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Why Do You Get Cramps While Running and How to Prevent Them?

Cramps in a broad sense include stomach cramps, side cramps (under the ribs) and muscle cramps. When runners generally refer to cramps, they mostly refer to skeletal and smooth muscles, and spontaneous muscle tonic contractions (EAMC, Exercise-associated muscle cramping).

Mainly focusing on cramps during exercise, let’s talk about the causes of cramps, how to avoid them, how to deal with cramps during exercise, and daily preventive training for cramps——

See the essence through the phenomenon, what exactly is cramps?

When cramps occur, there is a reflex failure between the muscles and the spinal cord. The neural mechanism that should inhibit muscle contraction is inhibited, and over-excited motor neurons continue to stimulate the muscles to produce tonic contractions. The result is severe and sustained involuntary twitching of local muscles in the body.

Analysis of the electromyogram when cramps occur shows increased muscle spindle activity and decreased Golgi tendon activity. In short, abnormal reflex activity is present.

There is no conclusive pathological mechanism and scientific evidence regarding the cause of exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC). There are currently several main hypotheses for the reasons:

Pathological metabolic abnormalities. Congenital metabolic abnormalities lead to cramps during exercise, which is a type of pathological cramps;

Abnormal fluid balance. The main reason is dehydration after strenuous physical exercise;

Abnormal serum electrolyte concentrations. After prolonged exercise, the body loses a lot of electrolytes;

Overload fatigue cramps. Muscle fatigue cramps occur when the intensity exceeds the muscle load capacity (such as excessive range of motion/excessive exercise time);

environmental factors. Abnormal body muscles caused by extreme cold and hot environments;

In addition, in recent years, more studies have found that during motion capture under high-speed cameras, many runners have not made good use of certain muscle groups that should be more “involved in work”, and this part of the work has to be allocated to other muscle groups. Compensate – This can also cause problems in those overworked muscle groups, which then cramp.

This was often overlooked in the past.

Including many analyzes based on amateur runners, leg muscle problems often originate from the sciatic nerve. A large number of long periods of sitting and various daily bad postures make the leg muscles overly tight, and exercise becomes the trigger for cramps.

So if you have been experiencing cramps in your calf muscles while running, the problem may not necessarily be in the calf muscles. It may also be that the hip muscles have not completed their work and the hip joints are not stretched enough. The calf muscles have to be stimulated harder and unconsciously. To make amends.

Runners who have sufficient supplies and training volume especially need to check whether cramps are caused by such poor exercise posture.

How to prevent/avoid cramps

When many people mention exercise cramps, they attribute it to an imbalance in serum electrolyte concentration or a lack of water. However, in recent years, more and more analyzes have shown that cramps and electrolytes may not be directly related.

Nonetheless, we still recommend that athletes of all levels should ensure sufficient and appropriate intake of nutrients and fluids before exercising. And even if the direct cause of cramps is not an electrolyte imbalance, taking in electrolytes during exercise can still have the effect of reducing muscle cramp susceptibility.

The more intense the run, the longer you need to warm up and stretch before exercise. In addition to increasing the heart rate and heating the muscles to a certain temperature, it also relaxes the muscles from tightness to a state of elasticity and readiness for exercise to cope with the load that needs to be endured later.

Compared with “regular stretching habits” and “never stretching”, cramps are more likely to occur in people who rarely stretch but often overstretch before and after competitions – this is also recommended to try to use the best of your body. Enter the game in an adaptive/accustomed way. Stretching movements that have not been tried before will become uncontrollable factors when the muscles are uncomfortable.

The solution to this is to do it more slowly and with smaller amplitudes, but with more sets and longer periods of time (adding 5-10 seconds to each set of static stretches) to allow the muscles to slowly adapt.

Don’t try to mobilize muscle groups that are rarely used in the past at high intensity (long time, high pace). For example, choose to change your running posture during long-distance training and speed training. Don’t increase your stride too exaggeratedly when running downhill. . This is equivalent to putting the weakest muscle group into sudden heavy load exercise.

——Correspondingly, if you need to adjust your running posture during running, after daily low-intensity aerobic jogging, do a few groups of stride training of about 100 meters (not pursuing speed, focusing on fine-tuning the running posture), which can help. You find the feeling of improving your running efficiency.

Usually, the pace of most marathon runners is within the intensity range of E (aerobic jogging) ~ M (marathon pace). This pace often places lower demands on muscles than other intensity training/off-speed running, which can lead to cramping. Most of the time it occurs because of insufficient training.

You can try to arrange long-distance LSD training 2-3 times a month to allow your body to adapt to the intensity of lower pace but longer exercise time. LSD can be measured in distance or time –

For full marathon runners, LSD is usually between 26-35 kilometers, or 150 minutes (one of which is sufficient);

For half-marathon runners, LSD is usually between 18-25 kilometers, or 120-150 minutes (one of the above can also be met);

For ten-kilometer runners, 15-20 kilometers can be considered long-distance training.

In addition to running, the training plan also arranges 2-3 training sessions per week specifically focusing on body flexibility and muscle strength.

In a race like a marathon, try to reduce excessive physical behaviors in the middle and later stages, such as exaggerated jumping in front of photographers. At this time, the body is tired and muscle endurance is at a low level, and large movements can easily lead to cramps.

If you experience cramps while running, follow these steps to deal with them

Stop and move slowly to a stable object on the side of the road;

Perform static stretching for the muscles in the cramped area. As mentioned earlier, when analyzing the electromyogram during the onset of cramps, muscle spindle activity increases and Golgi tendon activity decreases. Static stretching can restart the operation of the Golgi tendon to relieve spasm and reduce muscle tonic contraction;

Compared with stretching of 20-30 seconds per group before and after exercise, the static stretching time at this time can be slightly longer, 30-60 seconds;

Stretching is not limited to the cramped muscles. If possible, stretch all small muscle groups such as the calves/thighs/buttocks and soles of the feet that have cramping symptoms. Don’t worry about wasting time, it’s more important to avoid repeated stretches later;

During stretching and relaxation, you can consider taking small sips of drinks, or fruits such as bananas, tomatoes, and oranges;

Compared with drinks and fruits, energy gels, electrolyte salt pills, etc. specifically for endurance sports are often higher in content and absorption rate (remember that energy gels, etc. need to be swallowed with 150-250ml of liquid).

If after 5-10 minutes of stretching and resting, there is still obvious tension in the cramped area and you are unable to run in a normal posture, then you should seriously consider ending the training or quitting the race. Persistence will only put the body into a more dangerous situation and cause injuries. At this time, we still need to make rational choices, and don’t be brave because of “chicken blood and chicken soup”. After all, it is ourselves who are injured, and our family members who are in trouble.