Muscle cramps are common in many athletes, and swimmers are no exception. Any kind of strenuous activity places strain on muscles that can sometimes lead to involuntary contractions, resulting in a cramp. Since the legs do the majority of the work for swimmers, and the muscles are used in a repetitive fashion, leg muscles tend to spasm more often than muscles in arms or other parts of the body.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Slow down your rate of kicking, or change your kick pattern. A small change in the leg motion may be enough to alleviate the leg cramp you are experiencing. Many times leg muscles cramp from a repeated motion, causing the muscle to tire and spasm.
Stretch the muscle. If you are swimming in a pool, the best way to stretch is to exit the pool and stretch your calf muscle. A good stretch to perform is to place the heel of your foot on the floor with your toes up against a wall. Pull your toes back toward your leg (flexing the foot), and slide your foot toward the wall so the wall supports your foot and holds the stretch. Lean your body into the stretch for additional lengthening of the muscle.
If you are in an open body of water, you will need to stretch the calf muscle while in the water. Take a deep breath and lean forward so you are floating face down in the water. Pull the cramping leg toward your body, so the knee is close to your chest. Grasp your foot and pull your toes upward so your foot is forced into the flexed position. This will elongate the calf muscle and help stop the cramping. Allow the foot to relax, then grasp the toes and stretch the leg muscle again. Repeat until the cramping is gone.
Massage the leg. Increasing blood flow to the area can also help stop leg cramping. Some leg cramps are caused by swimming in water that is too cold. Massaging the leg muscle will help draw blood to the area, warming the muscle and allowing it to relax. If you need to massage the leg while still in the water, assume the same position as in the second part of step 3, leaning forward to reach the leg, then perform the massage underwater. If you are not out in an open body of water, exit the pool and massage the leg outside the water.
Apply heat to the cramping muscle. Heat helps increase blood flow to an area and also allows muscles to relax. Applying a hot water bottle or heating pad for about 20 minutes after swimming will help alleviate the muscle cramps in the leg.
Tips and warnings
- Stretch your legs before and after swimming, focusing on the calf muscles and making sure they are fully stretched before starting any exercise activity.
- Don't continue to kick when you have a leg cramp in the water. Exit the water as soon as possible or float while massaging the cramped muscle.
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