Showing posts with label dehydration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dehydration. Show all posts

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Muscles Attack...

Here’s How to Avoid Muscle Cramps When Working Out

Congratulations on your resolution to push yourself physically this coming year.  But if you’re one of the many who suffer from severe, temporarily debilitating “charley horse” muscle cramps during or after a hard swim, run, cycling challenge, or other physically demanding effort, you may be dreading the exertion you’ve scheduled.  These painful muscle spasms can stop you completely during the middle of a race or may seize up your muscles hours after a strenuous effort.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your muscles from putting the brakes on your good physical fitness intentions – steps based on new research that challenges long-held assumptions on causes and cures.

The Charley Horse – a Common Malady

If misery truly loves company, then find comfort in knowing that muscle spasms affect even trained athletes.  Some studies have shown significant cramping in 21 percent of Ironman athletes.  And one need only spectate between miles 20 and 26 of a marathon race to see many runners suddenly stop and clutch at the back their legs or hamstrings to know that many suffer from the painful charley horse cramp.

“I too had my season finale ‘A’ race, a Half-Ironman, absolutely demolished by severe cramps for two consecutive years,” says orthopedic surgeon Ronald E. Michalak, M.D., FAAOS, MS, also known as Dr. Ron, medical consultant and blogger for  After two years of dedicated training, only to perform worse than he had at his first Ironman attempt three years ago “was quite depressing. I had achieved the appropriate swim-bike-run volumes. I had several blood tests to investigate, all with normal results.”

What could have gone wrong for Dr. Ron, and for others whose efforts to push themselves are thwarted by muscle cramping? “Walking the last 11 miles of what was supposed to be my crowning achievement gave me ample time to strategize about how to prevent this from happening ever again,” he says.
The next day he began his research.

Causes of Exertion-Related Muscle spasms

What brings on severe muscles spasms during or after a hard workout?  Not all experts agree, which is one reason why the problem is not easy to treat.  Theories abound:
  • Some experts contend that insufficient pre-workout stretching of muscles is to blame, even as others say that over-stretching is the cause.
  • Another theory is that the emotional exuberance or anxiety that accompanies a competitive event causes muscles to “over-fire” and thus cramp up.
  • “Electrolyte imbalances and dehydration have often been blamed but the anecdotal evidence is quite weak,” Dr. Ron says. “In more recent (and more scientifically rigorous) studies, these have not been supported.”
Instead, focus is shifting towards neuromuscular fatigue as the main culprit. “This often occurs when pushing distance or pace – such as longer training runs while building aerobic base, higher intensity interval sessions, or (as in my case) races,” Dr. Ron explains.

Muscle Spasm Solutions

Once the cramping begins, most runners and physicians agree that stopping and stretching out the spasm-laden muscle is an effective way to getting the cramping to subside. But, obviously, you cannot have your best race performance unless you can keep the spasm from occurring in the first place.

Because the causes are not clear cut, solutions to exertion-related muscle spasms have proven elusive and often contradictory.  But new studies and new data are offering solutions worth trying, as are some anecdotal remedies worth discussing.  If one does not work for you, another might.

Given the recent research that sheds new light on the subject, we’ll start there.  Dr. Ron advises that, “Prevention of cramps requires dedicated strength training and plyometrics.” Plyometrics – exercises based on maximum-force exertion in spurts to increase both speed and power – will “help to prevent the neuromuscular fatigue that leads to cramps.”

According to Dr. Ron, “Aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming, etc.) is not an efficient way to build strength. Adding more miles to your training schedule (i.e. over distance training) may help to prevent cramps on race day, but may also put you at risk for other overuse injuries and suboptimal race performance.”
Instead, Dr. Ron advises appropriate strength training and judicious use of plyometrics to reduce your risk of injury and prevent cramps. “My cramps were focused in my hamstrings. I added suspension training and plyometric exercises specifically targeting hamstring strength three times per week that winter during the off-season. I was shocked at how weak my hamstrings actually were at the start of this program despite training over 500 hours the previous year (mostly swim-bike-run),” he admits.

