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Cramping Your Style?

You’re in the middle of your workout and suddenly…ouch! A muscle cramp—a.k.a. a charley horse—grips your calf muscle, making it impossible to do anything let alone continue your workout. Muscle cramps occur when the muscle contracts but then doesn’t relax. They can be a result of inadequate stretching, overexertion, muscular fatigue, or dehydration. Muscle cramps can occur in any skeletal muscle, but tend to happen most often in the leg and foot muscles. Lasting anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes or more, cramps are very painful—but preventable.

• Stretch. Stretch at the end of every workout. Another option is to stretch the muscle group you’re training. For instance, after a set of squats, stretch the quadriceps and hamstrings. While you’re at it, be sure to learn proper stretching techniques [link?].

• Breathe. Whether stretching, strength training, or doing yoga, some people tend to hold their breath when performing certain exercises. Be sure to breathe—preferably deep breaths whenever possible—to get as much oxygen to the muscles as you can.

• Warm-up. Surprising your muscles with a sudden high-intensity workout is sure to cause them to rebel. Take a few minutes to ease into your workout and warm the muscles up. At the end of it, cool them back down by gradually decreasing your intensity.

• Abstain. Avoid eating a large meal too close to working out. Digestion requires blood and will divert blood flow to the digestive organs rather than to the muscles, which is where you want blood flowing when you’re working out.

• Hydrate. Your muscles are mostly made of water, so it makes sense that dehydration can also cause muscle cramps. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and sip on it throughout your workout. Proper nutrition will help keep your muscles well-hydrated, too.

Should you find yourself with a muscle cramp despite your best efforts to avoid them, the main things to do are to stretch the cramping muscle and rub it out. If the cramp is in your calf muscle, try your best to walk on it, as this will help to stretch it out, as well. If the cramp is persistent try applying heat to it to help it relax and increase blood flow to the area.

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