through the pain.”
I knew my muscles were fatigued but I figured it was just like when I wear my arms out doing pushups or my legs out doing squats.
I’ve also had a lot of questions about my symptoms.
Some of you have even said, “I think I might have had rhabdo once, but I never did anything about it.”
I know I went over a lot of this in my story about how it all went down, but here’s a quick version of my symptoms:
  • muscle pain (much more intense than soreness)
  • swelling
  • decreased energy
The unrelenting pain and swelling were what caused me to finally dig into what was happening.
If I had some of the classic symptoms of rhabdo, I might have checked things out earlier.

The Symptoms of Rhabdo

Here are all the classic rhabdo symptoms:
  • dark, red, or cola-colored urine
  • decreased urine output
  • general weakness
  • muscle stiffness and aching
  • muscle tenderness
  • weakness of the affected muscles
I’ve talked to a few of you who have said you think you had rhabdo in the past but never did anything about it.
The stories I’ve heard go something like this: “I did a bunch of pull-ups and my arms swelled up and hurt like hell. I could barely move them for a week.”
I’m not a doctor…and I’m not diagnosing you…but I will say this…
From now on, when shit like that happens, please go to the walk-in place and get a quick blood test done.
Write “rhabdomyolysis” on a sticky note and show it to them and say, “I want to make sure I don’t have this.”
It will cost you a few bucks but your kidneys are worth it.

Exercise Might Kill You…But This Will Definitely Kill You

Can I share another question with you?
This one came from Facebook and I know it was meant as a joke, but I’m going to answer it anyway.
Here it is: Can I catch rhabdo from sitting on my couch?
No.
You’re not going to catch rhabdo from sitting on your couch, unless you’re sitting on your couch banging lines of cocaine.
Cocaine and other hard drugs can contribute to rhabdo.
But I trust that most of you are safe for THAT reason.
While we’re on the topic of couches…
A common joke I’ve heard as I’ve explained this whole thing is this:
“See, that’s why I don’t exercise…because exercise can kill you!”
And I agree. Exercise can kill you.
But I would add…
I guarantee the hospital sees far more people every day for the consequences of sitting on the couch than it does for the consequences of exercise.
In other words: exercise might kill you, but sitting on the couch will definitely kill you.
I’ve also had some people ask if I’m going to keep doing CrossFit once I’m fully recovered from rhabdo.

Here’s the thing:

I got rhabdo at a CrossFit box, but CrossFit didn’t give me rhabdo.

You know what did give me rhabdo?

Not getting enough sleep.

Not being fully hydrated.

Doing too many reps of an exercise I wasn’t conditioned for.

I could have done that in my garage…or at any gym.

I was talked with a veterinarian friend a few weeks ago.

The vet said she has people who take out hunting dogs that have been laying around during the off-season and run them hard the first day of hunting season.

The dog owners bring the dogs in and guess what’s wrong?

Rhabdo.

Rhabdo isn’t unique to CrossFit and isn’t even unique to humans.

If you overload your muscles in the wrong way…you put yourself at risk.

Overloading muscles in the wrong way can happen anywhere.

Knowing all of that…am I done with CrossFit?

No. I’m not done with CrossFit.

It’s the only program that works for me.

I’ve been easing back in…and here’s how that looks.

I’ve been scaling EVERYTHING down.

When I went back to the gym after being out for six weeks, I knew it would be a long road back to where I left off.

I threw out my personal bests and I’m starting fresh with lighter weights, less intensity, fewer reps where necessary, and more recovery time between gym visits.

And I’ll tell you this…

This is the right plan.

The first few workouts have left me feeling like I’ve been chewed up and spit out.

Like I said, getting back to where I left off is going to be a long road.

Life After Rhabdo

So what is post-rhabdo life like?

It’s better now, but for the first ten days or so, all I could do was shuffle around like an old man.

I didn’t have any energy.

It felt like I had the flu.

But each day got a little better.

Now I feel “normal” again…but I get tired pretty easily.

Staying hydrated is always on my mind.

I still feel some soreness in my stomach…even a month and a half later.

And the “What if I get injured again?” question lingers in my mind.

Wrapping Up

We’ve covered a lot of ground.

I don’t know what you’re going to take away from this post, but here’s what I hope you get:

  • rhabdo is serious
  • if you think you have rhabdo, go get checked out
  • rhabdo is avoidable
  • most people won’t get rhabdo

Now that you know more about my unfortunate experience with rhabdo, I hope you’ll be better equipped to get fit safely!

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Here’s what I learned about myself from a soul-crushing supercomputer

Remember Ken Jennings?

Of course you remember Ken Jennings.

How could you forget Ken Jennings?

Ken Jennings…the guy who won Jeopardy a whopping 74 times in a row?

Yeah…Ken Jennings.

Smart guy.

Did you know there’s a supercomputer version of Ken Jennings?

Remember hearing about this?

IBM built this mega-powerful computer called Watson.

To show how fast and adaptable it is, they made it play Jeopardy.

I mean, they put it on the show for three nights.

How do you think it did?

Do you think it did Ken Jennings good?

Absolutely…

It manhandled its human opponents. It ripped their souls out and crushed them.

Watson, as it turns out, is pretty smart.

And just recently, I learned something new about Watson.

You can meet Watson.

I met Watson this week.

When they brought Watson back from filming Jeopardy, I guess someone plugged it into the internet because anyone can access parts of Watson online.

I stumbled onto a pretty interesting part of Watson.

The part I discovered is a little tool that spits out a personality assessment based on your writing style.

You feed it a writing sample and it gives you back an assessment of your personality.

It looked easy enough…all I had to do was cut-and-paste something I’d written into a little window on Watson’s page and in less than a second I had my results.

Watson slices and dices the information in a few different ways, but the most useful is a short narrative.

Here’s what Watson said about me:

“You are a bit inconsiderate and somewhat critical.”

Ouch!

Watson don’t play!

Right off the bat I can’t figure out if Watson is nailing this thing…or just being a dick.

I guess we’ll have to read more to see.

Either way, I think I’m going to make “a bit inconsiderate and somewhat critical” my Twitter bio.

It goes on…

“You are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys. You are laid-back: you appreciate a relaxed pace in life. And you are intermittent: you have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks for a long period of time.”

“You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of efficiency.”

“You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.”

I’d say a lot…not all…of the rest of that sounds like me.

But how does Watson get that from a writing sample?

I have no idea.

It’s computer magic.

But I’ll tell you this…

I’m honestly impressed.

Want to get in on the fun? Want to see what Watson says about YOU?

To access Watson’s Personality Insights tool, CLICK HERE.

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