Run Clinic: Stretching and walking help ease calf cramping


Q I am running for the first time ever and loving it – thank you . I have been at it five weeks now and am still building up the continuous running, but I am running or
7km most days.

My problem is that I keep getting cramps in my calves, which stop me running – I do walk it off. I have decent shoes so it’s not that. It’s just annoying because it disrupts me. Any thoughts?

AHow very annoying, but how very common a problem this is – for all runners, but particularly keen newbies like yourself whose “grit” may initially outperform their fitness.

Your commitment is to be applauded but cramping often indicates overuse of and/or muscle fatigue, and as a five-week-old runner nutting it 7km most days, I’d hazard a guess that this is what is happening here.

Your legs are just not yet able to keep pace with your determination, but fear not, they will – and soon.

Although the cause of calf cramps may vary, you can always take some action to minimise their occurrence.

Brisk walking
Try not to overburden your calf muscles too early on in any run; to this end make sure your leg muscles are warm before you start jogging; brisk walking will increase the blood flow through the calves, warm up the cold muscles perfectly, and stretch them out before they are subjected to the gentlest of trots.

Start introducing specific calf muscle stretches into your routine and do them both before and after your running outing. Here are two simple and highly effective ones (from Runner ’s World ) which are hard to do incorrectly (stretching incorrectly can do more harm than good).

For the outer calf (gastrocnemius): sit with both legs straight. Loop a rope around the ball of one foot and grasp each end of the rope. Flex your foot back toward your ankle, toes toward your knee.

For the inner calf (soleus): sit with one leg straight and the other leg bent. Grasp the bottom of the foot on the bent leg. Keeping your heel on the ground, pull your foot toward your body as far as you can.

Don’t be taking on any hills in these early days, stick to even, soft terrain and try to maintain a very, very slow and steady jogging pace that you are able to sustain comfortably for the entire circuit (or for however long your current running period is) before you attempt to speed up. Slowly, slowly catchy monkey remember?

The tightening in your calves can come on just as easily after your run so warm down in a similar fashion – always walk for at least five minutes after your jog is finished and indeed stretch out the calf muscle as already described.

Proper hydration is absolutely key. It is very easy to under-hydrate when new to this running malarkey especially as the weather starts to warm up and we sweat more: sweating is the natural cooling process created from the fluids in our body, of which water is the main ingredient.

The constant replacement of this water is crucial to keeping calf cramps at bay. You must increase your water intake – it is possibly a new, and very good, habit that becoming a runner necessitates you adopt.

You need to be drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and possibly more when it gets really humid and hot (here’s hoping) and you are out running.

I don’t advise you get into drinking electrolyte drinks at this stage as they contain needless calories. It’s much better to have a look at your diet as well as your water intake first and make the necessary changes there instead.

There has been a lot of debate over the years that calf cramps occur in those who have below average levels of certain nutrients, such as potassium, (found in apples, bananas, tomatoes, peppers); phosphorus, (found in bran, cheese, seeds and nuts); calcium (found in dairy, oily fish and green leafy veg); and sodium (found in bacon, Marmite, pickled foods and salt), to name a few easily sourced and kind-on-the-purse examples.

So look at your diet and make the necessary adjustments.

Do not get overly obsessed with it to the extent that it is eating into your running time. If you are eating a lot of junk, stop , and up your intake of green leafy veg, fresh fruit, wholegrains – the good stuff, and the fresher the better. All processed foods as a general rule of thumb fall into the junk category.

Proper trainers
Finally, have a look at what you are wearing on your runs.

You say your shoes are fine so I am not going to lecture you on the importance of proper trainers (the absence of which will almost certainly contribute to cramping on runs) and make sure that there is nothing impeding the blood flow anywhere, particularly in the calf area.

Tight Lycra that ends mid-way down the calf for example or long tight socks? Loose light clothing is always the answer especially as the temperature starts to climb.

The Grit Doctor says: Warm up and down; stretch; eat less crap; drink more water; dress loose; and you can kiss at least some of those cramps goodbye.

Tweet your running queries to Ruth at: @gritdoctor
Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat Bitch, Run