At some point, most exercisers experience cramps in strenuous workouts. Runners experience these usually in the feet or the calf muscles, and cyclists in the quadraceps muscle group. Cramps may come during exercise, afterward, or they may hit at random. Most commonly, they will occur at night, or when you are sitting around at your desk or watching TV in the afternoon or evening.
Cramps vary in severity. Most are mild but some can grab so hard that they shut down the muscles and hurt when they seize up. Massage, and a short and gentle movement of the muscle can you keep going as you work out the muscle knots. Odds are that stretching will make the cramp worse, or tear the muscle fibers.
Most cramps are due to overuse--exercising farther or faster than in the recent past, or continuing to put yourself at your limit, especially in warm weather. Slow down the exertion level from the beginning of the workout, insert more walk breaks if you are a runner, and avoid huffing and puffing.
You may have had too many workouts in a row, increased the workload of the workouts too quickly, or have been working too hard every day.
Continuous hard exercise increases cramping. Runners tend to avoid cramps by taking walk breaks every minute during the first 10 minutes of a run (run a minute/walk a minute) Many runners who used to cramp when they ran a minute and walked a minute, stopped cramping with a ratio of run 30 seconds and walk 30-60 seconds.
During hot weather, a good electrolyte beverage can help to replace the salts that your body loses in sweating. A drink like Accelerade, for example, can help to top off these minerals when you drink 6 to 8 oz. every 1 to 2 hours. The relief will not come during the workout, so drink the electrolyte beverage throughout the next day.
On very long hikes, walks or runs, however, the continuous sweating, especially when drinking a lot of fluid, can push your sodium levels too low and produce muscle cramping. If this happens regularly, a buffered salt tablet has helped greatly Succeed has been the most successful product I've seen.
Note: if you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor before taking any salt product.
Many medications, especially those designed to lower cholesterol, have as one of their known side effects, muscle cramps. Runners who use medications and cramp should ask their doctor if there are alternatives.
Here are several ways of dealing with cramps:
- Take a longer and more gentle warm-up.
- Shorten your exercise segment, rest for 3-5 mintues between segments, and gradually increase the number of segments.
- Slow down the pace of your workout--especially from the beginning.
- Shorten the length of the workout on a hot/humid day.
- Break your workout into two segments.
- Look at any other exercise that could be causing the cramps.
- Take a buffered salt tablet at the beginning of your exercise.
- Runners: Shorten your stride-especially on hills, and take more frequent walk breaks.