How To Prevent Muscle Cramps During Your Marathon

If we had a nickel for every time someone asked us how to prevent muscle cramps…

How To Prevent Muscle Cramps: What Causes Them In The First Place?


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?

How To Prevent Muscle Cramps: Learn How To Hang Onto Good Form

how to prevent cramps

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 upper body rounds forward.
  • The low back sinks into a default arch (anterior pelvic tilt).
  • The hips sink back.
  • The glutes turn off.
  • The hamstrings are left to drive the stride alone.

The Quads cramp when: 

  • The foot strike becomes a shuffle.
  • The cadence becomes heavy.
  • The hamstrings aren’t working to pick the feet up off the ground.
  • The feet are spending more time pounding into the ground than they are lifting off of it.
  • The quads (both lateral and medial aspects) take all the impact.

The Calves cramp when: 

  • The hips are no longer pushing forward.
  • The hamstrings stop working to pull the feet off the ground.
  • The cadence slows down.
  • The feet begin landing in all kinds of varying positions.
  • The calves are left to figure out how to absorb the impact.

How To Prevent Muscle Cramps: 3 Strategies To Use During Your Race

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.


running cramps

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…

Relax The Upper Body

how to prevent cramps when running

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.

Shorten Your Stride

how to prevent cramps while running

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.

how to avoid cramps when running

Looking for more ways to crush your next marathon? Enjoy a comprehensive marathon training guide, designed just for you!