What Causes Muscle Cramps During Exercise?

We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying a run or pushing out some reps at the gym and all of a sudden cramp sets in.

The sharp and sudden pain can feel like agony and is sure to put an end to any exercise you are doing for a while.

But what is the reason for the pain? And how can you go about stopping it?

Let’s take a look.

What is a Muscle Cramp?

In a nutshell, a muscle cramp is a contraction of the muscle that isn’t voluntary. It is a muscle spasm that cannot be controlled.

Muscle cramps are relatively common in everyone from professional athletes to gym first-timers.

The muscles most affected by cramps are often in the leg, notably the calf which one study found to be the source of around 80% of cramps.

Most of us have experienced cramps at some time in our lives. The muscle pain varies in length and severity, ranging from a short and minor pain to a long and intense one.

So what causes our muscles to do this?

Let’s find out.

What Causes Cramp?

When looking at the cause of cramps, there are a number of different theories. The real answer is probably that there are a lot of factors that contribute, including:

  • Muscle fatigue – If you enjoy a run, but after a couple of miles your legs feel like they can’t go any further, then you are experiencing muscle fatigue. This is also felt when pushing weights and reaching the point when your arms feel numb and unable to push one more rep out. Basically, your muscles are worn out, and this makes them very vulnerable to cramps.

 

  • Lack of electrolytes – Minerals and nutrients such as sodium, calcium and potassium are all important to keep our body going. If you aren’t taking in enough of these and there is an imbalance, your muscles will not contract as well and will often cramp. If you are suffering from many cramps, try eating and drinking more electrolytes and see if the situation improves.

 

  • Dehydration – Cramps are common in hot and humid conditions. This is because when exercising, and sweating, your body is losing vast levels of fluids that need to be topped up. Having plenty of water in your system is vital to maintaining a strong blood flow. Without sufficient blood reaching your muscles, you are heading for cramps.

 

  • Poor Condition – Blood circulation is also linked to the condition of your body. The more exercise you can do and the healthier the food you eat are all factors in promoting a healthy blood flow to your muscles that will make them stronger when exercising and less vulnerable to cramps.

 

  • Altered workouts – All muscles have a limit. It is important to know when you reach yours or you risk overworking yourself. If you want to lengthen your run or increase the weight you are lifting, you must make sure you are doing so gradually or else you risk pushing your muscles too far and this may lead to cramps.

These are common reasons that your muscles cramp when exercising which you can control, but there may be reasons out of your control, such as illnesses and other factors like age. Liver disease, thyroid issues, pregnancy and circulation problems are all reasons that you may face regular cramps.

If you experience cramps more often than usual, and they are beginning to feel severe, it is recommended to pay a visit to your doctor, who may be able to diagnose why this problem is occurring.

For most people though, cramp is down to poor conditioning, bad preparation, muscle fatigue, and in some cases just pure bad luck. However you got it, cramp is always a sure-fire to quickly put an end to a workout.

But there are ways to minimise cramping issues, and you can start doing them right now.

How to Stop Your Muscles from Cramping?

No-one wants a muscle cramp, so by preparing yourself properly before exercise and ensuring your body is in the right condition for the strain it is about to be under, you can minimise the risk of this happening.

Regular exercise is a great place to start, as it will have a great effect on your blood circulation and muscle recovery, meaning you won’t suffer from fatigue and overworking as much.

Before any workout, stretching can loosen up the muscles and prepare them for what is about to come. If you can stretch out your muscles before a strain, they will have much more flexibility and won’t be as tight, meaning less risk of cramps.

It is important to be well hydrated throughout exercise and to maintain a healthy diet that is rich in the nutrients and minerals that benefit your muscles to keep them strong and ready for every challenge you throw their way.

Now, this isn’t to say you won’t get a cramp even if you stick to all the advice above.

Luckily, there are ways you can soothe the pain and quicken the time it takes for the muscle to heal.

What to do When You Have Cramp

Alleviating the pain of cramp is something that doesn’t need medicine or dedicated healthcare. It can be done by yourself, or even better, with a little help from a friend.

The first thing to do is stretch the muscle. If you watch any football match, you may see a player suffer from a cramp, and a teammate help them by pushing down on their foot as they lie down. This is a calf stretching exercise that can quickly minimise the duration and pain of the cramp.

