If you exercise regularly, then chances are good you’d like to know how to prevent muscle cramps while exercising. It happens, but it doesn’t have to happen all the time if you follow these few simple tips.
If you’ve never experienced a muscle cramp, consider yourself very lucky! And, if you have, then consider yourself lucky that you’re about to learn how to prevent muscle cramps while exercising! Either way, you’re in the right place.
What is a Muscle Cramp?
Whether or not you realized it, you’ve probably experienced a muscle cramp or two. When you move, your muscles naturally alternate between contracting and relaxing. However, when these muscles involuntarily lock up, it becomes a problem. Alternatively, you may have muscle “spasms,” which are not as forceful as a “cramp.” If the spasms continue and intensify, they can lead to cramping. Cramps usually come on suddenly and are uncontrollable. Often, they’re so painful, you can’t even move.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Now that you know what a cramp is (and you may have experienced them and didn’t enjoy it), let’s discuss what causes these uncomfortable contractions.
- Medications—occasionally, medications may be the cause of muscle cramping. Talk with your doctor to see if this is one of the typical side effects of your medication. Alternatively, if your medication causes you to become dehydrated, this could cause problems with cramping as well.
- Dehydration—if you’re exercising in heat, or you’re not taking in enough fluids, you could be susceptible to cramping. When you become dehydrated, you throw off the balance of nutrients in your body, which could, in turn, contribute to muscle cramping.
- Electrolyte imbalance—sweating, sickness, and exercise are some of the things that can cause you to lose water and thus upset the delicate balance of electrolytes in your system. When this happens, you are ripe for a cramp, as well as a host of other health issues.
- Inflexibility—we all know it’s very important to stretch, but very few actually engage in regular stretching. Having muscles which are not flexible can be yet another cause of cramping.
- Overdoing it—not only is this dangerous, with repeated overuse potentially causing a host of injuries, but a severe muscle cramp may indicate that it’s time to lighten things up.
How to Prevent Muscle Cramps
So, to prevent muscle cramps in the first place, it’s a good idea to follow some of these tips:
Warm up—don’t neglect your warm-up! Warming up properly gives your muscles a heads up that you’re about to work them. It gets your circulation going and makes your muscles more pliable in preparation for exercise. You’ll be much less likely to get a cramp if you can first get in a good warm-up.
What does a good warm-up look like? Try 5 – 10 minutes of a gentle movement, like a brisk walk, some jumping jacks, maybe jump rope or a slow jog.
Supplement with vitamins and minerals—of course, rounding out your diet with the right supplements can help fill in any nutritional holes, and the better prepared your body is to replenish and renew itself, the less your chances of cramping.
Stretching—again, don’t forget to stretch and don’t skip it!! Gentle stretching helps your muscles remain pliable and flexible and helps to lengthen and loosen muscles which become shortened and tight over time.
Stay hydrated—drinking water should go without saying. But, it’s worth mentioning again, just in case you’re one of those people who doesn’t love drinking water. It’s especially important to get plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workouts, especially if you’re really sweating it out with an intense workout.
Get your potassium—getting sufficient potassium in your diet is a good way to prevent muscle cramps. Bananas, sweet potatoes, watermelon, beets, spinach, salmon, and yogurt are all wonderful sources of potassium.
Reduce stress on your muscles—it’s important to explore your limits and push yourself, but always ensure you work your way up progressively to more intense workouts. Allowing your muscles to acclimate to the increased workload over time will lessen the likelihood of them cramping.
Balance your electrolytes—your electrolytes help maintain and regulate nerve and muscle function throughout your body. This means it’s very important to keep the electrolytes (potassium, sodium and chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate) balanced by eating a healthy diet filled with whole natural and fresh foods.
Get a medical checkup—all too often, a health issue can cause the onset of muscle cramping. Several ailments, such as arthritis, diabetes, peripheral artery disease, nervous system disorders, thyroid conditions, and more, can lead to cramping.
Keep the blood flowing—bad circulation is never a good thing, and it’s double-down bad when it comes to cramping. Warming up, gently stretching your muscles, and ensuring proper circulation are very important if you want to prevent muscle cramps.
Cool downs—don’t forget your cooldown. Just as you warmed up your muscles, you also must ease off the intensity slowly. If you stop a vigorous workout abruptly, you could put yourself at risk for a muscle cramp. Try a slow walk or some gentle stretching or yoga moves to round out and finish off a solid workout to minimize the possibility of stressing your muscles to the point of cramping.