Cramping during exercise, especially during Pilates seems very common. It’s a shame because a cramp can really disrupt a great workout. Cramps most often occur in the calves and feet. They are an involuntary contraction of a muscle that does not relax. They hurt like a bugger, but there is quite a bit you can do to try and prevent them and alleviate them.

Think About When You Get Cramps

If you only get cramps when you do Pilates solving the problem might be different then if you are prone to cramps all the time. Do you wake up with cramps in the night? Do you tend to get a cramp even when you don’t exercise?

If you are prone to getting cramps the first thing to consider is your diet. Do you have a well balanced diet and do you get enough potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc? All this minerals, especially the first two, are beneficial when trying to reduce cramping.

Also, you may be somewhat dehydrated. Do you drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated tea? If so dehydration can bring on your cramps. Try reducing your intake of caffeinated beverages or counter balance caffeine with water. Try drinking water as soon as you get up in the morning to feed your muscles.

Cramping from Exercise

If it turns out you only cramp during or shortly after exercising, especially Pilates, it can still be related to your diet or dehydration. Drinking water right before a Pilates class can make your whole workout uncomfortable, but it won’t be so bad if you drink 45 minutes before a workout. Also drink during the workout. Remember, as you sweat you lose water in the body. You don’t want to dehydrate yourself once you get going. Try to drink less caffeine on days you take a class.

Cramping during particular exercises could be sign of over exerting the muscle. If you start to realize that you always cramp during the same exercises, try to do less of them or do a modified version. Slowly build back up until you get get through the series without cramping. If you’re not sure whether the same exercises bring on a cramp, start writing down the exercises after class.

If it’s pointing the foot that aggravates your muscles there is a simple solution. Don’t point your foot. It’s not mandatory. You can reach your leg long while leaving the foot limp. This wont prevent calf cramps (“Charley horses”) but it will help with toe and foot cramps. You can also try pointing from the ankle instead of from the toes. As an instructor, I notice that a lot of clients flex and point their toe from the arch of the foot as opposed to using the ankle. Again, this is a good option for toe and foot cramps, but could aggravate calf cramping.

Lying on your stomach with your legs extended seems to aggravate a number of clients even when they aren’t engaging the muscles. The position seems to create tension. Many of my clients can prevent foot cramps by curling their toes under and stretching the ball of the foot. If that helps, try it during class.

Coming to class early and doing an additional warm-up might help too. Point and flex you foot, roll your ankles. Stretch you calf. Make sure the muscles are fully warmed up before you ask them to work for you.

What to do Once You Have a Cramp

If it’s too late, you had a cup of coffee, ran to class, maybe even missed the warm up, and now you’re in the middle of the breast stroke and you feel a cramp coming on: STOP. It’s the best thing you can do. Try to stop the cramp before it gets worse. Whether you take a little break to try and stop if from getting worse or it’s a full blown cramp, try the following to work it out:

  • Massage the muscle that hurts
  • Get up and walk around
  • Drink water
  • Elevate the foot–lie on your back and lift the leg that hurts up

Cramps are never fun, but there are ways you can experiment with your body to see if you can cramp less often. Remember, I’m not a nutritionist, these are just suggestions that may help. If you want some more details, there is a website that provides a lot of in-depth information. It isn’t geared toward Pilates, but cramping in general.


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