Monday, April 30, 2012

Muscle Cramps and Me

This post expands on my previous post Leg Cramps. If you don't want to read this lengthily post then go to the bottom of this post for my conclusion.

I don't consider muscle cramps in my legs a big problem...just an occasional nuisance brought on by certain conditions. Isolating those conditions and acting upon them to minimize or prevent cramps altogether is my goal. As I have mentioned previously I have only had a full blown cramp a couple of times while riding my 700. I've felt cramps starting to rear their ugly head a number of times and I reacted fast enough by slowing down and stretching while still clipped in (an advantage of riding a trike).

I have no intention on explaining muscle cramps because I am no expert. There is much information available on the subject. I found the information presented on Medicine Net on Muscle Cramps to be the most inclusive and informative. I want to take the information available and relate it to my own situation and the adjustments I am making in my cycling, nutrition and general health. There is one adjustment I can't make...age. Age is a risk factor when it comes to muscle cramps so I'll leave that alone and move onto the variables I can adjust.

Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium seem to be the main players that are talked about when it comes to muscle cramps. My recent blood work shows no deficiencies in this area. The only thing that stood out was my vitamin D was low (age appropriate). Vitamin D is needed to help make calcium available to our muscles. I started taking vitamin supplements but I don't feel that's the final answer to ending leg cramps.

Now what? Well...I'm starting to become more aware of a slightly uncomfortable feeling in my calf and hamstring muscles. They seem to be tight all the time, you might say "bunched up", while at the same time I feel strong and in excellent shape. In response I started amping up my stretching routine. Besides stretching before riding I now also stretch after riding and before going to bed. The stretching seems to have helped but something still seemed missing. Quite my accident I discovered that hiking once or twice a week sees to have a real positive impact on my "bunched up" leg muscles. I haven't really hiked since 2007 when my back started hurting.  Even with a successful back surgery in 2009 I hiked very little, instead I jumped full on into recumbent cycling. In the last few weeks I just felt the need to get into the hills. Hiking up steep trails puts a different stress on the legs. It strengthens and stretches the calf and hamstring  muscles as well as putting a different type of load on all the muscles in the leg. The uneven conditions on a trail also conditions the secondary leg muscles that are underused when cycling. I noticed after the first hike that my leg muscles felt I went on more hikes and will continue to hike and trike.  I guess this is what cross training is all about. Only time will tell what impact it has on muscle cramps.

CONCLUSION: Cross train...getting off the trike once and awhile and doing other sorts of physical activity seems to be the answer to better overall muscle conditioning. 

NOTE: As of March 2014 I have not had a leg cramp. I've been doing more hiking and a little weight lifting focusing on my hamstrings. If you see no update here then assume I'm still cramp free.


  1. Nice post Mark. Leg cramps hit me only occasionally and not until hours after my exertion or workout. Like when I am in bed for the night or while driving. I had riding buddies get cramps during long rides though -no fun.

    I agree totally about the cross training. My family and I do walks and hikes all year long and ski in the winter. We took a 3 day ski trip back in February and I pushed it too hard and ended up with what I believe is a tendon issue in my left ankle. Still not completely normal but thankfully cycling has no effect on it. Only lateral movements like turning aggressively on the skis or tennis or basketball type movements would kill it.

    Part of getting older and staying active is learning how to cut back on the intensity/duration of the exercise. For me that's the hard part because I feel like I can keep hammering away but I've learned I'll pay later if I go to hard. Of course we're all different so we have to figure out what is best for us individually. btw I'm 41.

    So yes I think your conclusion is spot on.

    1. Your point on getting older and staying active is well said.