“I kept up this strength program once weekly during the high-volume summer peak season. The next year, despite being two years older and lower training volume, I went back to the same Half Ironman, got my PR (personal record), and had no cramps – Redemption was mine!”

Dr. Ron has continued this strengthening routine and has since made the jump to the full Ironman 140.6 distance successfully, and “as part of the 79 percent of finishers who did NOT cramp.”

More Solutions and Links to Help You Resolve Muscle Spasm Issues

If cramping is holding back your exercise program, Dr. Ron recommends that you consult with your physician. “There are some metabolic issues (although uncommon) that can cause cramps that need to be ruled-out first.”

His other recommendation: “Work with a local coach or trainer who may be able to help with this type of program if you are not well acquainted with this plyometric type of exercise as improper technique or progression can lead to injury.”

For more info and solutions or recommendations related to muscle cramping:
You can read Dr. Ron Michalak’s frequent article contributions on fitness at

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Exercise Safely, Despite the Heat

The warm weather and longer days of summer provide the perfect environment for outside activities and exercise. Yet, these same factors can make it challenging to exercise safely. By taking some simple precautions, you can ensure your safety and health despite the heat.

Exercising in the heat and humidity causes extra stress on the body, according to experts at The Mayo Clinic. Even well conditioned athletes face challenges working out in the heat. From heat cramps to heat exhaustion, there are a variety of heat-related illnesses that may occur as a result of exercising in the hot weather.

Running in the heat

Follow these simple steps to optimize safety and health:

  • Hydrate properly Drink plenty of water. Sports drinks, designed to replace sodium, chloride and potassium lost during sweating, are recommended if exercise will last longer than one hour.
  • Dress appropriately Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing made of polyester or polyester blends is best in hot weather; avoid cotton clothing. Layer pieces for easier removal as the body gets warmer.
  • Watch temperatures If necessary, move outside activities indoors or plan them for a cooler time of day. Mornings and evenings are best times for outdoor activities.

How can I prevent dehydration?

When exercising in the heat, water should be consumed regularly throughout the day to ensure proper hydration, according to Andrew T. Levine, ATC, CSCS, graduate assistant and athletic trainer at Long Island University. In addition, avoid excessive consumption of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, as they will contribute to dehydration.

In addition:

Before exercise: Drink 16-32 ounces of fluid about 2 hours prior to exercising. This allows enough time for water to enter muscles and other tissue, and other fluids to be excreted.

During exercise: Consume 6-8 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.

After exercise: Drink 16 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during exercise.

Exercising in the heat

What is heat stress?

Dehydration is a leading cause of heat-related illnesses. When the body becomes overheated and sweat can’t evaporate fast enough to keep the body cool heat stress can occur, according to the Center for Disease Control Symptoms of heat stress include:

Muscle cramps
Profuse sweating (decreased or absence of sweat in severe cases)
Decreased concentration or performance

If any symptoms of heat stress occur while exercising:

Stop activity immediately
Get out of the heat
Remove any extra clothing as well as sports equipment
Drink fluids, preferably water or sports drinks
Fan the body or wet it down with cool water
If symptoms continue after 30 minutes, contact a doctor

Heat stress is a serious condition. Left untreated, it can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening illness. Signs of heat stroke are:

1. Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
2. Hallucinations
3. Chills
4. Throbbing headache
5. High body temperature
6. Confusion/dizziness
7. Slurred speech

Keep in mind:

Wear sunscreen Sunburn will inhibit the body’s ability to cool itself, making it more of a challenge to exercise in the heat.
Listen to your body Slow down, if needed. There is no shame in taking it down a notch during hot, humid weather.

Despite these health concerns, it is possible to exercise safely in the heat. Experts agree it’s not necessary to change your exercise routine in most instances.  With a little planning, safe summer workouts can be enjoyed this season.

Kathy Rembisz 
Contributing Writer