View Full Version : Calf cramping

August 17th, 2005, 03:00 PM
I swim regularly. I swim a lot. In general, I rarely get calf cramps. (Or any cramps.)

But this past weekend I did my first open water swim (2.4 miles) and well before the first mile I started getting cramps. First in one calf, then in the other. I did pretty well to concentrate on relaxing and keeping them from knotting up too bad, but it hampered my ability to swim as hard as I would have liked. (When I gave it a shot and tried picking up the pace, the cramps started getting worse, so I just kept the best pace I could and finished it out.)

The OW swim was less than the distance I swim daily, so I can't attribute it to the distance.

But the water was colder than I am used to. (I usually swim in a pool that has temps between 82-85.) Water temp was 72. My sister suggests that this was the cause.

My wife thinks it's because I am used to swimming in a pool, and every 25 yards I get to stretch my calves on every push off.

Another participant here in PM suggested I increase my potassium intake (bananas) but I am a regular (daily) banana consumer. (Maybe I need to eat even more?) I also take calcium supplements (and multivitamin and other things.)

Without question, I am a weak kicker. I suppose I could work on strengthening my legs with more kicking workouts... Someone has suggested that I do calf raises on the edge of a step to strengthen my calves.

I'm looking for ideas about what might have caused the cramps, and what I might do to prevent them in a future event like this.

(PS: Would this have been more appropriate to post on the Open Water board?)

August 17th, 2005, 03:32 PM
when i started swimming, I used to get cramps regularly while using flutter kick, no matter how hard or how long, I always cramped after just a few kicks.
I got rid of the cramps by just increasing my strenght with calf raises and very very easy kick sets.

In your case, it was probably because of the cold water. Cramps tend to happen when you are getting cool.
Perhaps just try to get some magnesia and calcium before your swim and try to get accostumed to swimming in cold water and it might help you swimming with out a cramp.



August 17th, 2005, 04:30 PM
If I remember correctly, the number one cause of cramping is dehydration. Make sure that you always drink enough water.

August 17th, 2005, 04:31 PM
Congratulations on your first open water swim. Sorry to hear about the leg cramping.

The water temperature might be the cause, but 72 is not too bad for open water.

Maybe you can look at whatever you did different the day of the swim. If you normally drink water or a sports drink during your workout, maybe that has somethin gto do with it.

Hope you next open water experience is more fun

August 18th, 2005, 04:40 AM
I see not too many people are willing to offer their opinions so I'll put in my 2.

Cramping is all theory. The rest is mine and I am far from being any kind of expert.

I'm going to put the whole cramping thing on circulation, which also helps explain the big differences between people and the number of factors which can contribute to the cramping.

I think the theories you raised are good: colder temperature and the lack of turning in open water. Either one of these could have affected your usual circulation. Another possibility could have been the excitement or tension of doing a big open water swim, if there was any.

Cramps often occur in muscles that are not fully conditioned for the particular exercise. By not doing your usual turning in the open water, you may have been stressing your muscles in a way they weren't used to.

I am going to further guess that if you continue to do swims in the same conditions you will have fewer and fewer cramps as both your body and muscle gets acclimated to the activity. The best prevention may be just getting used to it. But it doesn't always work that way. Unfortunately, you may have to get a few more cramps to find out either way.

You are the best one to know if you might be dehydrated but I'll bet you weren't. Drinking more water might improve the circulation anyway so it can be worth a try. Personally I don't like to drink any more water than necessary for swimming and I have found I don't need very much. In the cooler water, I'm sure I wouldn't be doing much sweating.

I think other electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins (like the B's) are more likely to be factor. You eat bananas so that might push you over the edge to safety on potassium. It doesn't take much since most of us have ample potassium in our diets already.

I've had calf cramps about three times while swimming and I believe it was due to my muscles not being fully adapted at the time to the breaststroke kick. I never get cramps running or cycling tons. I have big calf muscles so a calf cramp for me is a major event. I don't know how you could have continued swimming. But I know what to do when I get a calf cramp. You pull your foot up towards your head (leg will stay straight). Use your hand if you can to dorsiflex the foot. This is especially good for nighttime calf cramps. I've done this in the pool and have fairly quickly been able to resume swimming reasonably hard after major cramps. Eventually the lingering pain dissipated.

I'm not much of a stretching expert but I do know of the stretch for calf muscles. I can't say how much this might help for cramping but you asked. If you do this stretch, be absolutely sure you do it right. Use only enough pressure so that you can feel it in the calf and only do it for at least 30 seconds at a time. Otherwise, supposedly you make things worse.
You can find picture descriptions other than this but look for the most simple ones:

If you're lucky, you will immediately try a few things and then no more cramps and you don't know what fixed it. Then advance your own theories. Other people are welcome to disagree with mine.

