Cramps: why they come and how to avoid them | Health on the saddle
Cramps – why they come and how to avoid them

Cramps – why they come and how to avoid them


Cramps are a problem as painful as they are common among cyclists; a hassle that can ruin your day without giving any easily identifiable clues as to their cause.

Bad training, overexertion, dehydration and wrong diet are relevant – but incorrect position on the saddle can also be a cause of cramp. What can we do to reduce the risk of cramp striking?


Cramp can hit you like a bolt from the blue and then it’s arrivederci: your ride is sabotaged and your journey home becomes a painful ordeal.

Every cyclist – professional, amateur or newcomer – is sure to suffer from cramp at least once in their lifetime.

But what exactly is cramp?

We can start by saying that cramp is an involuntary contraction affecting striated muscles; in cyclists it most commonly affects the calf, this being a muscle subjected to continual stresses from pedalling movements. This is why we can never underestimate the importance of posture and must always find the right stance on the bike, and especially the correct positioning of the foot: pedalling on the ball of the foot makes the calf work too hard and can be harmful in the long term.

This problem is often caused by the saddle being set too high, forcing the rider to pedal with the foot bent down and not parallel to the ground; it’s therefore worth taking the time to make correct adjustments, particularly when first fitting the seat.

A biomechanical analysis would be useful for optimising the starting position; then there are tools like the idmatch setup system by Selle Italia, used by retailers find the best seat positioning.


Cramps: it’s agony!

There’s no escape. The pain from cramp is so intense that it’s often impossible to stay in the saddle. But what exactly causes it and what can we do to prevent it?

The “basic theory” says that cramp occurs when lactic acid, which builds up in the muscle through prolonged effort, prevents the muscle from receiving the oxygen and minerals necessary for the extension of the muscle fibres, which then contract and cause the pain.

In actual fact, cramp is the result of several factors that are not yet fully understood; but the root cause in any case is excessive loss of fluids and salts resulting from intense sweating and the depletion of glycogen stores (the energy supply stored in the muscles).


The watchword here is replenishment

Hot, humid summer days are the riskiest times, simply because we sweat more and the concentration of salts in the blood decreases.

In these conditions is essential to replenish lost fluids and although you may not actually feel thirsty, it’s important drink regularly during the session and perhaps take appropriate salt fluid supplements.

Bear in mind, though, that caffeine consumption may increase perspiration.

Proper nutrition before and after exercise is equally important in providing the body with the necessary mineral salts and in “protecting” the muscles.

It is advisable to consume plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially those with high potassium and magnesium content, such as bananas, grapes, apricots, tomatoes, dried fruits and whole grains. You can also help stave off leg cramps with the vitamin B and iron found in eggs and meat.


A simple exercise against cramps

A warm up with stretching exercises before a session is definitely a good way to reduce the chance of cramps, but if they do happen, all you can do is hop off the bike and try to stretch the muscle and reduce the contraction enough to be able to remount and gently make your way back to the oasis of a hot shower.

A simple but effective exercise specifically for cramp in the calf is to stand facing a wall with put your hands up for support as you lean towards it. The bring the stricken leg back with your heel firmly on the ground without bending the knee. Keep the position for a few seconds and repeat the exercise until you feel the muscle stretch.




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