Cramps (especially leg cramps) get a bad name, yet although they may be very difficult to withstand they can be good for you. Let’s have a look at why cramping is a window of opportunity.
We all know that feeling
You are working out, giving yourself a stretch, making efforts to improve yourself and become a better human. CRAMP! You don’t know what you have done to deserve this. Most people worry when cramping gets them as they do not know what it means. When pain strikes it is easy to worry and think, ‘maybe this is wrong and I shouldn’t be doing this’. Cramping can really set you off your course when training but when it hits during your workout it serves a great purpose. It is more likely to happen during progression or whilst learning a new movement and it is even more beneficial for you then.
In order to understand why cramping is a window of opportunity, let us first look at what a cramp is. When you get a cramp, your muscle is contracting up at full force. Your nervous system sends a signal to recruit as many muscle fibres as it can to contract simultaneously. What’s interesting to see is that it sometimes happen seemingly out of nowhere. When learning a new movement pattern, a new position or range of movement we increase our chances of getting a cramp. It is our body’s way of learning. The nervous system gets confused when put into a new situation simply because it doesn’t know what to do. It is learning, and learning can sometimes be a painful, cramp-full process.
You’re not so special… try this:
Leg cramps on demand:
Stand up, grab one of your legs and get your heel to your bum. This is a familiar stretch many runners do for their quad muscles. Now attempt to keep your knees together and your heel and your bum close to each other. Ready? Maintain the position as you take your hand off your leg. Yes – we are going from a passive stretch into an active stretch. This is one leg cramp you won’t forget – right in the hamstrings. It’s also good for you and can help you achieve better hip extension and control your hamstring when it’s short. Unless of course, you don’t think that being able to function with a short hamstring is important (it is!).
Hang in there
Exactly because cramping is a learning curve, you need to do your best and hang in there as long as you can, withstand the pain. Bring the inner warrior out and fight through the new position, stay in it or try and complete the whole movement pattern. Cramping speeds up the learning process which is why you should not be scared of it. It won’t be easy but it will get easier and easier as your body and nervous system learn what they need to learn. You can therefore expect less cramping as you fight it through a few times. Eventually, the new positions your body learnt will be cramp free! Welcome to CrampCity!
We’ve all experienced a sudden calf muscle cramp while running or a sharp cramp in our feet at night. One of the best way to get rid of leg cramps is rather counter-intuitive: Tense everything, pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth (as if trying to say the letter “L”) also helps. Remember, you are experiencing a state of neural confusion! The best way around a cramp is to learn from it, tense everything around it, and help your nervous system figure it out. Chase the root (unknown position), not the symptom (cramp).