If a sudden, involuntary muscle contraction strikes while you’re exercising, just take a break, advises Alexis Colvin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “Then try some gentle stretching, or use a roller on the muscle.”
Keep in mind that a cramp can sometimes be helpful. It can indicate that you’re using a muscle in a new and unfamiliar way, as in a challenging yoga pose. If this is the case, try relaxing into the cramp before giving up altogether. But if you’re experiencing frequent cramps for no obvious reason, Colvin suggests asking yourself three questions:
- Are my exercise routines too challenging for my level of conditioning? Deconditioned muscles are more likely to cramp, she explains. “It’s best to build up gradually, over time, to high-intensity workouts.”
- Am I sufficiently hydrated? The precise relationship between dehydration and cramping is unclear, but drinking plenty of water could help forestall cramps.
- How are my mineral levels? “If you’re doing an intense workout, you’ll be sweating out electrolytes,” Colvin notes. She recommends replenishing with a carbohydrate–electrolyte drink to restore salt and chloride. Bananas are a good source of potassium for postworkout recovery. And many athletes swear by pickle juice before a workout as an anti-cramping remedy — some even claim it cures cramps on the spot. The high sodium content may be the reason for its efficacy.
This originally appeared as “I get leg cramps when I work out. What can I do to get rid of them?” in the July/August 2018 print issue of Experience Life.