Can we talk cramp triggers again please

TheSwimmingBrickTheSwimmingBrick Auckland New ZealandMember

Greetings from NZ.

As a newbie in your cyber world I apologise in advance if cramp has been done to death on here but my searches show a mix of threads on the subject.

So you suffer, if so how, and what do you do for it. Also, what triggers it.

Personally, I can't seem to place any consistency on my cramp sessions. The only regularity is the physical places I suffer from it, which is typically calf, feet and toes - pretty standard stuff. Temperature has no bearing on it.

The reason I inquire is that I believe to the best of my ability I have crossed the usual suspects of the list. Hydrated, magnesium, sodium, potassium - all the boxes ticked. I train my calves weekly in the gym and have fairly good strength and endurance in them.

Sometimes I'm great for 10km, other times, when to the best of my ability I have had the same build up, the cramps set in at 2-3km. In most cases I can stop, and do a series of contortions and twists in water that resemble a seal having a fit to relieve myself, and then continue. Rarely, but occasionally, it ends my swim.

I've had a few back ops and issues over the years from sport ( fusion, laminectomy, discectomy etc ) and was wondering if this is potentially more the cause than any mineral or fluid deficiency.

Thanks in advance and smooth strokes!

[Deleted User]Pasquale


  • jendutjendut Charter Member

    Try not to point your toes while you swim! Flop/flex the ankle is ok but try not to have tension in your feet...

  • SoloSolo B.C. CanadaMember

    I get calf cramps from sustained kicking. Have learned to just stick with a 2 beat kick. If I use my foam roller faithfully every day, I notice less cramping while swimming.

  • TheSwimmingBrickTheSwimmingBrick Auckland New ZealandMember

    Thanks. I haven't really played with my feet angles before being loathe to do anything that may drag me anymore than my deficiencies already do. I will play with it, regards SImon

  • BridgetBridget New York StateMember

    Hi there-- I also get cramps in my feet and calves, not quite as extreme as you seem to be dealing with, but I would like to share some of the things I do, just in case. As has been mentioned, while kicking, keep your ankles soft and let your feet go floppy. I tell my beginners that feet know how to swim, and we can often ignore them. ;-) In the course of your strength and endurance training, are you working on flexibility? I try to extend my feet WITHOUT pointing my toes- in fact, if I'm doing stretches (and not super rubber bandy stretches), I keep my toes flexed so my feet look like those Barbie doll feet that are made for high heels. This prevents my feet from cramping during stretches. I work on getting my feet to extend as much as possible but without just pointing them. I will hold a foot and manually extend it, or kneel and let the tops of my feet lie flat on the floor. Any extension of my feet during kicking is from water pressure on the tops of my feet.

    While swimming, if I feel cramps coming on, I can usually keep them from getting horrible by slowing my kick, wiggling my toes, and even doing a one legged kick while flexing the other foot (or affected foot, if only one side is cramping). For me, bananas help. I realize that at times, a placebo effect is likely to blame/credit, but I don't care. I feel better so I eat the banana. ;-) I am ignoring any scientific proof that the banana will not cure a cramp within minutes. (LA LA LA LA LA. I can't hear you.) While this is not the most efficient way to propel myself through the water, I remind myself that swimming is more upper body than kick. I have occasionally needed up to an hour to work out leg cramps while swimming. As you noted, there is not always a direct rhyme or reason. Good luck! :-)

  • TheSwimmingBrickTheSwimmingBrick Auckland New ZealandMember

    Hey Bridget I appreciate the time to compose that, and it all made sense. The one legged kick comment made me smile, as its a technique I often revert to when the cramps are just coming on, but not yet full blown.

    The flexibility is something I just have to make time for and at present I cut that corner in the gym. I'll definitely give it a go.

    ps. Aren't bananas just the best super food!

  • SpacemanspiffSpacemanspiff Dallas, TexasSenior Member

    Tums. The magic bullet.

    I'd guess I used to cramp 100% of swims over 4 hours, without Tums. With Tums, I still cramp sometimes, but I just chew another Tums and the cramps dissipate fairly quickly.

    Before Tums, I'd tried electrolytes, hydration, potassium, pickle juice. I think all of these had some benefit, especially the pickle juice. But Tums are magical. I can't recall them not working.

    I chew 3-4 of them pre-swim, then perhaps two more every 4 hours or as needed. I put them in tiny baggies that hold 2 and keep them in my kayak kit.

    I kick as little as possible when swimming, just what is needed for buoyancy and balance. Not propulsion.


    "Lights go out and I can't be saved
    Tides that I tried to swim against
    Have brought be down upon my knees
    Oh I beg, I beg and plead..."

  • TheSwimmingBrickTheSwimmingBrick Auckland New ZealandMember

    SPS thanks for that. I had to google the product as we don't have it down here and I see its a general antacid. I am in Colorado chasing snow in a couple of weeks so will pick up some there and give them a try as I plan a few good swims in the Aspen pool. Thankyou for your advice.

  • malinakamalinaka Seattle, WACharter Member

    Some anecdotes on this subject that may or may not have any sciencey logic to them:

    Long ago, when I was both training a lot and on a low-carb diet (stifle those laughs!), I found my first practice of the week went fine, halfway through the second I'd get bad leg cramps, and the third workout ended during warm up due to cramping. No amount if stretching seemed to help. After a carb-heavy weekend, the pattern reset. This happened for a few weeks. If nothing else, this perceived link between carbs and cramps convinced me to drop the donut-free lifestyle.

    After long swims, my hip flexors would cramp badly (regardless of temperatures, but worse in the cold). I found salvation in some combination of regular open water training and changing to a standing-desk at work. Both I imagine provided some long-term stretching and strengthening that flipping in a pool cannot offer.


