Your best bet to preventing exercise-associated muscle cramping:
If you had to think back to the last time you cramped during a run, most of you will have an underlying similarity – your muscles were fatigued. It’s likely that they weren’t just fatigued, but fatigued beyond what they’re used to coping with, coupled with conditions that they weren’t used to.
The majority of runners have had their most brutal cramping experiences while doing something novel such as running their first marathon, running in hot/humid conditions they haven’t trained in, or running a hillier / more technical route than before. Some other runners will have gone off too fast in the start of the race, or not adequately rested before a race… The common ground between the majority of these crampers is not actually their electrolyte/fluid levels, but rather their muscular fatigue levels and their experience coping with muscular fatigue.
So anything, internal or external, that accelerates muscular fatigue or changes your ability to tolerate fatigue more so than what you’re used to, will likely impact your risk cramping. Of course, genetics plays a role too (some people are born lucky or unlucky), but that’s a different conversation.
The problem for crampers is that to prevent cramping you can’t avoid fatigue. The point of racing is to achieve fatigue! So instead, you want to: a) delay fatigue, b) reduce the effects of fatigue, and c) tolerate fatigue better.
To do so, consider a few of our tips:
- CONDITION VULNERABLE MUSCLES
Cramping tends to effect particular muscle groups and particular movements. If you want your body to be strong at the end of a run, considering doing light hamstring work in its full range of motion right after a run (if you’re a notorious hamstring cramper).
- TRAIN SPECIFIC TO YOUR EVENT AND ITS CONDITIONS
So that your body is used to what it will face on race day.
- USE EFFECTIVE PACING
That isn’t overly ambitious too soon.
- EFFICIENT RUNNING FORM
Minimal muscular imbalances, good posture while fatigued.
- SPEED WORK LEADING UP TO A RACE
Has neural benefits that helps the muscle fire efficiently at slower paces. For very fit athletes that check all the other points, but still suffer from cramping, this can be an effective preventative tool.
- GO INTO AN EVENT RESTED & HEALTHY
Includes being hydrated (but not excessively) and having adequate electrolyte balance for normal body functioning.