How to Prevent and Treat Muscle Cramps

There are many different names associated with muscle cramps. Some call them muscle "stiffened up", "stitches in my muscle" or "muscle spasms", whatever we may call them one thing is the same....they all suck! Muscle cramps are extremely painful and unpleasant. When we exercise intensely and we experience a muscle cramp, we often simply call to the ground and need to wait until that muscle relaxes...often putting us out of commission for the rest of the day. Here are some strategies that you may implement to prevent cramps.

1 - Pre-Hydration

Its pretty common knowledge that when we work-out we need to stay hydrated in order for our bodies to perform. When we are dehydrated our sodium levels increase, we feel weaker, and the chances of muscle cramps significantly increase. However, did you know that the majority of people start their work-outs de-hydrated already? In order to prevent muscle cramps during your work-out, it is very important to properly pre-hydrate yourself so that when you start your work-out, your body is ready. Generally speaking, an hour before an intense work-out you should drink 2 cups of water, then 30 minutes before drink another cup, and 15 minutes before have another cup. Then throughout your work-out you should be drinking at least 3 cups of water diluted with gatorade or BCAA's (Branch Chain Amino Acids) if you are having an intense work-out. BCAA's are amino acids that help prevent the breakdown of your muscle during exercise.

2 - Consume Electrolytes

As we sweat during our work-out our bodies naturally loose sodium and potassium (electrolytes). As our bodies loose electrolytes our bodies become more susceptible to developing muscle cramps. When we are working out, it is very important to consume Gatorade/Powerade or coconut water. Prior to your work out its helpful if you eat a banana before your work-out to raise the level of potassium in your body. 

3 - Warm-Up Properly

A lot of people compare our bodies to a car, that a car needs a few minutes to warm-up on a cold day. In reality, our bodies needs a proper warm up even more than a car. Our blood vessels, and muscles shrink and relax when they are not being exerted. In order for them to operate at maximum performance, the blood vessels need to get stimulated, to be able to accept the extra blood. If you do not warm up properly, and all of sudden overload your body, you can expect your muscles to cramp up. 

How to Treat Muscle Cramps

1 - Rest and Massage

When you feel your muscle start to cramp or cramp up, you should immediately stop and let it rest. Place the limb or muscle in a neutral resting position. If possible, have someone very gently massage the muscle to stimulate blood flow to it. If possible, use a warm towel and give the muscle a chance to rest. Then, get a bottle of water with electrolytes and drink the whole thing right away.

2 - Reduce Work-Load

After your muscle cramps up, do not try to do the same strenuous exercise, your body is telling you that its struggling so you should listen to it. Take some time to slow down your exercise and avoid straining that muscle. 

3 - Strengthen that Muscle

Sometimes a muscle gets strained because it isn't strong enough or it has been neglected for a period of time and not allowed to develop as strong as other muscles. After the muscle cramps, you should rest, however, the follow work-out, you can put an emphasize on developing that particular muscle.

Cam Tang Poy B.A is a Kru (instructor) at York Muay Thai in North York, Toronto. He began training Muay Thai in 2007 under Kru Yai Jenypher Lanthier (Head instructor of York Muay Thai). Since then, he has competed as an amateur fighter both in Canada and the United States, and now focuses on developing the students and athletes at York Muay Thai. He is also the director of their Kids Muay Thai program. In 2010 and 2011, Cam taught the Muay Thai program at York University’s Tait McKenzie Fitness Center, as well as Boot Camp classes at its Vanier College. In 2012, Cam became an Ontario Certified Teacher, completing his education at the University of Toronto. Today, he has the privilege of living his passions 24/7. Working in Toronto schools during the day and training Muay Thai students by night has pushed him to continue learning and growing. He loves every moment of it.