Believe it or not, no one can definitively explain the cause of muscle cramps. Unfortunately many endurance athletes are eager to know why cramps occur and how to prevent them. There are several plausible theories on what causes these debilitating involuntary spasms of muscles including: excessive heat, dehydration, and the loss of electrolytes, to muscle fatigue, insufficient training, and poor stretching habits. A new theory points the blame to the interplay between muscles and nerves.
- Stretching: Pay extra attention to the muscles that cramp. Stretch them gently but thoroughly. Experiment with PNF stretching, where you contract the muscle prior to stretching; you might find it more effective.
- Train appropriately: Being under trained, especially for marathons, can overwhelm your muscles making you susceptible to cramps.
- Sip a sports drink: Even though the jury is still out on the connection between dehydration and cramping, you should stay well hydrated while running. Plus, regular sips of a sports drink can likely decrease the severity of your cramp should one occur. Make sure your fluid of choice contains electrolytes since these salts may help prevent cramps.
- Try some plyo: Plyometrics training, full of leaping, hopping, or skipping drills, can improve muscle-nerve coordination, strength, and help loosen tight muscles.
If you are planning on racing in the near future, plan ahead and train to avoid cramping!