You're executing the perfect Pilates roll-up or burning those thighs and glutes with a super set of squats and lunges and suddenly its like a dagger in your foot, the dreaded foot cramp! You're reduced to a fetal ball of silent screaming mush with toes akimbo. Cramping of the feet and/or calves during Pilates and other exercise is very common. I've seen it with my clients and have unfortunately experienced it myself. Not only does it hurt like hell but it can really disrupt and demotivate you from a great workout.
Fortunately, most of us can prevent and alleviate cramping pretty easily. As most exercise induced cramps are caused by dehydration and/or mineral deficiencies we can prevent and alleviate them by increasing our intake of fluids (via water or sports drinks before during and after exercise) and foods rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium.
Common Causes of Cramps:
The most common causes for foot and leg cramps include:
- Stress or fatigue in the foot (being on your feet all day, walking, etc.)
- Lack of potassium, as well as magnesium and calcium (especially in pregnant women)
- Poor circulation (medical conditions or wearing tight shoes & high heels that constrict blood flow)
- Caffeine, alcohol and/or tobacco use (can reduce circulation and contribute to dehydration)
- Drug side effects (some medications can impact circulation, dehydration and/or mineral depletion)
If you only get foot cramps occasionally, you probably should not worry and can likely address them with minor nutritional and exercise habit changes. However, if cramps occur frequently, you should discuss it with your physician or other appropriate licensed professional as it could signify a larger problem.
The best way to prevent most cramping is to stay hydrated and get the recommended supply of key minerals.
Hydrate throughout the day and be sure to drink water or a sports drink (most sports drinks contain potassium and magnesium) before, during and after your workouts. Be sure to drink every 10 minutes or so during intense workouts as you lose both water and minerals through sweating.
Eat plenty of mineral rich foods. Fruits, vegetables and legumes (beans) are good sources of potassium with the most notable being bananas. Green leafy veggies, nuts and whole grains are generally high in magnesium. And for your calcium, milk related products (or soy or almond milk) are generally the best sources. As always, before making any significant changes in your diet, its best to consult a physician or registered dietician.
Take note of what you ate & drank on the days you get foot cramps. Did you drink less water? More caffeine?
Other things to try to minimize your chance of cramping during your workout:
- Stretch out your feet before you put them into your workout shoes, especially if you're switching from dress shoes/heels. You want to get the circulation going in your feet and alleviate any constriction caused by your shoes.
- Warm-up your feet, ankles and calves before diving into your workout just like you would other muscles.
- Flexing your feet and toes: flex and hold a few seconds and release to relaxed state and repeat. It stretches the soles of your feet, your toes and calves.
- Circle your ankles (both directions) with feet relaxed or flexed. Stretches & increases circulation
- Spread your toes & wiggle them: expands & opens the feet, especially after being squished into a pointy-toed pump!
For many people, pointing the feet/toes induces cramping, especially in Pilates. Sounds stupid, but: DON"T DO IT if it causes cramps, you can just keep feet relaxed and still elongate through the legs (which is usually the point of pointing your toes in Pilates). And by all means when/if you do point, do it from the ankle not by straining the arch of the foot.
Remind yourself to relax your feet during your workout regardless of whether you're standing, sitting or lying down. We often put a lot of tension into our feet (much like we do the neck and shoulders). Relax!
Getting Rid of a Cramp:
When you do get a cramp, try the following:
- Put foot back into relaxed/natural position & lightly massage it
- Try gently flexing the ankle & toes to stretch the muscle - SLOWLY
- Take slow, deep inhales and exhales to help get oxygen to the muscle and relax your body
- Downward Dog or a standing calf stretch with foot flat on the floor can also help
- Drink water or your sports drink
After a workout where you have cramping issues, be sure to rehydrate and replenish your mineral supply else you're likely to get them again!
On behalf of CoreFitnessByJana.com, Here's to having Happy Feet!
For more info on foot and leg cramp see the following sources: