PT on the Net Research

Leg Cramps while Swimming


Question

I have a client who is into triathlons and every time he's in the pool he gets leg cramps after about an hour of swimming. He feels it in his calves more than anywhere else. Would you know what would cause this and how to prevent it from coming back?

Answer

Calf cramping during swimming is common due to the extended time that the feet are in plantar flexion due to the mechanics of the freestyle kick. Possible solutions include strengthening the soleus and gastrocnemius muscles at least 3 times per week and stretching them at least 5-6 days per week. In addition, de-emphasizing the kick would be helpful. You can accomplish this by focusing on balancing your body in the water better so that you do not feel like you have to kick to stay afloat. Try “pushing” your chest towards the bottom of the pool in order to increase the buoyancy of your lower body.

The other solution, which doesn’t sound like it is the cause of the problem if the cramping is only during swimming, is an electrolyte imbalance in your diet. An imbalance or low intake of calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium may be a cause of cramping under certain conditions. However, it usually is not during swimming.