You can also massage the muscle to stretch it out and stop it from contracting as severely.

Another method is to heat the muscle. This can be done by wrapping a warm towel around the pain or taking a warm bath.

Cramp is painful, and it can happen at any time, but knowing what you do when it does occur can be a big help in getting over the pain and getting your muscles back to normal as quickly as possible.

Final Thoughts

When muscles cramp, it can put an end to your workout and leave you in some distress.

The reason for the cramp? Well, there are many different things it could be. But this doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented.

Knowing the factors that can cause cramp means you can prepare your body to be stronger against them and could be the difference between a painful end to exercise, and a long and fulfilling one.

 

Want to know more about how you can condition your body? Contact us today and see how The Cut Gym can help you.

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2022 TRAINING PACKAGES

Pull Ups

Ensure you can reach the pull up bar without jumping. If you’re unable to place a step underneath the pull up bar.

Grab the pull up bar with approximately 1.5x shoulder width.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Pull yourself towards the bar, once you’ve reached a position when you can pull no further, this is your end range.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start/end position.

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Y Raise

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Face Pull

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cable Lateral raise

Set the cable to its lowest setting using a D handle attachment, then choose the appropriate weight.

 Stand beside the cable station with an extended arm, feet close to the base whilst leaning away from the machine.

 This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Initiating the movement with your shoulders, pull the D handle from beside your leg diagonally to a position which is parallel with the floor.

 Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Dumbbell Lateral raise

Place your dumbbells at the end of the bench, before taking a seat.

Grab your dumbbells with your thumb facing the same direction as your biceps, sit nice and tall.

 This is your start and end position of every repetition.

 Keep your arm in a fixed flexed position throughout the set.

 Initiating the movement with your shoulders, bring the dumbbells to a position which is parallel with the floor.

 Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Set your bench at 90* (or 75* if you struggle to press vertically).

 Sit on the edge of the bench, feet approximately shoulder-width with the dumbbells resting on your thighs, bring the dumbbell in line with your shoulders and elbows facing the floor.  

 This is your start and end position of every repetition.

 Press towards the ceiling, aiming to bring your elbows towards one another without the dumbbells hitting.

 Pause for a moment whilst your arms are fully extended, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Single arm row

Your dumbbell should be roughly a step-in front of you.

Place one knee on the bench, then take a lateral step to create a wide base (approximately shoulder width).

Whichever knee is on the bench, place its corresponding arm on the bench which will place your torso parallel to the floor.

Pick up the dumbbell with your free hand, the dumbbell should be directly below your shoulder.

This is your start and end position of every repletion.

Initiating the movement with your middle back, pull the dumbbell towards your hip.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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What Causes Muscle Cramps During Exercise?

Place your dumbbell vertically in the head position of your bench.

Grab the dumbbell at the handle with your hands overlapping one another, then create a hinge joint with your shoulder blades and the bench.

Extend your arms so the dumbbell is in line with your head.

Keeping your arms slightly flex (5-10*), allow the dumbbell to move overhead and towards the ground, stopping at a point in which the dumbbell can move no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start/end position.

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Straight arm pull down

 

Set the cable to its highest setting, then attach 2 ropes.

Grab the end of the ropes, then take 2 steps back away from the cable station.

Maintaining a neutral spine, push your hips back and pull your chest forward to create a 45* angle with the floor.

Keep your arms fully extended, pull the ropes towards your waist to a point in which you can’t pull back no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start/end position.

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Chest Supported Row

Set your bench at approximately a 30* angle, then place your dumbbells at the head of your bench.

Pull your chest into the bench, then grab each of your dumbbells.

This is your start and end position for each repetition.

Initiating the movement with your middle back, pull the dumbbells in a diagonal manner towards your waist till you can’t move no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start/end position.

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Leg Extension

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Seated Row

 

Sitting on the machine, make sure your feet are supported.

Reach forward and grip your cable attachment with your palms facing one another.

This would be your start and end position of every repetition.

Keep your torso upright, initiating the movement with your middle back pull your elbows back till you can’t move no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start/end position.

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Lat Pull Down

Set your thigh padding to a position that ensures the sole of your foot doesn’t move, whilst standing grab your attachment and secure yourself under the thigh padding.

