Avoiding cramp when swimming at Linslade Crusaders
Cramp is a short, sharp muscle spasm which most commonly occurs at the sole of the foot, but can also occur in the calves, of some swimmers. It is usually felt after a freestyle kick or a turn. It can be relieved with a bit of stretching and massage but makes it very difficult to continue.
The exact cause of cramp is not completely understood. However, there are risk factors unique to swimming such as:
– swimming in a pool or open water where the lower leg is cooled by the water;
– assuming, because you are in water, you do not need to hydrate properly;
– using short fins, placing added stress on the muscles in the lower leg; and
– swimming with your toes pointed, holding the calf muscles in a shortened state and with your lower leg doing relatively little, then pushing off hard from the end of the pool, placing a great deal of stress on the calf and foot muscles.
These factors combine to mean swimmers tend to suffer from cramp more than in other sports, particularly in the lower leg.
While dehydration and poor diet may not directly cause cramp, they may be contributing factors, making it more likely.
(Click on below image for more information on hydration)
What has been established is that once you start to suffer from cramp you are more likely to suffer it again in future. This may be because you keep doing what caused it initially, because you are genetically pre-disposed to cramping or because it becomes a repetitive injury which is not allowed to recover.
The first thing to remember is to stay hydrated, not just with water but with electrolytes, and to eat the right things to help your body before and after training. Avoid diuretics (food or drink which promotes removal of salt and fluid from the body and can lead to dehydration) including drinks with caffeine (check what is in that sports drink!), citrus fruits and pineapple.
Secondly, stretching is vital for maintaining flexibility in your muscles. It should be included in your warm-up and warm-down for pool and land-based sessions. Going from cold muscles to full-pace swimming without a proper warm-up places a lot of stress on the body. In any swimming set we include a warm-up, so it is important your swimmer turns up on time to complete this.
Thirdly, you may wish to try drinking a source of quinine (tonic water – preferably still/flat) or eating a banana a couple of hours before a swimming session.
Specific muscle stretches
The following muscle stretches are recommended by Swim England for the individual muscles on the calf and foot – hold each stretch for two minutes in 10, 20 or 30 second intervals.
Gastrocnemius stretch – stand with one leg in front of the other and lean against a wall. Bend your front leg and keep your back leg straight with your heel on the floor until you feel the muscle stretch in the back of the lower leg between your heel and knee.
Soleus stretch – stand with one leg in front of the other and lean against a wall. Bend both knees and transfer your weight to your back leg, ensuring you keep the heel of your back leg on the floor. You should feel the muscle stretch in the back of the lower leg.
Plantar Fascia stretch – stand with one leg in front of the other with the toes of your front foot on or up against a raised platform (such as a step or a wall). Bend both knees until you feel the stretch in the sole of your front foot.
Alternative plantar fascia relief – roll your foot over a golf or hockey ball. If you find this too painful, try it in warm water to help the muscles relax more. This is a form of myofascial release…
Information on avoiding cramp when swimming for our swimmers from Linslade, Leighton Buzzard and Bedfordshire