Athletes Whose Bodybuilding Training Caused Severe Injuries

Bodybuilding, just like any other sport, has its dark sides. Between their insane workout and diet regimens, in one study, 42% of bodybuilders were found to have partaken in Oxymetholone, an anabolic steroid. The use of these performance-enhancing drugs in the long term can lead to heart-related health complications and in some cases, death.

Another massive downside of the sport is injury. Besides leaving lasting damage, getting hurt can ultimately affect an athlete's results, as Guinness World Record holder Flex Wheeler revealed in an interview. "Before the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic exhibition bout in 2005 I also tore my rotator cuff and almost pulled out," Wheeler recalled. "I was disappointed by my performance at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic because my shoulder injury lost me a lot of training in the lead-up to the fight."

While severe injuries are not too common, if things go south, the repercussions can be life-long or in the worst-case scenario, fatal. For these athletes, one bad day at the gym turned out to be life-changing.

Ronnie Coleman suffered a herniated disc, resulting in multiple surgeries

One of the most successful bodybuilders of his time, Ronnie Coleman found immense fame in the sport and was crowned Mr. Olympia eight times. However, Coleman's achievements came at a tragic cost. In an interview with Generation Iron Fitness Network, Coleman shared that the first of his health complications came from an incident in high school, where he was a member of the powerlifting team. While deadlifting, he suffered a herniated disc that resulted in back pain, and the injury worsened when he had a football accident.

Even after Coleman began attending Grambling State University, the back pain wouldn't go away, forcing him to pay daily visits to a chiropractor. Coleman ran out of luck when he was on a break from competing in the Mr. Olympia competition. "I was squatting 600 [pounds] and I always did like ... 12, 15 reps, somewhere in there," he narrated in his interview. "And this day I was coming up on rep No. 8 and I heard a low pop."

It was discovered afterward that he had another herniated disc that pressed on a nerve, causing a stinging pain in his leg. In 1997, Coleman had the first of many back surgeries. One of those surgical operations eventually landed him in a wheelchair. As of this writing, Coleman has been working with physicians to get back on his feet, and his journey to recovery has been documented on his YouTube channel.

Nick Walker's injury paused his 2023 Mr. Olympia aspirations

After the young bodybuilder's endless training recorded on his YouTube channel, Nick "the Mutant" Walker took home third place at the Mr. Olympia competition in 2022. Walker was set to be on stage the following year, but his ambitions were cut short. In an Instagram statement posted in October 2023, just weeks before the contest, Walker wrote, "It's with a heavy heart I won't be stepping stage this year due to unforeseen and unfortunate reasons that remind us we're only human."

The accompanying video clip, with a thumbnail of a badly bruised hamstring, revealed that Walker had torn his muscle during training. When the competition wrapped up that November, Walker posted another clip on Instagram in which he praised the title Mr. Olympia holder, Derek Lunsford, and further revealed that he had sustained a minor tear in his calf as well. Luckily, his recovery would not need surgical intervention.

By January 2024, Walker was back in the gym. In an Instagram post that flattered his physique, he wrote in part, "Over 3 months post Olympia, progression is being made, work is being is done. Hamstring is getting better which I'm really happy about." Since then, Walker's training has gradually gotten more intense. Two months later, he shared a video of himself doing leg presses with over 500 pounds of plates.

Neggy Shelton's training regimen allegedly sent her into a coma

Iranian-born bodybuilder Naghmeh 'Neggy' Shelton first stepped into the bodybuilding scene in early March 2021 when she took to the stage at the NPC Baltimore Gladiator Championships. Later that month, she competed at the NPC Sampson Showdown. The following year, Shelton was reportedly hospitalized and placed on life support following a hypoglycemic state that seemingly arose from her extreme training.

The athlete's unhealthy regimen — presumed in a hospital report obtained by The Washington Post to feature "diet, supplements, and extensive workouts" — was the brainchild of James Ayotte, a Canada-based fitness instructor. In a statement to the publication, Ayotte refuted claims of unprofessionalism. "No way on me and anything I've done," he said. "I coach thousands of girls, right? And 99.9 percent are super pleased with my service and are happy."

Ayotte's lack of credentials in the medical industry has since been under scrutiny. According to Ayotte's LinkedIn profile, his company has had outstanding results in nurturing IFBB Bikini Pros and taking some to the Olympian level. Despite his claims, alleged clients of the trainer have left unflattering reviews of Team Atlas' services on Reddit, pointing toward discrimination against amateurs and nutritional malpractice.

Dennis Wolf's spinal injury halted his bodybuilding career

2014 Arnold Classic Europe champion Dennis Wolf announced in a video posted to Facebook in 2016 that he was about to undergo surgery at a Las Vegas hospital. The German native, who had been set to compete at Mr. Olympia that year, explained the true nature of his spinal injury in a later interview on "The Menace Podcast with Dennis James." His woes began after the EVLS 2015 Prague Pro, where he managed to take fourth place. "After that [Prague Pro], I couldn't even get back to my normal size," Wolf recalled. "And then one day I start feeling some uncontrolled movements when I was training my back."

According to Wolf's narration, several weeks passed before he sought medical attention. When he did, it was discovered that he had four herniated discs around the neck region, all of which had been previously masked by his bulky muscle. "[They] figured that I have ... C4-C5-C6-C7 ... herniated," Wolf explained, adding that he went back into training after a medical operation.

In 2018, Wolf returned to professional contesting at the Arnold Classic in Ohio, where he placed 12th. Admittedly, as he explained in a 2020 interview with "Generation Iron," he had a hunch that he was ill-prepared to make a comeback. Wolf has since transitioned into the supplement industry and owns the Nutrition Wolf brand.

