We’ve all been there – whether it was during a run or in the middle of the night – our muscles can tighten up very suddenly and incredibly painfully.
Cramps commonly occur in the calf or hamstring muscles, although any muscle can be affected. Cramp is caused by the muscle suddenly contracting (overshortening) and can last from a few seconds to around 10 minutes, with the muscle remaining tender or sore for hours afterwards.
With that in mind, your muscles cramping up is the last thing you want during a training session, so here are a ponts of interest about why it might happen how how you can help prevent it.
Losing electrolytes during exercise can be the cause of muscle spasm so staying hydrated to replace lost fluids should be a key focus for anyone suffering, sports drinks containing electrolytes will go a long way in maintaining this balance.
Salt lost through sweat is most often cited as the main cause here, so why not make your own sports drink? Simply add a pinch of salt, 200ml squash and 800ml water and keep it in the fridge so it’s always ready to go!
In addition to replenishing fuel through liquids, your diet needs to be built up on the right foods. Carbohydrates and starchy vegetables eg. potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, pears etc. should be eaten as they contain plenty of potassium, as well as foods rich in calcium and magnesium such as salmon, broccoli, spinach and cabbage.
In extreme cases, magnesium supplementation has been shown to aid in preventing ‘night cramps’.
Stretching & Mobility
If one particular area tends to cramp up regularly, then ensuring you get a full stretch and mobilisation to that muscle group can aid in future prevention. Stretching and mobility encourage the muscles and joints to stay loose rather than go into involuntary contraction.
To stretch your calf muscle, stand about half a metre away from a wall. Keeping the soles of your feet flat on the floor and your legs straight, bend forward and lean on the wall, you will feel your calf muscles stretch. Perform this several times for around 20 seconds each time. Go easy if this is painful.
A proper warm up before training will promote blood flow around the body allowing the proper nutrients to reach the muscles. A light jog followed by some dynamic stretches will loosen up the whole body and promote elasticity in the muscles, making an over-shortening less likely to occur.
If your running footwear is incorrect for your physical needs then you could be creating undue stress on certain muscles or joints, this will cause the muscle to be placed under unnecessary pressure and will make cramping more likely. This can be easily avoided by trying a different type of shoe, or by simply buying some new trainers if your old ones are worn out!
Cramp usually strikes at the end of an intense workout or during long, endurance based activity due to muscle fatigue. Beginners are more likely to experience cramp than those who are more experienced, so any exercise programme should develop gradually with carefully planned progressions.
Knowing that muscle are more likely to cramp when fatigued, it is important to allow 48 hours rest between training a muscle group to allow time for recovery and muscle repair.
Breathing & Pace
Setting off too fast with no time spent on any pre-training preparation is a sure-fire way to give yourself a stitch. If this does happen, slow your pace and take long, slow breaths until the pain has faded. If you have a sharp pain in your side then pushing your fist in as you take deep breaths can also help as well as remembering your warm up next time!
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.