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TOPIC: Calf Cramp with swimming

Calf Cramp with swimming 18 Jun 2014 22:21 #4309

  • cornolan
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a few people are getting cramps while swimming. I've just had quick search and come across a few things that some might be interested in reading.

Swim Cramps: What, Why & How To Deal With Them:

Cramps are the enemy of any triathlete because of their debilitating effects, whether racing or training. Traditionally people associate cramps with running, but as those who have suffered with them will testify, getting a cramp in the water is by no means fun and can be dangerous. This month expert coach Dan Bullock from Swim For Tri looks into the possible causes of cramps, how to prevent them and how to deal with them should they occur.

People often think because of my swimming background and knowledge as a coach I don’t get cramps swimming. This is not the case and recently I suffered a cramp because I had let things slip. It occurred two weeks after I’d competed in the World Masters Championships 3K open water swim. Training had been sporadic after the event and with my focus being on pure swimming over the past two months I had not been to my regular yoga class. The cramp happened following a long drive, late night and a morning coffee. I was in the pool with no dry land warm up and because I’d arrived late I had only water. After a solid 50 minutes of swimming I should not really have been surprised to get a cramp in my lower leg because I was guilty of all the key traditional things that might encourage cramp to occur.

Why Cramp Might Occur
When people come to me late into a swim practice with a cramp and ask how to reduce the incidence of cramping we usually talk about diet and hydration. Most tell me they are well up on these areas being keen fit triathletes. A few admit to possibly not drinking enough during the day especially after a lunchtime spin session that may have left them dehydrated ahead of the evening swim. Stretching, nutrition, hydration and better technique seem to be the traditional points to look at to help minimise the chances of cramp. It’s also important consider the fact that most triathletes bring tired legs to the pool from cycling and running.

Leg position in the water could also be another factor in swim related cramps. With the leg in the ideal streamlined position with the ankle flexed and toes pointing to the wall many will struggle to be completely relaxed in this position. Think ballerina on a point. While this position is ideal for front crawl kick it will take a lot of control and effort to hold the foot in this position. When working on this streamlined position athletes will feel the effort in the arch of the foot and the calf. It is these two areas where cramps strike most triathletes and this can be exacerbated when using fins or a strong push off the wall.

Biomechanics And Kick Technique
Cramping late in a session rarely used to happen when I was a pure swimmer training over many kilometres per week. This got me thinking about other possible reasons for it happening now. Back then we only used water on poolside and electrolytes weren’t on the radar. Granted I was not running or biking much at the time but with weights, plyometrics and other forms of dry land exercises I was still bringing tired legs to the pool. Nutritionist Nigel Mitchell and physiotherapist Bob Grainger from Team Sky in the cycling world wrote an article on cramping where they spoke of conditioning and biomechanics playing a key part of reducing the likelihood of cramping, as well as the usual suspects like diet, hydration and nutrition. I like this idea and it makes sense from what I witness each week. They mentioned holding a certain position for extended periods of time as a possible cause. They went on to talk about how as the season progresses their riders became fitter and incidences of cramping were reduced.

I think as triathletes undertaking swim training we can relate to these theories. As I mentioned as pure swimmers we rarely suffered cramps and this would relate to sport specific fitness and having better biomechanics like Grainger and Mitchell found with the cyclists. My swimming conditioning is not as good as it was and my pool time frequency is lower. Despite my biomechanics still being good I am probably going to struggle to maintain them for as long now.

I usually find my athletes suffer cramps towards the end of a tiring set, often when using fins, in cooler pools or after heavy run or bike days. Initially poor kicking technique can partially be to blame, especially if you’re kicking vigorously from the knee with the ankles flexed at 90 degrees. With the legs in this extremely unhydrodynamic position a lot of force is needed to try and create forwards movement.

As we improve our swim technique we rely on our legs less and this should help. The need to perform a powerful leg movement should diminish in time as the efficiency of the arms improves. Unfortunately we then need to deal with the issues that a good leg kick then provide us with. When attempting to learn a good front crawl kick it is important you do not spend hundreds of lengths with a pull buoy.

A good front crawl kick technique involves a small pendulum type swing from the hip with the legs predominantly straight with soft knees, toes pointed away from the body and ankles relaxed while keeping the movement at the feet small. It sounds simple but is an awful lot to think about and the effort to keep things relaxed will often mean exactly the opposite. Trying not to present additional and unnecessary surface area at the leg, which creates drag through kicking with a bent knee or with the ankles flexed at 90 degrees, takes effort. You want the water to flow down off the back and from under the stomach and not run into any obstructions.

Repetition and frequency are the key ways to ingrain this movement to the point that you can relax within it. Dry land exercises to supplement will help but time in the water is key. If you spend half your fitness sessions with a pull buoy between your legs you are wasting opportunities to practise correct kicking which helps to condition the legs.

Prevention And Remedy
Prior to getting into the pool a few simple exercises can help. Two good warm ups include ankle circling and rolling back and forth from your toes to heels slowly waking up the lower leg area. If the calf muscles feel exceptionally tight, or to stretch out a cramp once it has started, it’s a good idea to perform the Achilles stretch. Do this standing on the pool steps on the balls of the feet and gently lower the heels below the level of the toes. This not only gets a deep stretch into the calves and helps to get life back into the lower extremities, but can ward off further cramping. Be careful not too over do this and listen to your muscles because you will be using all your body weight when performing this stretch.

As I mentioned good swim position requires predominantly straight legs with the toes pointed. For triathletes, apart from when swimming, this is not a position the legs and feet spend much time in. Rejecting this position with a violent cramp is the body’s way of letting you know it’s not happy. Once a cramp has started it might be possible to swim through it, but this is unlikely and you may need to relax and stretch it. If you are in open water and feel a serious cramp starting remember how buoyant your wetsuit is, roll onto your back, float and try to stretch it out. In a pool it’s easy enough to get out and walk the cramp off or stretch it out. Some people finding skipping poolside works well, light jogging or deeper static stretching can prevent the onset of a severe cramp. It is a highly individual thing and you need to find what works for you. If it is significant, though, and comes back again it’s probably better to end the session.

Other Considerations
The subject of cramping often creates lengthy debates because so many things can cause or help to prevent them. Most triathletes take the sport seriously and will usually have a varied and healthy diet. That said you can’t always rule out nutrition issues because some might be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. If in doubt contact a nutritionist. Don’t just start randomly adding supplements to your diet. It is possible to sweat in the pool so hydration is not to be ignored, and like Grainger and Mitchell from Team Sky found with cycling, conditioning and biomechanics are key in the water.

Cooler temperatures can bring the cramping problem on quicker because a cold muscle is harder to keep relaxed. If you suffer cramps in the cold it might be worth starting open water swimming later in the season as temperatures rise. It is also worth looking at the design of wetsuit you have. Some have flexible textile panels for quick removal, which means they’re not as warm as those with full neoprene. This makes it easier for cold water to pass rather than warming up the water sealed inside.

There is no one best way to avoid cramps. Taking care of as many factors as possible will help to eliminate them. Beyond diet, hydration and stretching there is no substitute for good positioning and consistency in the water because of the unfamiliar legs and feet are put in. The more time you spend in this position the more you will relax in it. It’s also worth throwing in a few gentle stretches between sets and be kind to your body when you push off from the wall.

Read more at triathlete-europe.competitor.com/2012/09...#6Ve1FAqRHz8lvAbz.99

not so much swimming related:
The following user(s) said Thank You: Ronanc, anthonyf

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Re: Calf Cramp with swimming 20 Jun 2014 18:55 #4353

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Very interesting. Thanks Corrina

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