A Cramp In My Style

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Injuries and Owies, Swim, Training
Tags: , , ,
  • Long Swim – Endurance 4 (click to see stats)
  • 1900 m (50:11)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 136 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 157 bpm
  • Calories = 589

So ¾ through my swim workout this evening I fell victim to the mother of all cramps; a total seizure of the muscle from my ankle to the top of my right calf.  Needless to say that my workout was cut a bit short – only a half a kilometer to be exact – but still, what the fuck?  I’ve had minor cramping issues before, but nothing like this.  Furthermore, I’ve had no injury issues up until this point this year so this was a bit of an added wake up call.

Upon getting home I immediately began Googling ‘calf cramps’, specifically during swimming, and discovered that there may be a few issues happening with me.  I learned that the whole issue of cramping in the water may be summed up simply by the inappropriate action of plantar flexing your foot which is something we learned as children during our swimming lessons.  I remember my swimming instructor at the community pool, probably not a day over 17 herself, instructing me to “point my toes” when I kick.  Not bad instruction per se, but the problem with pointing your toes as a deliberate (or even unconscious) action, however, is that it remains the primary reason behind the cramp that many triathletes experience at swim practice. The fact of this matter is that if we simply allow our feet to flick around as we kick, the ankles will actually pull back into this correct position automatically. And even more importantly, when relaxed the toes will pull the foot back into the correct position without tension, ie correct kicking action, less energy.

Cramps (for me anyway), tend to occur after pushing off the wall and then sprinting (as was the case tonight, leaving me in the middle of the pool fighting to stay afloat while supporting my paralyzed leg).  The explosive and repeated plantar flexing action of my ankles (eg. when sprinting) can quickly sneak up on the body causing tightness and finally cramp. No fun – let me tell you!  Commonly, there are three main areas where a cramp may choose to set up shop, and it should be no wonder that all 3 of those areas pull with muscle contractions upon one other when you point your toes; the calf (most common), the arch of the foot (I’ve also experienced this), and the toes.  But regardless of where it occurs, what do I do about it as I hate the frustrating feeling of having to quit a workout for any reason.

1. Electrolyte Imbalance – Before I hopped into the pool tonight, I also completed a 45 minute spin class, participated in a 45 minute yoga session and then stayed for an extra 20 minute core session until the lane swim started.  In other words, I had already sweated out a lot of salt and water out of my body putting my electrolyte balance all off-kilter before I even started my swim workout.  Coupled with the fact that I have never been a super-hydrator at the best of times, this then could have completely engineered my ultimate Waterloo tonight in the pool.  Fortunately, the solution is relatively simple:  hydrate more, you jackass!  Okay, done.

2. Tight ankles – As I’ve never been a great kicker while swimming anyway, my range of motion in my ankle may be very limited.  But as I improve the range of movement that my ankle has, so will kicking be that much easier (I hope). In the meantime, to assist with this current lack of flexibility I can further stretch my ankle by regularly sitting on top of them (heels together).  No problem – I can add this to my regular yoga sessions.  Done.

3. Insufficient intake of magnesium – Magnesium has been used widely for clinical manifestation of muscle cramps, with good success. Research has shown that it is not just deficient individuals that benefit from supplementation; rather it has been hypothesized that everyone can benefit from its ability to stabilize cellular membranes. Magnesium is critical to cellular functioning in terms of energy production, cell reproduction, and protein formation. It is essential for energy production. Magnesium is also pivotal to maintain control of the sodium and potassium pump.  I don’t really want to have to become reliant on supplements if I can help it, however, I can increase the amount of magnesium rich foods in my diet like artichokes, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, black beans, halibut, and oat bran (God help me) among others. Worse comes to worse – I can bite the bullet and purchase an added magnesium supplement. Whatever the case, I should cognizant to consume approximately 800-1200-milligrams per day, careful not exceed that as magnesium can also cause you to develop diarrhea, and that’s a whole other world of swim issues that I don’t care to discover.


Action Plan:


1)      Drink more water. Keep a liter water bottle at my desk at work and see that it gets finished each and every day before leaving for home.  Likewise, hydrate more while exercising.

2)      Improve ankle flexibility. Add stretching out my ankles to my regular yoga sessions, or even while at home in front of the television after my long runs/rides/whatever.

3)      More magnesium.  Begin accounting for approximately 800-milligrams of magnesium into my diet.  I can add pumpkin seeds to my salads, ground almonds to my protein smoothies, have some steamed broccoli for afternoon snacks, etc.


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