Leg cramps at the gym
January 22, 2009 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Why do I always get these leg cramps at the gym?

At the gym, I almost always get leg cramps when I switch from using an elliptical machine (for 20-30 minutes) to walking or running on a treadmill. The cramps are in the lower muscles of my leg, and usually it only occurs in my left leg. The first time this happened, I ignored the pain and kept going, and ended up with a charlie horse that lasted for over a day. Why is this happening, and how do I prevent it? I always stretch for a few minutes, though it's standing stretches, as there's not much room to sprawl on a mat in this crowded gym. Also, this is never a problem when I just use the treadmill, or just use the elliptical; the combination sets it off.
posted by naju to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Even though you already are, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that you actually aren't stretching enough, nor are you stretching the right muscles. Also, stretching afterwards is really important too.
posted by gwenlister at 11:17 AM on January 22, 2009

IANAPT (not a personal trainer) but maybe this is a case of "It hurts when I do this." So don't do that.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2009

Best answer: As a former high school track (non-)star, I can tell you that it's typical to get shin splints and other lower leg pains when you switch from one running medium to another. We always got them switching from pavement to a track, but the elliptical to treadmill could have the same effect.

You need to do two stretches: 1) point your toes and apply pressure on the tops of your feet to stretch the shin muscle, and 2) flex your toes and apply pressure on the bottoms of your toes to stretch your calves. We always did these sitting in the middle of the field, with the assistance of a partner.

I know a crowded gym is different, but you must find a way. As to #1, I've found that the best way to do it alone is to put an exercise ball against the wall (one of the big ones, 18"+ in diameter), kneel down and press it against the wall with your back leg, with the top of your foot in contact with the ball. Then shift your position until you are pressing with your foot - basically until the effect is like someone pressing down on the top of your foot.

As to #2, get into a lunge position and brace yourself against a wall or railing, and lower your body, holding your back foot in place, until the calf starts to stretch - until the effect is like someone pressing on the bottom of your toes.

Do 2-3 minutes of each of these (don't bounce, get in and out of the stretch slowly) and it will help a lot.
posted by rkent at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check to make sure you're getting enough water, potassium, and calcium. Have a banana an hour or two before you work out, they're loaded with potassium.
posted by mullingitover at 11:22 AM on January 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I came in here to say pretty much exactly what mullingitover said.

And to add, damn right on the stretches. To further stretch the shin muscles (front of lower leg), take off your shoes, and roll one foot over the toes, (flex the toes) so that the tops of your toes are flat on the floor. A foot-fist if you will. If I don't do that , I get all manner of shin pain.
posted by notsnot at 11:45 AM on January 22, 2009

You probablly aren't stretching enough and correctly.

Are you warming up before you stretch? Stretching cold muscles doesn't do much good or help with injury prevention. Do some calisthenics or job for five minutes before stretching.

Are you just doing static stretching? Work in some ballistic stretches too.

You may also benefit from having someone look at your stride. I know you don't get this cramp when just doing treadmill, but there may be something to it.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:56 AM on January 22, 2009

Eat a banana before you work out, and bring some Gatorade -- maybe you just need potassium
posted by matteo at 11:59 AM on January 22, 2009

It was common for my swim team to recommend bananas to prevent cramping. However, the coach recommended more stretching.
posted by jeffmilner at 12:55 PM on January 22, 2009

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm sure I'm not getting enough potassium, calcium or water. I eat practically nothing all day at work, then go to the gym right after. I guess I should remedy that. Thanks!
posted by naju at 1:14 PM on January 22, 2009

just to add about the h2o...

If you live where the temp is around 30F or lower in January then *especially* during the winter. It's amazing how little humidity there is in heated, indoor spaces.
posted by ezekieldas at 1:36 PM on January 22, 2009

For shin splints I spell words by rotating my foot at the ankle and drawing the letter in the air.
posted by collocation at 1:49 PM on January 22, 2009

Strides on an elliptical are completely different than strides on a treadmill. Do you get cramping when you run in general?

Maybe go to a place like The Good Feet store and check out if there is a physical difference in your feet or stride that might account for the cramping.
posted by Edubya at 2:36 PM on January 22, 2009

I'd check your shoes too. A good place (shoutout to the Adidas store in Seattle) will have experienced sales associates who can also kind of help you assess your stride and figure out which shoes you should get for the kind of training you're doing.

I had really tight hips (related to flat feet) until I switched to heeled boots. And they'd really tighten up after running until I traded my stiff aerobics trainers in for some super-flexible running shoes that allow a more natural stride.
posted by HolyWood at 3:14 PM on January 22, 2009

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