How to avoid muscle cramps during a workout.
Let’s say that you’re midway through an intense workout, grueling run, or rigorous group fitness class and all of a sudden it happens—your muscles seize up and cramp, halting any momentum you have built up. The pain and tightness associated with a cramp can really put a damper on your fitness routine. Whether you’re running in the park, doing laps in a pool, or lifting weights, cramps can strike at any time.
Any doctor will tell you that cramps occur when the muscle as a unit, rapidly contracts and doesn’t have the resources to unwind the contraction. The location of the cramp is usually whichever area that is under the most stress. Therefore, people who lift weights get cramps in whatever muscle group they’re working out, while runners are more likely to suffer from lower body cramps, and rowers from upper body ones.
It’s All About Nutrition
Medical professionals also cite nutrition as being one of the main factors leading to muscle cramps. Especially endurance athletes such as triathletes, long distance runners, and cyclists, who sweat out the vast majority of their electrolytes and don’t replenish them. When your body is electrolyte-deficient your sodium levels can get out of sync which can cause muscle cramping.
What this means is that if you’re going to be engaging in any sort of rigorous exercise, you’ll need to make sure to fill your tank with plenty of electrolytes, and bolster your diet with salt-laden foods such as chips and pretzels.
But sodium is not enough, you also have to add magnesium, calcium, and potassium to the mix to prevent muscle stiffness. Foods such as leafy greens are great for magnesium, while organic dairy products such as yogurt and milk are rich in calcium. Don’t forget bananas for your potassium needs.
You’ll want to stay adequately hydrated as well, since becoming dehydrated can not only diminish your electrolyte levels, but also trigger a rapid buildup of lactic acid, which is a major contributor to muscle cramps.
Each person has their own bodily needs when it comes to their hydration and mineral requirements. Some athletes can get by on just a minimal amount of water, while others may require either more water or sports drinks which contain electrolytes. Experimenting in order to find out what works for you as an individual is always a good option.
Stress Overload & Burnout
Cramping up can also occur when your workouts get the best of you. Functional cramps can (and usually will) happen when people overload their muscle’s capacity. What that means is when you put too much weight on a barbell, max out on the number of reps you’re performing, or even putting your body in a position where flexibility becomes an issue, you’re putting yourself under extreme duress. To help keep your muscles more mobile and fluid, try incorporating more mobility training into your routine.
Both sudden and intense movements, such as sprinting, may be another cramp-trigger. Always properly warm up and stretch to prepare your body for action.
The Importance of Flexibility
To put it simply, improving your body’s flexibility can go a long way toward keeping your muscles limber and less likely to lock up. Tight muscles have less change in length during normal function, which is known as excursion. This means they have to do the same amount of work without any changes to overall length. Repeating each movement at a higher rate or higher volume can cause muscles to cramp, since they’re not getting properly stretched during exercise.
Therefore, stretching, as well as a proper warm up beforehand, is crucial to avoiding cramps mid-workout. Stretch the muscles you’ll be using the most—for instance for runners that might mean the hamstrings; for an upper-body strength day, stretch out your chest, shoulders, and arms.
If a cramp does strike while you’re exercising, immediately stop and gently stretch the affected muscle. Don’t try to push through the cramp or do a big, dramatic stretch, since either can result in a muscle tear.
Keep it Limber
There’s nothing that will put a damper on your workouts like cramps do. But armed with these tips, you can maintain all of that momentum you’ve built up in order to become a better you.