Cramps, stitches, charlie horses... There are a bunch of names.
Muscle spasms ruin your workout, hinder your performance at a powerlifting competition, and are just literally a pain in the butt. If you've had to deal with full body cramping, you understand the pain. The unforgivable pain you wake up to in the middle of the night when your calf feels like it is ripping out.
Related - The Best Rep Range for Muscle Growth
Our calves, hamstrings, quads, abs, and even our arms are the most prone to cramping.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help prevent cramps. If you are already cramping, we have some tips to help treat them.
Let's get into it.
Why Do Cramps Happen?
No matter what you call them, a muscle cramp is a strong and painful involuntary contraction or tightening of a muscle. These often occur in our legs and it sucks.
Cramps happen usually due to prolonged physical labor or activity, especially in hotter weather.
While some cramps come from medications and you have no control over that, there are plenty of things you can try to prevent cramps and stop them in their tracks.
While cramps are harmless, there may be an underlying medical condition making you cramp. Some of those include:
Poor circulation - Your arteries in your legs narrow and the delivery of blood to your legs are slowed. This generally goes away after you stop exercising. Look into some compression socks or ask your doctor ways you can improve your circulation.
Nerve compression - Nerves in your spine get compressed and can feel like a cramp in your legs. Generally, the longer you walk, the worse it feels. Look into a chiropractor or an inversion table to help loosen the area around the compression.
Mineral depletion - One of the most common reasons we cramp, having too little potassium, calcium, or magnesium in your diet will make you cramp. Taking a diuretic such as a high blood pressure pill also will deplete these minerals.
How Do You Prevent Cramps?
So now that we know what a cramp is and why it happens, let's see how we can prevent them in the first place.
First and foremost, drink plenty of water. Even a slight dehydration can cause muscle spasms. I would put money on it that a majority of us go around slightly dehydrated. This leads to lethargy, and other performance hindering symptoms.
Electrolytes. Get some electrolytes in your system. Electrolytes control many bodily functions. We need to consistently manage our electrolytes, not try to "catch them up." Drink a sports drink with electrolytes, drink some pickle juice, or eat a banana.
Try a multivitamin. Using a multivitamin will boost our magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, D, and E. While these don't directly affect if you cramp or not, keeping up on these will help decrease the likelihood and ease the pain.
Warm up, cool down. Spend time to warm up and cool down properly. Getting your body temperature up, your nervous system ready, and your muscles prepared for activity is important to maintaining your cramps. Move before and after you train for optimal performance. This is also called active recovery.
What Do You Do If You Are Already Cramping?
So you went and sweat out all of your electrolytes and you haven't properly rehydrated... It happens to all of us. So you're dealing with cramps and wondering what you can do to stop them, right?
The first thing you should do is start rehydrating and replenish your electrolytes. You need to maintain electrolyte intake throughout the day; eating a variety of fruits and veggies will help keep your nutrients up.
Stretch the area next. Help the muscle relax and the death grip it has on you will let up. Stretch, foam roll, or treat yourself to a nice massage.
The last thing you should try if nothing else helps is to grab some anti-inflammatory medication. Always check with your doctor before you take any medication.
Wrapping It Up
Everyone gets cramps. The actions you take before and after your physical activity will dictate the likelihood of you getting them.
Keep drinking water, replenish your electrolytes consistently, and eat a variety of nutritious foods.
Try supplementing your diet with a nice multivitamin and be sure to move around before and after your workout so your blood will shuttle needed nutrients to the muscles.
If you're already cramping and need to stay in the game, drink some pickle juice. A wise man once had me eat some pickles and drink some juice at my first powerlifting meet, and it helped within minutes.
Stretch the area cramping and try to relax. Lastly, try some anti-inflammatory meds to fight off those intolerable cramps.
If you follow these tips and still have cramps, please do yourself a favor and get it checked out. There could be some medical complications that could impact your heart. You know, your heart is a muscle too.