Running Cramps

Running cramps can quickly turn an enjoyable workout into a miserable experience. Here are some facts and tips on what causes running cramps and how to avoid them.

There are many types of cramps that runners may experience. The majority of them can be classified as either muscle or side-stitch.

Muscle cramps can occur from a lack of stretching or loosening of the muscles - attempting to go too quick too soon. They can also occur from dehydration and/or an electrolyte deficiency. In fact, heat cramps are one of the warning signs for heat exhaustion and should be treated immediately by drinking some water or a sports drink.

Another cause of cramps is shallow breathing which ultimately leads to a lack of oxygen.

To help the side-stitch go away, take some deep breaths.

Starting a race too quickly and being out of breath can lead to this most notorious runner's cramp.

With proper conditioning and gradual intensity increases, this type of cramp should go away.

I've found that my workouts are a lot more productive and enjoyable when I work up to a steady breathing cadence.

This slow start allows my pace to gradually build up without getting those miserable cramps that come from being out-of-breath.

Another common cause of cramps is eating too much or not enough before a race or workout. Some foods that take longer to digest (meat, dairy, fats) could be in your stomach for hours and will likely make their presence known if you chose to eat & run.

So to review, here are some tips to help you avoid cramps.

Tips to AVOID Running Cramps

  • Hydrate!
    Especially in vigorous exercise or a hot environment, your system needs water to process wastes, cool your body, and get oxygen to the muscles. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workout (if your peeing dark yellow…you’re likely dehydrated).
  • Stretch / Warm-up
    By stretching and loosing your muscles prior to a workout, you reduce the chances of straining contracted muscles. Warm-ups allow your body to gradually ‘ramp-up’ to the level of effort you expect during the run or race.
  • Deep Breaths
    During exercise, your body is burning fuel at a much higher rate than when you’re sitting still. Shallow breathing will ultimately lead to a part of your body not getting the necessary oxygen, causing a cramp. If you get the infamous ‘side-stitch’ while running try taking some deep breaths – it may very well reduce or eliminate the pain.
  • Eat Smart
    Most marathons have a pre-race pasta or carb party the night before…you’ll notice that most don’t have BBQs. Carbohydrates, of which pasta is a good source, are easily converted into fuel by the body, whereas proteins and fats take much more time and effort by the digestive system. Keep this is mind when you plan meals around your workouts.
  • Conditioning
    Simply put: try not to take huge leaps to get to your goal. Gradual steps will allow your body to grow and strengthen from the stress-rest-heal-build cycle. This conditioning will create more aerobic capacity and muscle-waste handling ability. And aside from reducing running cramps, you’ll also reduce the risk of sickness and injury that can result from overtraining.

I hope this helps you avoid running cramps and take advantage of the joys of running! If chest pain or any other sharp pain persists, please seek immediate medical attention.

Deciphering between pain and discomfort is an individual assessment, and only you can make the decision if your situation warrants professional help.

Leave Running Cramps & return to Common Injuries

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