Getting a muscle cramp can put a real, well, cramp in your workout – not to mention your day. Luckily, with a few simple strategies, you can reduce your chances of getting one.
1. Stay hydrated.
Staying well hydrated is a good idea in general, but really effective in preventing muscle cramps. Drinking too few or too many fluids can mess with the electrolyte balance in our bodies and lead to cramping. It’s best to drink consistently throughout the day, aiming to urinate every three to four hours (your urine should be light in color). If you’re training especially hard or the weather is warm or the climate is dry, increase your fluid intake.
2. Get enough salt.
Electrolytes, including sodium, control the fluids moving in and out of our cells. We lose sodium when we sweat, and when we drink a lot of water. This can lead to hyponatremia, or dangerously low blood sodium levels. This is common during endurance exercise and in hot weather. When the concentration of sodium in the blood decreases, cramps can result. If you’re prone to cramps, try a high-sodium sports drink or eat salty food, such as pretzels, as a workout snack.
Cramping can happen when small nerves in our muscles get tired. Plyometrics, or jumping drills, can help to keep these nerves in the muscles from getting fatigued. Incorporate plyometrics at the end of your workouts a few times a week to keep the cramps at bay. Watch this video for jumping and hopping exercises that can help keep your muscle spindles from seizing up.
4. Stretch your muscles.
Stretching your muscles before and after you use them may help prevent cramps. Stretch before bedtime if you often have leg cramps at night – or consider doing some light exercise, like riding a stationary bike, for a few minutes before you go to bed. If cramping has already begun, moving the muscles is a good idea. Walk around, shake your legs or rub your muscles to ease cramps.
5. Do more difficult workouts.
If you’ve ever experienced a cramp during a race or a pickup game that’s beyond your usual level of fitness, it’s probably because you pushed your body harder than you normally do, putting a stronger force of contraction on your muscles. This is when muscles can start protective spasms. By taking your weight training and cardiovascular intervals to the next level, you’ll get your body used to higher levels of stress, and it will be less likely to cramp up on you on when you do other moves at that level. For example, if you’re training for a race, be sure to train at the pace you plan to race – this includes progression runs and fast finish runs. Doing so will increase your fitness level and prevent your body from cramping up during your race.
While these tips can help you to experience fewer muscle cramps, they still can happen. If you get a cramp, stay calm, breathe deeply, walk around and stretch it out. Back off from the exercise you’re doing and take the time to alleviate the cramp before returning to your workout.