How to Prevent Cramps When Exercising

Get-Fit Guy's 5 tips for preventing cramps when you exercise.

Ben Greenfield
3-minute read
Episode #34

Muscle cramps can be incredibly frustrating. You’re in the middle of a workout, when BAM! your muscles suddenly and powerfully seize up. Or perhaps they just march off into their own tiny, twitching song-and-dance routine, leaving you unable to effectively workout..

How to Prevent Cramps When Exercising

The truth is, cramping during exercise can go far beyond simply being dehydrated and grabbing a glass of water to make the cramps go away. So in this episode you’ll learn what causes cramps, how to avoid cramps, and the five ways to stop cramping during exercise.

Can Lack of Fitness Cause Cramping?

The first possible cause of cramping is a lack of fitness. This is the type of cramp you might get during a pick-up basketball game, day of snow-skiing, or 5K run. The reasoning goes like this: during competition or intense exercise, you sometimes push yourself much harder than you normally do in training, and your muscles are subjected to a much stronger force of contraction then they’re used to. As a result, the muscles go into a state of protective spasm.

This is certainly a plausible reason for cramping, and it has a very basic solution: get more fit. If you’re constantly cramping during exercise, then begin weight training, performing cardiovascular intervals, and subjecting your muscles to higher degrees of stress.

Does Dehydration Cause Cramping?

The contraction of a muscle is based on a delicate electrical balance within the muscle itself. The movement of compounds like potassium, magnesium, sodium and calcium in and out of the muscle area is how electrical charges are maintained within your muscles-- and each of these compounds move in body fluid that is primarily comprised of water. But when the balance of these compounds is not ideal, or when the fluid in which they move is depleted, the muscles cannot properly carry a charge. So the muscles either produce a very weak contraction, or they produce a contraction that will not relax--a cramp.

Many folks only address half of this equation. If they experience cramping during exercise, they head to the water fountain or begin gulping down copious amounts of water from their sports bottle, but they neglect taking in salts, or electrolytes. Even if you have adequate water on board, you may not have proper levels of sodium, magnesium, calcium, or potassium. But before you rush off to get your hands on a sports drink, you may want to read a recent blog post I wrote about a popular sports drink. The take-away message is that most people get enough sugar and salts, and unless you’re a highly active individual or serious athlete, the cause of your cramps is more likely to be dehydration than inadequate salt intake.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.