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Tips from the Training Room: Muscle Cramps

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Tips from the Training Room: Muscle Cramps

Kerry Gustafson

written by Kerry Gustafson

It's summer.  It's getting hot.  Whether you are training, racing, or recreating, everyone is going to succumb to muscle cramping at some point.  

The question is:
Are all leg muscle cramps the same?  Should we treat them all the same?

The answer is, No
There are two different types of leg muscle cramps.

Type 1, or single muscle cramping, is due to electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and depletion.
Type 2, is skeletal muscle overload and fatigue.  It can also could be a deficit in strength or flexibility from a prior injury.   

Cramping is often reported following calf or hamstring strains.

What You Can Do About It
Prevent Type II race-associated cramping by: protecting any recent muscle-tendon injury (due to strain or cramps) and allowing time for full regeneration.

Then use stretches and strengthening exercises to improve imbalances in strength, flexibility, and activation of surrounding muscles.

If leg muscle cramping continues to plague your training and races, it's time to seek outside expertise and consult a sports medicine clinician.

Additional strategies to preventing cramps:
1.  Take a longer and more gentle warm-up.
2.  Shorten your exercise segment, rest for 3-5 mintues between segments, and gradually increase the number of segments.
3.  Slow down the pace of your workout--especially from the beginning.
4.  Shorten the length of the workout on a hot/humid day.
5.  Break your workout into two segments.
6.  Look at any other exercise that could be causing the cramps.
7.  Take a buffered salt tablet at the beginning of your exercise.
8.  Runners: Shorten your stride-especially on hills, and take more frequent walk breaks.