This is your start and end position for every repetition.

Leaning back slightly and pull the attachment vertically towards your torso.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to your start/end position.

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Push ups

Starting in a prone position, set your hand just outside shoulder width at a 45 degree angle relative to your torso.

Bring your knees and your hips off the ground, so that your body is in neutral (this is your start and end position for every rep).

Press into the ground until your arms are fully extended, then lower your body in a controlled manner towards the floor.

*Your body should be moving in a synchronised manner.

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Cable Press

Pick the handles and take a seat on your bench, your arms should be in a neutral position.

Extend your arms, so your fist is approximately the same height as your armpit but now rotate so that you’re in a pronated grip (this is your start and end position for every rep).

In a slow controlled manner, you’re going to move your upper arm towards the bench. The upper arm should be in approximately a 45 degree relative to your torso. When you’ve reached a point when your upper arm can move no further, press the handles in the opposite direction of the bench until your arm are fully extended.

*Your bench should be central of the cable station.

*Your handles should be should height

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Cable Fly

Pick the handles and take a seat on your bench, your arms should be in a neutral position.

Extend your arms, so your fist is approximately the same height as your armpit. Your elbow should also be slightly bent (this is your start and end position for every rep).

In a slow controlled manner, you’re going to move your upper arm in a circular movement towards the pulley, before returning to your start/end position.

*Your bench should be central of the cable station.

*Your handles should be shoulder height

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Incline Machine

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Dumbbell Chest Press

Sit on the edge of the bench, feet approximately shoulder-width with the dumbbells resting on your thighs then lie back so that you’re in a supine position on your bench.

Your dumbbells should be above your elbows, whilst your upper arm should be approximately 45 degrees to your torso (this is your start and end position for every rep), palms in the same direction of your feet.

Press the dumbbells towards the ceiling, until your arms are fully extended then lower the dumbbells in a slow controlled manner to your start position.

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Change This to exorcise title

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BarBell Chest Press

Sit on the edge of the bench, feet approximately shoulder-width, lie back so you’re in a supine position. Your eyes should be directly underneath the barbell.

Place your hands on the barbell with an overhand grip, approximately 1.5x shoulder width.

Extend your arms to un rack the bar, slowly set the bar to a position perpendicular of your shoulders (this is your start and end position for every rep).

Lower the barbell in a controlled manner towards your chest, your arms should be approximately 45 degrees to your torso. When you’ve reached a point when the barbell can get no lower press the barbell towards the ceiling, until your arms fully extended.

*If you’re training in a facility where you can set the hooks to your preferred height, choose a height in which when you’re un-racking the bar you’re not protracting/over extending to remove the bar.

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Rfe split squat

Find yourself in a staggered stance approximately in front of a step which should be no greater than 6” high, place your toes on the step and your front foot should be flat. This would be your start and end position for every repetition.

You’re going to allow your rear knee to move towards the floor, whilst your front knee is moving in a motion forward towards your toes.

When your rear knee is close to touching the ground, pause then push through both legs to reverse the motion to the start position.

*If your front heel comes off the ground during your repetitions, adjust your stance.

Starting with bodyweight is appropriate for many on a RFE, or holding on to a squat stand to aid balance.

Repeat for the stated reps in your program before switching sides.

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Split squat

Find yourself in a staggered stance approximately a step forward/back difference, the front foot should be flat and the rear foot should be on the toes (mobility permitting). This would be your start and end position for every repetition.

You’re going to allow your rear knee to move towards the floor, whilst your front knee is moving in a motion forward towards your toes.

When your rear knee is close to touching the ground, pause then push through both legs to reverse the motion to the start position.

Repeat for the stated reps in your program before switching sides.

*If your front heel comes off the ground during your repetitions, adjust your stance.

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Cable crossover

Set the pulley station to above shoulder height on each side, removing any cable attachments.

Grab the left pulley with your right hand, right pulley with your left hand creating a X with the cables.

Retract your shoulder blades, keep your arms in a fixed position then extend your arms to a point they can’t extend no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Seated DB curl

Pick up your dumbbells and sit at the edge of your bench.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your bicep facing the same direction as your knees and toes.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the dumbbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Cable Extension

Set the pulley station to its highest setting, attaching two rope attachments.

