You've rushed all day. You rushed to work, rushed through a less than nutritious lunch. You rushed about so much that you forgot to pack your water bottle with you. By the end of the day you are ready to call it quits, but your mood improves when you remember that it's biceps day at the gym. You're on your way out the door, when the boss tells you to come to his office for a late meeting. You suffer through another pointless hour of rhetoric and dribble before you can finally leave work.
And you fear you are going to be late for your workout. On the way to the gym, an accident has traffic tied up for several miles. You beat your head against the steering wheel in frustration. Finally, after an hour and a half of delays, you come rushing through the doors of your gym. Your workout partner has long since warmed up and has been waiting impatiently for you to show up.
Not wanting to waste time with excuses, you rush to the locker room and change clothes. After a couple of light reps, you immediately start with you first set of dumbbell curls. On your sixth rep, your right arm seizes up and you drop the weight, clutching your arm. You realize that you have a really bad cramp.
Muscle cramps are nothing new, nor are they limited to the world of athletes. You can get cramps simply because you slept wrong the night before. There are many things that can cause cramps, but there are simple ways to prevent this.
Remember, your muscles need time to rest between sets. If you are rushing too fast through your workout, your muscles will not have time to recover and will start to spasm.
CURE: Make sure you give yourself ample rest time between sets. A minute to a minute and a half is usually adequate. However, if you are doing extremely heavy weights on a total body exertion such as squats, give yourself about two to three minutes between sets. Also massage the muscles between sets, especially when doing a high volume of reps, or extremely heavy weight.
CAUSE: Dehydration / Lack of vitamins.
Vitamins, especially Potassium are key to helping prevent muscle cramps. Also remember that a large percentage of your muscle tissue is water. If you are dehydrated, you will cramp up that much more easily.
CURE: Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day, not just before your workout. If you have doubts as to whether or not you are dehydrated, examine the color of your urine the next time you go to the bathroom. If it is clear, you are properly hydrated. If it is a dark yellow, or worse yet you can't even remember the last time you had to go to the bathroom, start consuming water immediately. Also avoid sodas and coffee.
They will dehydrate you faster than not drinking anything at all. A good rule of thumb is: if you are going to have a soda or cup of coffee, immediately consume twice the amount you drank in water. Also make sure that you are eating enough fruits that are high in Potassium. Bananas are probably the best for this. If nothing else, make sure that you take a multi-vitamin once a day.
CAUSE: Lack of stretching / warm-up.
For most people, this one is a no brainer. However, you would be surprised by the number of people who head straight from the locker room, and start immediately with their heavy sets. Not only do they risk muscle cramps, they also risk tearing the muscle and causing injury.
CURE: No matter how much of a hurry you may be in, always make the time to properly stretch and warm-up. Spend at least 20 seconds on each rep while stretching. Also perform at least one complete set of a light weight for 15-20 reps before you start your heavy lifts. A warm-up should not tire your muscles out, however it should get the blood pumping to ensure proper circulation.
CAUSE: Excessive heat.
This is probably one of the most common causes of muscle cramping, especially during the summer. When your body heat rises above what it can cool down, your muscles start to overheat. Think of it like a car engine without oil or water that is ran excessively. Like the engine, your muscles will seize up and fail to function.
CURE: This goes hand-in-hand with staying properly hydrated. Whenever your environment heats up more than usual, make a conscious effort to keep drinking water. If the area you are working out in is hotter than normal, you may want to slow down the pace and make sure you don't overheat.
The keys to preventing muscle cramps can be summed up as follows.
- Give yourself proper rest time between sets
- Maintain good hydration and nutrition
- Make the time to warm-up and stretch before working out
- Be conscious of the temperature where you are working out.
By no means am I saying that you shouldn't work up a good sweat and train with speed and intensity. Just exercise a little common sense. Like the car engine, make sure your muscles are properly taken care of, and they will serve you well.