One of the more common problems with beginner cyclists when they attempt longer spins - say a Sunday 50k cycle - is cramping. One observes a young cyclist doubled over in severe pain as the leg muscle goes into a spasm of contraction. This pain can last for a few seconds or several minutes as the rest of the group wait anxiously and look on wondering when they are going to complete their ride home
Cramping can be caused by dehydration, muscle fatigue, failing to do a warm up session (cycling in a low gear at low intensity for first 10 minutes of cycle), having a high level of caffine or alcohol in the body, long rides as with the cycle club on Sundays.
The cures for cramping depend of course on what you are suffering from: - If you are low in vitamin D you should consult your doctor and you may be put on a Bio Magnesium tablet. If you feel that there is nothing lacking in your system and the problem could be solved by having a better cycling technique, here are some things you could try:
1) Do a 10 minute warm up before joining your cycling group for a long cycling trip
2) Pedal at least 3 times per week. If you wish to improve your muscle function you must train regularly. By training 3 times per week you will enjoy your Sunday cycle more
3) Try moving about during your work - 5 minute breaks every hour
4) Add a little salt to your water which makes you thirsty and thus ensures that you hydrate sufficiently
5) Put an electrolyte tablet into your water. We sell Zero tablets and find them to be much better than sports drinks - Cheaper, tastier and more refreshing
6) If your body does not hold magnesium try taking beetroot juice it is full of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that the body needs to recover
Above all train constantly but do a little at a time. A session on the bike less than 90 minutes with interval bursts for speed, power or fast pedalling will serve your muscles better than the constant 3 hour Sunday cycle. If you are unable to get your training in perhaps you should move down a grade. Find a group who cycle for a shorter distance at a slower pace. Above all, keep cycling, iits great for the health
Cramping For Competitive Athletes.
Even athletes at the top of their game can suffer cramp at times. Sometimes cramp is brought on by over exhaustion but more times it is brought on by heat exhaustion which will produce a different type of cramp. Andy Murray the tennis player suffered terribly from cramp in his early days until his physio put him on a training programme to overcome it and condition his body to deal with it. GAA inter-county football players will suffer cramp if a match goes into extra time. These players are highly trained for a 70 minute football game but not an extra 20 minutes in blistering heat.
Causes of Cramping
The causes of cramp are still not fully understood by scientists. Messages go from the brain, through the spinal cord, to the muscle via the muscle membrane that surrounds the muscle. These messages are regulated by sensors in the tendons. If the muscles stretch and contract too quickly a message will be sent to the brain via the spinal cord and it will try to calm things down in the body. What happens when a cramp comes on is that the system misfires and there is less inhibitory control and the muscle gets hyper excited. The protective system in the body has not functioned as designed.
Treating Cramp :
Stretch the Muscle - This may be easier said than done as it is a bit brutal to try and stretch a muscle out when it is very tight and tensed up. If you succeed at this it will be of immediate benefit
Stretch the Muscle on the Opposite Side - If your hamstring muscle has gone into cramp, try tensing or stretching your quadricep muscle. When you work the quad muscle a message will come from the brain to reduce the activity in the hamstring muscle
Stimulate the Skin - If you rub the skin over the cramp or use cold spray, an inhibitor message will be sent to the muscle asking it to calm down.
Bike Set Up - Occasionally improper bike set up can be a cause and if rectified a treatment for cramping. Even though the body is very adaptable and the muscles will adjust to accommodate whatever position a bike asks it to stretch to, there are times when improper bike set-up will lead to the body having to deal with more stress and strain. Your muscles will therefore have to work harder than if the bike was properly set up by an experienced bike fitter. Pedal fitting is particularly relevant in this area. Most cyclists fit the cleats on their pedals to align their foot parallel to the axis that the two wheels align on. However only 10% of the population walks with both their feet in a straight line. Most people will kick in one of their heels at the end of their stride or point out their toes. When you identify the way you walk, you should fit the cleats on your shoes to accommodate this angle. This may require you then bringing out the pedal by placing a washer between it and the Chainwheel so that your shoe does not then rub off the crank on each pedal revolution
We at Cahill Cycles are not medical people but are cyclists and bicycle mechanics. We hope that this article may arouse an interest in you to dealing with the problem that may be holding you back from your physical potential. Perhaps you will get advice from a doctor or physiotherapist to discover your own body and limitations.
Cramping is not something that should hold you back from exercising. It can be remedied and the main action in remedying cramping is to train gradually more and more.