Karen Duggan
August 19th, 2005, 07:08 PM
The only times I get cramps in my legs are when I pull after really challenging kick sets. I never figured out why. I just figured that I traumatized my legs during the set and then didn't warm them down or stretch out. Guvnah, were you kicking a lot and then not at all? Was it a long, rugged walk to the OW swim? Just curious.

August 19th, 2005, 09:33 PM
If you don't think that swimming is dehydrating you, try this:

Weigh yourself before and after two different swims. For the first swim, drink a quart of water, and for the other, drink none. Check to see what the difference is. I find that I often lose 3-4 pounds of water in even a relatively easy 3600 yards of swimming.

August 23rd, 2005, 01:10 PM
Originally posted by Karen Duggan
Guvnah, were you kicking a lot and then not at all? Was it a long, rugged walk to the OW swim? Just curious.

I think I ended up kicking more than I normally do in a workout. Sighting (something I NEVER have had to do before) caused some extra head movement/lifting, and I can't imagine that that didn't cause me to do some extra sort of kick to compensate. Ditto "steering", because each time I saw that I was starting to drift off course I corrected my bearings and I am sure that caused some sort of extra kicking motion.

No particularly rugged walk before hand, but there was a 10 minute or so bus ride from the staging area to the swimming area. And that ride was quite a jostling, twisty-turny mini-mountain climb. And the buses were packed so I stood the whole way. I had previously considered if that was a factor, but I dismissed it. Still, now that you mention it, maybe all the effort in keeping my balance could have pre-fatigued my legs... But whether that was the case or not, I have alredy committed to myself that next year I'll get there earlier and get a seat so I don't have to stand.

February 3rd, 2006, 03:38 PM
I have noticed that the few calf and foot cramps I get seem to be associated with a pair of jammers which are just a bit tight above the knees. I've taken to wearing those tight jammers only as the backup pair when the other pair wasn't dry before leaving the house.

This past week I travelled and swam 3 times while away, each time with the tight elastic backup jammers and each time got some very noticable calf and foot cramping toward the end of modest length workouts (I'm only at about 2000-2500y workouts usually).

Anyone else notice that tight elastic, perhaps leading to decreased circulation, associated with leg cramping?

BTW - I'm a runner turned swimmer, very rare for me to get calf cramps running, at least a weekly event swimming (but now have another pair of jammers...)

Cheers de Mark W4CHL

February 4th, 2006, 03:44 PM
I have myatonia(sp). It is a side effect from taking prednisone for so long. My calve muscles constantly twitch. I feels really wild. Sometimes, the twitching is really terrible. Then I have to go to ER to get potassium IVs. Hurts like hell -burning and itching. Also I generally have a potassium problem. I take potassium and eat lots of bananas and yogurt. Some people I know need to take either calcium or magnesium for the same problem. If I understand right, cramps happen because there is either too much waste material in the muscle cell that can't escape into the artery to be excluded from the body or the muscle can'te tak in nutrients through the cell walls.

I've had EMG's, they are really odd because the noise made. Once I had a Dr. at Jewish in St. Louis give me one. He had the worst bedside manner of any doctor I've ever come across. As the electrical impulse was being shot through my leg, he had his back to me and would moan. He never looked at me. His resident did all of the measuring and putting the electrodes into my legs. The doctor would yell at him. The student got so nervous he was shaking and started to cry. They went out to the hallway. When they came back, theystudent looked like he had been hit.

Making sure that I am really well hydrated is the mst important thing I can do.

January 22nd, 2008, 09:03 PM
If I remember correctly, the number one cause of cramping is dehydration. Make sure that you always drink enough water.

I totally agree! I was plagued by this tonight while visiting a Masters swim program in Boston ... I was doing Butterfly and both calves cramped up and caused me to have to wait a number of sets before continuing. Then I had to pull for about 500 and then light kicking set them off again. I flew out today and did not drink enough water to avoid the bathroom on the plane and ended up paying for it in the water.

I am going back tomorrow fully hydrated after my work is done to bring my dignity back as I was the first person they had join them from Colorado.

If you need to hydrate fast the best way I have found is Coconut Juice which you can buy at Wholefoods or other health food stores. THis juice is high in potassium and is the first natural sports hydration drink. Juice of a Young Thai coconut is the most nutritious.

Happy Swimming

clyde hedlund
January 23rd, 2008, 03:55 AM
Hydrate with a bottle or two of defizzed tonic water, which contains quinine and sure helps.