You're in the middle of your squat reps — weight in hand — and just like that, a charley horse causes your calf muscle to go rogue. When this type of muscle spasm or cramp hits, there is no mistaking what's going down. The pain doesn't usually last longer than a few minutes, but it's often instant, out of your control, and very uncomfortable.
There is no definitive answer as to what triggers muscle spasms. Still, Dan Giordano, DPT, CSCS, and the co-founder of Bespoke Treatments, says they usually occur from a lack of warming up before workouts, overuse of muscles, dehydration, poor circulation, and poor nutrition, like an electrolyte deficiency.
Muscle spasms can occur anywhere, but the lower extremities are most commonly inflicted, Giordano adds — which brings us back to that rogue calf. He stresses the importance of stopping what you're doing immediately (especially during a workout!) to avoid further injuries before following his tips.
"Simply hold a gentle stretch until it resolves. Do not forcefully stretch, as that may cause more pain. A light massage to the muscle area of the cramp may also help."
And always remember to speak to a doctor when experiencing pain — especially if your muscle spasms occur often and are accompanied by shooting nerve pain and numbness.
Taking preventative measures could help decrease your chances of getting muscle spasms, too. Giordano suggests warming up with dynamic stretches before exercising, drinking plenty of water, managing your fitness workload, and cooling down after sweat sessions.
But sometimes we have to accept that charley horses are just going to happen. Remember to stay calm, practice safety around heavy weights and workout equipment, stretch, and massage. It'll all be over soon.