If we had a nickel for every time someone asked us how to prevent muscle cramps…
Most of what we hear about how to prevent muscle cramps centers around electrolytes, salt tablets, hydration…all things to consume.
While these do play a big role in preventing and undoing these cramps, there’s actually a lot more that we can control on our end, as the runner.
A marathon is 26.2 miles of putting one foot in front of the other, without much change in body position.
While many of us start the race with great, upright posture and a steady foot strike, we don’t always finish that way.
Muscle cramps can creep up when your form falls apart.
Hamstrings, quads and calves tend to take the fall first.
But, why them?
The hamstrings and quads should always be working together when you run.
Especially in a marathon, one or the other cannot physically handle the work alone.
The Hamstrings cramp when:
The Quads cramp when:
The Calves cramp when:
Like we said before, the heat, hydration and electrolyte imbalances all play a role in keeping those muscle cramps at bay.
However, here are 3 mechanical things you have total control over and can use during your race.
Oxygen fuels the muscles just as much as our hydration and calorie intake.
As we get tired, our breathing tends to stay in our chest and shoulders.
To dial in that deeper breathing through the diaphragm, we can take 5-10 deep nose breaths (close the mouth) every 30 minutes or so.
These breaths will wake up the diaphragm for a more supported hip position as well as allow more oxygen to get to the muscles.
Breathing deeper will also help you to relax.
Speaking of relaxing…
In a long race, it’s very common to get stuck with those shoulders squeezed up to the ears, the arms bent tight to our sides, and little to no arm swing helping us drive the legs.
To undo this, take a few steps to shake the arms and shoulders out, maybe even raising the arms up above your head.
This will help reset your arm swing, which will in turn reset the power in your stride.
Cramps tend to creep in when we’re overextended in our stride.
The further the foot reaches out, the more the body has to do to keep up.
Try drawing your focus to pulling the feet off the ground, using the hamstrings.
Picking the feet up a little higher will turn on the hamstrings and glutes, allowing the hips to drive forward again.
For more help on the pulling technique, check this out.
The key in how to prevent to muscle cramps is focusing on what you do have control over. Give these 3 strategies a try the next time you’re suffering through the second half of a race.