    I don't wear a wetsuit; it gives the ocean a sporting chance.

  • KarenTKarenT Charter Member

    Another vote here for the standing desk. I work standing for about 50% of the time, and it's made a huge difference to posture, flexibility and in limiting cramps.

    As an aside, I went on a writing training course two years ago which included a (completely gratuitous) lecture on the dangers of sedentariness, being fat, blah, blah, blah. Every time a picture of a chair was included on any of the slides, or any of the lecturers said the word "chair", we were all supposed to shout out the word "EVIL". At the end, we were told to stand up, turn around, point to our chairs and chant "EVIL" at them. It was something of a career low-point.

    But anti-chair zealotry aside, a standing desk can help and is worth a try.

  • cwerhanecwerhane Portland Oregon Member

    I suffered from compartment syndrome related to that evil sport of running. It in fact got me hooked into OW since I could not push off a wall without severe pain. As I swam OW with this injury, I became very in tune with my calf becoming tighter and tighter. I learned how to recognize it, then relax the muscle as I swam. Sometimes this meant flexing my foot, other times just noticing it was enough. I have never gotten a cramp since. Awareness and slight changes in foot position or relaxation are my magic weapon.

  • TheSwimmingBrickTheSwimmingBrick Auckland New ZealandMember

    Folks thanks for your comments based on great insight and experience and the time to help a complete stranger. I usually do get some warning before a full blown lock up so will concentrate on this phase rather than mineral deficiencies. I just wish there wasn't so much consistency in the inconsistency......

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    My cramp trigger is always the same...... a long car or plane journey too close to a swim. I now make sure I get to my long swim destination a few days ahead of time and spend much of the lead-up time walking and drinking loads of water. The odd magnesium tablet doesn't go amiss, too.

  • swimrn62swimrn62 NY, NYMember

    That's interesting @KatieBun. I never had a problem with cramping (that wasn't quickly solved by relaxing) before 20 Bridges last year, but your response reminds me that I drove to and from Maine, about 9 hours each way, less than 10 days before the swim; I got home 2 days before. I never made that connection, if there is one. It's confusing. I've driven or flown in a day or two before several shorter swims ,10k - 10 miles, and never had an issue. Looking at your profile, I'm guessing you're talking about getting in a few days early for 20 Bridges or Channel length swims?

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    swimrn62 said:
    That's interesting @KatieBun. I never had a problem with cramping (that wasn't quickly solved by relaxing) before 20 Bridges last year, but your response reminds me that I drove to and from Maine, about 9 hours each way, less than 10 days before the swim; I got home 2 days before. I never made that connection, if there is one. It's confusing. I've driven or flown in a day or two before several shorter swims ,10k - 10 miles, and never had an issue. Looking at your profile, I'm guessing you're talking about getting in a few days early for 20 Bridges or Channel length swims?

    Yup, although I've even found it for the 6.5k Brownsea Island swim in Dorset, UK, after travelling there, (a 2 hour drive) on the morning of the swim. Any very sedentary days in the run up to a big swim are likely to induce cramp, in my own experience. I've signed up to 20 Bridges on 30th June 2018, so I'm flying in on 25th and will be doing a fair bit of exercise before the weekend. I have no idea if there is a connection for anybody else. It just seems to be one of my triggers. I also find that I get pain in my hip flexors and quads in the first 2-3 hours of a marathon.... but I put this down to tension, as it seems to fade once I relax and zone into the swim. Flew into LA on 22nd for Catalina on 28th September and walked every day.

  • swimrn62swimrn62 NY, NYMember

    Thanks, interesting. I seems I'll be in NYC for Labor Day for the first time in years! Enjoy 20 Bridges, I'll be on the water that day in some capacity. If you're interested and it's convenient for you, I can get a pool pass if you'd enjoy a swim. Pool is in the East 90s. It's a lovely 50m pool with steam, sauna.

  • KatieBunKatieBun CornwallSenior Member

    Thanks for the extremely kind offer. I'll keep in touch.

  • BogdanZBogdanZ Bucharest, RomaniaMember

    Hi! I fight cramps, that ussualy occur in femural biceps and the calf by taking magnesium and hydration.
    I increase my dose of magnesium with 1 week before the big effort. In the morning of the effort I take the daily pills and for effort longer than 4-5 hours, I take another dose.
    About hydration, I avoid getting tons of drinks the 1-2 days before the D day, as it might wash the minerals.
    When a cramps feels closing by, I ussualy change my kicking with a focus on the other foot. If it's on both feet (it happened), i focus more on arms pull.

  • Kate_AlexanderKate_Alexander Spring Lake, MichiganMember

    I've had serious problems with calf and foot and toe cramps. For me, the trigger is swimming 'too hard', specifically being 'out of breath.' The solution is backing off and slowing down until I 'catch my breath.' But the problem is that my arms/muscles are stronger or more conditioned than my breathing. So I'm not really going that hard or fast when the cramps start, so when I slow down, I'm going really really slowly. Very frustrating. Said another way, I don't really feel out of breath when the cramps start. I've tried everything including pickle juice and nothing has cured my problem with cramps. I haven't tried the antacid tablets yet, that's a new one to me. I sure hope it works.

    On one long training swim, I had no cramps at all. I had had sushi the night before. I thought maybe that was the cure. So I tried it several more times and found good success - when I ate sushi (California rolls with soy cause) the night before, I had no cramps the next day. This cure only lasted a few months tho and the cramps eventually returned in spite of the sushi treatment. (sigh)

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