I seem to be getting a lot of questions about cramps right now so I wanted to share my basic advice for preventing them. Cramping can be a bit more complicated than most people realize because there is more than one thing that can be causing it.
In fact, once your hydration and electrolyte bases are covered (which isn’t hard to do as I outlined in this article) cramping usually boils down to inefficient movement and/ or posture. Inefficient movement and posture put muscles at a disadvantage and eventually one of those muscles will give out, i.e. cramp up.
For a mountain biker this means that if you have a quad dominant pedal stroke and don’t recruit your hips optimally – a very common problem among riders who try to “spin circles” – your quads will always deal with being tight and sometimes cramping up. If you ride with a rounded lower back you make matters even worse and your low back will be tight and at risk of cramping.
With that in mind, here is my basic advice to riders who suffer from cramping while riding:
1 – Don’t ride clipless pedals all the time and make sure you can mimic your flat pedal mid-foot position with your clipless pedals. There is no getting around the fact that it is extremely tough to recruit the hips when you are pushing through the balls of your feet. You need a more mid-foot position – like the one flat pedals naturally put you in – to get the hips behind the pedal stroke.
2 – Foam roll and stretch your quads, hips and calves. The leg muscles produce a lot of tension over the course of a ride and you need to do something to address the knots and adhesions that come along with it. Those knots and adhesions cause the muscle to carry more tension than usual and if you come into a ride with an already tight muscle the odds of cramping it up are much higher.
3 – Use deadlifts and swings to help develop a more efficient “hip dominant” pedal stroke. Getting your hips strong is the key to developing a strong, hip driven pedal stroke. When you can do a 1.5-2 X BW deadlift and knock out perfect swings with a 24 kg KB your pedal stroke will thank you.
Sometimes cramping is related to something as simple as hydrating properly and increasing your electrolytes but for a lot of riders there is more to it. By addressing the movement issues that can be causing cramping you will not only eliminate or significantly reduce your cramps but you’ll get a stronger pedal stroke as well. Plus, you won’t have to eat bananas all the time.