Muscle cramps are a common occurrence among runners and dehydrated athletes, but trust me when I say, anyone is susceptible to them.
Have you ever had a cramp come out of nowhere? Perhaps running, or exercising or just stretching and then wham – excruciating and debilitating pain! It can often feel like it’s indescribable – that sweet gift of muscle fibers contracting painfully and attacking the hamstrings, calves, abs, quads, or arms.
What causes it? Muscle fibers.
Muscle fibers typically shorten and lengthen back when they contract. When they don’t lengthen back, they stay shortened and that’s when we get that horrific tension mixed with the added squeeze, or as I like to call it – the gift from hell!
Cramps are a common occurrence among runners and dehydrated athletes, but trust me when I say, anyone is susceptible to them. Alongside the ones we receive while exercising are the ones we receive late at night, the dreaded charley horse, and the cramps that attack long after exercise, the sneaky villain who waits till you least expect it to strike!
Stay hydrated, take warm shower
OK, now that I have sufficiently presented this harrowing tale in sufficiently dramatic and painful, yet truthful, strokes, how do we beat these pesky things?
Well, water is a good medicine. It can help in several ways. One way is to simply apply a warm towel to the area in pain. If the pain persists after several minutes of pressure then try the #2 relief with water, taking a warm shower. My model Steven demonstrates showering muscles in the photo accompanying this article. This will apply heat over the muscles and allow them to flex. A third relief of water is to drink lots of it. Drinking water and staying hydrated is good prevention, but it also helpful to drink lots of water directly after a cramp. About eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily is sufficient for proper hydration.
Check your shoes
Besides water, be mindful of your footwear. The wrong footwear can cause undue stress to the calf muscles, inevitably making them prime for cramping. Make sure your shoes have good arch supports, cushioned foot inserts, and good soles.
Eating foods rich in magnesium, potassium is also important. Ensure you’re not deficient in either mineral. They aid in preventing cramps. Often, sweat, dehydration, and an increase in body temperature can cause us to become deficient in magnesium and potassium, making us susceptible to getting cramps. It’s always best to know for sure if you’re deficient through check-ups with your doctor.
You can get an easy intake of magnesium and potassium from nuts and seeds, like pumpkin, almonds, cashews, and chia. Quinoa, brown rice, barley, and wheat are other good sources of these minerals, as are avocados, almond milk, yogurt, and vitamins.
Benefits of stretching
Stretching is also something very good for preventing and dealing with cramps. In fact, regular stretching can be a deterrent to the cramps.
Stretching also comes in handy during cramps. For example, for cramps in your calves, stand in a lunging position, place one leg forward with the knee bent while the other leg is straightened behind you. Once you’ve done that, lean forward, and place your heal on the ground. You will feel a stretch in your calf while you’re doing this. For your thighs/quads, bring one heel toward your butt/glutes by lifting your foot and bending your knee. For your hamstrings, sit on the floor with your legs straightened, and lean your chest forward while keeping your knees straight.
Other ways to combat cramps is to simply walk it off or massage the muscle.
One thing’s for sure, pain can make us not want to bother with exercising altogether, especially if it’s excruciating like this. But the madness of training is that the pain can remind us exactly why we should continue exercising. When it’s over, it reminds us that our bodies are alive and functioning. It’s not exactly the hard earned pain from a good workout, but it is brought on by several factors, including physical movement.
You can rationalize my way of thinking from an old Elizabethan quote that says “’twixt truth and madness lies but a sliver of a stream.” In other words, keep an open mind. If we always look at the glass as half full, we can get the best out of any situation.
Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model manager. He can be reached at www.michaelroyshaw.com.