calf cramps while swimming

my calf muscle cramped up badly this week end. I suspect it was due to the cold water as I'm pretty comfortable doing the distance. Are there any go ways to try and get rid of it while in the water? I swam on my back a bit and did some breaststroke which helped and I was able to carry on for a while and then had to repeat. Managed to finish the swim.


  • Leg straight, heels down, point your toes and wiggle them. It won't be comfortable but it will rid it. Also eat a banana before your swim that's meant to help.
  • In my experience, calf cramps have waaay more to do w foot position and relaxedness( is that a word?) than bananas or hydration or anything else. I see it more in men than women and more often in runners or tri-athletes and in people that stop and start, ie going veritical more often.
    Keep the foot "floppy" yet focussed without actually "pointing the toes". When and if you have to stop, try to do so in a relaxed and direct manner rather than a herky jerky one.
    When I have gotten a slight cramp, rather than stopping and trying to get it to go away, I "let go" from my hips down to my toesies. Just absolutely relax the whole leg. Anywhoo... that's what works for me.
  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    I almost never get calf cramps in open water, for me the trigger is almost always pushing off the wall in a pool. When I do cramp I just keep swimming and try and relax my legs as much as possible (though it does tend to kill my body rotation) and it normally passes shortly. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • ttriventtriven Senior Member
    Cold water can trigger cramps for me. I struggle with cramps a lot. I have tried everything, and the problem is slowly going away. When I feel a cramp coming on, I flex my foot at the bottom of the kick. This helps a lot. It also acts like a complete drag, but it's faster than breaststroke, which uses the same flexed movement. Other things that seem to help are drinking more water throughout the day, taking Cal + Mag every night before bed, and stretching my feet and my calves regularly, and increasing general fitness. You can carry a "gu" in your suit pretty easily in case of emergency, or to take before you get a cramp. I have been drinking and taking gu at 30 min and 60 min of a 90 min workout, and that helps. Slowly backing off the gu in workouts now that the cramps are more under control.
  • +1 on drinking more water. Staying hydrated helps me.

    +1 also on this being more of a runner problem. I run 80-100 miles per month, which I'm sure doesn't help things. :(
  • For me it's exactly like @dc_in_sf, I also only tend to get cramps when pushing off the wall and relaxing my legs makes it go away. I've also found that wiggling my toes also makes the cramp go away faster.
  • GruntorGruntor MelbourneMember
    Hi Mongoose, as a longtime sufferer of cramps in my legs, whether swimming, surfing, or spearfishing, I have 4 observations about my experience trying to figure this out:
    1. Hydration and stretching don't play a role for me in reducing cramps. Most people will tell you a cramp occurs due to dehydration, it might, but I personally don't think this explains it.
    2. I take a magnesium supplement about 1 hour before swimming and this has made a massive difference for me. I have not had any upset stomach problems or other side effects. I generally don't suffer leg cramps when I swim now.
    3. Pushing off hard from the wall or hard kicking will tire my calf and a cramp will come on eventually. So I have to moderate how hard I push off, and how I use my calf muscles. I also have to try get stronger through time. My personal theory is that muscle fatigue is the biggest contributor to cramps.
    4. Keeping a relaxed position with your legs, calves, foot and toes is not easy as it sounds. In an effort to maintain good body position and balance, with toes pointed, yet relaxed, I actually keep my left leg slightly tensed up without realising it. This takes a toll on me after a while and can lead to a cramp.

    After doing lots of research on this topic I haven't found anything that really explains leg cramps in swimming with a lot of scientific research backing it up. Anyways, I hope my personal observations above might help.

  • GruntorGruntor MelbourneMember
    I did read an article recently in H2Open Magazine by Sue Crabtree that was quite good. It actually was based on a reasonable experiment about dehydration and cramps.

    This is a snippet from Sue's article:
    "In a recent study, reported in the journal ‘Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise’, cramp was induced electrically in the toes of 10 healthy male college students. The group then cycled on one leg until dehydration set in* – following which, their toes were made to cramp again. If dehydration was the underlying cause of cramping, then it was expected that less electrical stimulation would be required to induce cramping when the men were dehydrated. However, contrary to expectations, the same amount of stimulation was needed to induce cramping after dehydration as had been required at the beginning of exercise."

    See more at:

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    I have a friend who swears his calf cramps are related to caffeine intake. I don't know if it's scientific or not, but as a really infrequent drinker of caffeine, I have noticed that I tend toward more cramping if I've had an afternoon tea. Something to think about?
  • smithsmith Huntsville, AlabamaSenior Member
    edited November 2013
    A former training partner complained about calf cramps after he did Big Shoulders a few years ago. He's a warm water swimmer, and the water was unusually cold that year for him (62-63). He said he did drink coffee before the race. I suggested that the coffee might've dehydrated him. He was somewhat unconvinced.

    I experienced severe thigh and hamstring cramping (not a pulled hamstring....just full cramping) in an 8 kilometer swim less than two months ago. Thighs started twitching about 1 mile in, and then gradually morphed into cramping. Never went to the calves. Had to alternate a lot of light freestyle/backstroke to get in safely. Both thighs completely seized for a few seconds when I did a few breastroke kicks. Never experienced cramping in a race before. I did have decaf about 2 hours before the race, which actually has trace caffeine (maybe 15-20mg), but I was fully hydrated by the time the race started. I tend to think it was weight-related. I was 188 for the same 8K race in 2012 (I'm 6'). I knocked off some weight earlier this year, and was 178 in early August for an untapered 13K. I swam very well that day. I thought I might create more speed by coming down a bit more in weight. I was 172 for the 8K this year, which proved to be too light. My repeats prior to the race were very fast (for me), but I felt sluggish. On the day of the race, I felt pretty good...superficially speaking. In the water, however, I had nothing.

    Keep moving forward.

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member
    Almost every long swim I have done has involved getting up obscenely early, which for me is only possible if I consume vast quantities of coffee. My feeds also contain caffeine. I have never cramped on a long open water swim.

    that all said I may be a caffeine addict, so my tolerance may be higher. - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

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