Calum von Moger tore a bicep tendon, among other damage

Three-time WFF Mr. Universe champion Calum von Moger, also famed for his portrayal of the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2018 flick, "Bigger," tore a bicep tendon while doing a curl in December 2017. In the footage posted to the Australian native's YouTube channel, he and fellow bodybuilder, Chris Bumstead, experimented on a joint 405-pound bicep curl when the unfortunate snap occurred. "Don't ever try this," von Moger, who was putting on a brave face, said. "It's game over ... It felt like a pop."

In a January 2018 interview on "The Breakdown," the athlete revealed that he was looking at a six-month recovery period. Things worsened three months later when von Moger tried another stunt: jumping off a cliff. This time, he suffered a lower-body injury. As he shared in a Facebook post, "My accident on Thursday has left me with a complete rupture of my quadriceps tendon, dislocated knee cap & a broken heart." 

Von Moger had to step away from the stage to recover. Just as he had a major setback, his return to competing at the NPC Universe 2020 was victorious, with him taking first place.

Ryan Crowley had a serious pectoral muscle tear

In March 2021, U.K. bodybuilder Ryan Crowley tore a pectoral muscle. Video footage from the day showed Crowley bench-pressing 480 pounds with the help of 2018 NPC Gold Coast Classic winner Larry Wheels. A visible tear and loud crack followed, after which Crowley released the weights and fell to the ground. He got back up just as fast while writhing in pain.

The aftermath, as Crowley explained in a later interview on Wheels's YouTube, was a sorry sight. "[It was] extremely swollen. It was like touching my chin," he recalled. "I was in a really bad way when I first got there [the hospital], and then obviously 28 hours after the injury happened, we were going into surgery." Crowley didn't have to worry about the cost of treatment since Wheels had created a GoFundMe page which collected over $38,000. 

A month after surgery, Crowley revealed through Instagram that he discovered another accidental tear in the same spot while he was getting dressed. He had reasons to smile almost a year later when he looked back at the moment that changed his life in a sentimental Instagram post. "Everything Except chest nearly Normal now but My mind can't go to that dark place yet and my Body just doesn't work like it used to," he wrote in part. In September 2023, Crowley shared his first post-injury pose in another heartfelt Instagram post.

Jean-Pierre Fux's career ended at a photoshoot

Jean-Pierre Fux first stepped into mainstream bodybuilding at the 1994 IFBB World Amateur Championships, in which he was the heavyweight champion. Fux would go on to compete in several contests, making appearances at four IFBB Grand Prix shows, two Arnold Classics, and two Mr. Olympia competitions.

The former soccer athlete's fate changed in the early 2000s when he was doing a photo shoot for Flex Magazine. As he narrated in an interview with RxMuscle, Fux had already wrapped up the initial session when he was asked to return for a last round of photos. It was when he squatted with about 675-pound plates that all hell broke loose. "I went down ... I was in the 90°angle. My left quad just separated ... It was like in slow motion," he recalled. "I knew exactly what happened ... the whole weight came to the right side and ... then the right leg started twisting around. The patella snapped off." 

The ghastly gym accident not only took away Fux's promising career but also affected his ability to take a normal step with his right leg. He has since healed and has taken to coaching other athletes. In a June 2023 post on Instagram, Fux gushed over the progress of one of his trainees, Cortez Aldo, who was No. 2 in the physique category at his first major competition.

Meegan Hefford's death was reportedly connected to protein shakes

In June 2017, 25-year-old Australian bodybuilder Meegan Hefford was found unresponsive in her apartment. According to Hefford's mother, Michelle White, her daughter was on a protein-rich diet while getting ready for a contest. It was discovered that Hefford had Urea Cycle Disorder – a genetic illness that affects the body's ability to fully complete protein metabolism – which remained undetected and was the cause of her death.

In an essay for The Mirror, White revealed that her daughter was a fitness enthusiast who maintained a strict schedule and meal plan. The mother of two's zeal for the sport was evident in a December 2014 Instagram post, with her gushing about looking forward to competing again. "Can't wait to get back on stage after off season! with more muscle, new package including a peachy booty! Hard work and turning them down falls into the positives," Hefford's caption read.

White's essay further disclosed that although Hefford was in good shape, there were warning signs that all was not well. "She was winning trophies for her sculpted physique, but one morning when I popped round to see her and the kids I noticed her hands shaking as she downed yet another protein shake with her body building supplements," White wrote. "I watched on helplessly as she got ready to go for another session." Her daughter's eventual death prompted her to create awareness about the disease and its impact.

Justyn Vicky's 463-pound barbell squat turned out fatal

Bodybuilder Justyn Vicky was no stranger to heavy squats, which he often showcased on his social media. In one such post, featuring a series of lower body exercises, Vicky wrote, "Leg workout (don't skip legs day). Practice is difficult more than teori. Teori without practice is nothing!" On July 5th, 2023, Vicky shared a video of himself squatting with heavy 378 to 440-pound plates with the help of a trainer. A little more than two weeks later, he attempted the same exercise with 463-pound weights but wasn't as lucky.

In video footage that went viral on social media, Vicky, who was training at a gym in a Bali hotel, managed to squat but couldn't get up. The trainer let go of the barbell, and as Vicky pushed it forward to get it off his shoulder, his neck snapped. Efforts to give him the right treatment turned out futile. Although he was buried within 24 hours under Muslim tradition, Indonesian police opened an investigation into the tragic incident. The death of Vicky sadly adds to the list of bodybuilders who have died while actively exercising, including 2017 Arnold Classic champion, Cedric McMillan.