Hold the ropes with a neutral grip, in a flexed position.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arms in a fixed position, extending your arm to a point they can’t extend no further.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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DUMBBELL TRICEP EXTENSION

Pick up your dumbbells with a neutral grips, sitting on the edge of the bench.

Lie back, and extending your arm so that its directly in line with your shoulder.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arms in a fixed position, flex your arm allowing the dumbbells to travel towards the side of your head.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Reverse Curl

Load your barbell in your training area.

Pick up your barbell with a shoulder width grip, and palms facing your body.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your bicep facing the same direction as your knees and toes.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the barbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Zotttman Curl

Pick up your dumbbells and sit at the edge of your bench.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your bicep facing the same direction as your knees and toes.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the dumbbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, then rotating your forearm so that your thumbs are facing one another and reverse the movement to the start position.

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Hammer Curl

 

Pick up your dumbbells and sit at the edge of your bench.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your bicep facing the same direction as your knees and toes.

Rotate your forearm so that your thumbs are facing forward.

This is your start and end position of every repetition.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the dumbbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Cable Curl

Set the pulley station to the lowest setting, attaching a cambered bar.

Hold the cambered bar with your palms facing you, then take 3 steps back.

This is your start and end position for each repetition.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your biceps facing forward.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the bar until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Preacher Curl

Place a dumbbell at the head of your bench, then set your bench at approximately 75* angle.

Pick up your dumbbell then place your upper arm-armpit at the head of the bench, with your palm facing you.

This is your start and end position for each repetition.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the dumbbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Spider curl

Place your dumbbells at the head of your bench, then set your bench at approximately a 30* angle

Pull your chest into the bench, then grab each of your dumbbells.

This is your start and end positon for each repetition.

Pull your shoulder blades together, with your biceps facing forward.

Keeping your upper arm in a fixed position, curl the dumbbell until you get to the point in which you’re unable to curl no more.

Pause for a moment, before reversing the movement to the start position.

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Ham curl

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back Squat

Have the bar behind your neck, resting on your shoulders.

Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart. This will be your start and end position for every repetition.

Start the movement by allowing your knees to move in the same direction of your toes, whilst your hip is moving towards the platform in a synchronised manner. Once you’ve reach the bottom, pause then push through your legs to return to your starting position.

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Step Ups

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glute bridge

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Hip Bridge

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45 Back Extension

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RDL

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Trap bar deadlift

Stand in the middle of the hex/trap bar with your feet in approximately a shoulder width stance.

Maintaining a neutral spine, in a synchronised manner bring your hips towards your calves, whilst also allowing your knees to move in the same direction as your toes. You should be able to grab the handles of the bar, if you’re unable to, raise the bar by placing blocks underneath the plates. This is your start and end position

Take a tight grip of the handles and stand, reverse the movement by allowing your knees to move forward and hips down.

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Alternating lunges

With the dumbbell in your hands and to your sides, find yourself in a position where feet are approximately hip width apart

You’re going to take approximately a dynamic step forward, allowing your front knee to move forward whilst the rear knee moves towards the floor. Without pausing in the bottom position, push through the ground to return to a standing position. This is the start and end of every repetition.

Repeat for the stated reps in your program before switching sides.

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Goblet squat

Hold the Dumbbell in a vertical manner just below your chin, your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart. This will be your start and end position for every repetition.

Start the movement by allowing your knees to move in the same direction of your toes, whilst your hip is moving towards the platform in a synchronised manner. Once you’ve reach the bottom, pause then push through your legs to return to your starting position.

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Hack Squat

Load the weight plates on to the machine, then place your shoulders underneath the pads whilst setting your feet on the platform approximately shoulder-width apart (this is your start and end position for every rep).

Your feet should be a in position which allows you to push through the centre of your feet.

Extend your knees, and take the hack squat off the lock setting. Start the movement by allowing your knees to move in the same direction of your toes, whilst your hip is moving towards the platform in a synchronised manner. Once you’ve reached the bottom, pause then press through the platform to return to your starting/end position.

Repeat for the stated reps in your program before switching sides.

*Focus on keeping your lower back on the back pad, if your back comes of the pad you’ve reached your end range-of-motion.

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