Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cramping - I've said it before & I'll say it again...

A few emails came out over the USAT coaches email group, discussing how to reduce or eliminate cramping in an athlete who chronically cramped in their calf muscles in the latter 1/3 of a marathon.

The suggestions were the typical response you hear, more salt, more electrolytes, better hydration, and even compression socks. Here was my response...

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I believe there are three things which need to be addressed in individuals who deal with cramping.

1. Better race-specific fitness.
If the athlete continues to cramp "when trying to hold a challenging pace", then the athlete has not trained enough at that pace, to perform it over the distance of the event.

2. Reduction of chronic tension in the muscles which are cramping.
I am willing to bet that the athlete has chronic tension in the calf muscles. Think about where you have cramped in the past, and chances are those muscles are tight on a regular basis for you. The athlete needs to address the tension in the muscles, via massage, ART, Rolfing, Trigger Point Therapy, Yoga, or any way they can. A looser, more pliable muscle I find, cramps less, or never.

3. Pacing.
This is related to number one, but I think needs to be pointed out specifically. The hotter the temperatures, the more fatigue they will face, and therefore lack the race-specific fitness needed to perform in the heat. If they pace themselves at a speed they have not trained for, or have not prepared for the heat they are racing in, then they lack the specific fitness to perform at that pace. Seems simple, but a basic flaw in many athletes' racing strategies and executions.

I also want to say, I believe hydration, salt and electrolyte intake in races are either overemphasized or a complete waste of time and actually hurt athletes, in longer races, such as the marathon and Ironman. I do not allow my athletes to take in salt tablets, and tell them to drink to thirst. Studies are showing the most dehydrated person in a race is the winner. If the athlete comes into the race adequately hydrated, these needs are small.

Stuffing your gut with salt and electrolytes is only going to interfere with the body's ability to process calories needed to complete the event. There is not a single study which has shown athletes taking salt tablets or electrolytes do better than those who don't. Better training for metabolic efficiency would do these athletes more good for longer distance events.

Coach Vance

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