Calf Cramps and Swimming

Cramp is a highly painful phenomenon and one that can actually incapacitate us for short periods depending on the severity. This is bad enough when we are prone or sitting down and can cause us brief moments of agony until we are able to solve the problem. However when we are swimming this can be downright dangerous if we are far out in deep water and there is no one around to help. By preventing us from using our legs cramp in the calves can cause us to seize up and start to sink and of course this carries with it a very serious chance of drowning.

Unfortunate then that during swimming we are often more likely to get cramping in our calves than we are on solid ground. If you are a swimmer and this is a common occurrence then it can be a big problem and one you need to solve. Here we will look at what causes cramping when swimming and how to go about solving it.

What Causes Cramping When Swimming?

Cramps occur when our muscle contracts or shortens in an uncomfortable way which can feel like a sharp shooting pain up the back of the calf and result in slight contortion. Cramping when swimming is often caused by low amounts of electrolytes in most cases. These are substances in the body that have some free ions thus meaning they carry electrical charge and so are used for the electrical signals between nerves. When we swim a combination of dehydration and perspiration means that our muscles lose both moisture and those electrolytes resulting in their seizing up and contracting. This is then further compounded by the fact that you are utilizing and often stretching the calves in a quite pronounced manner when we swim.

Preventing Cramping When Swimming

If you experience cramping in your calf when swimming regularly then the best solution is to take preventative measures prior to getting in. First of all this should mean increasing your levels of electrolytes to prevent imbalance. The common electrolytes that we consume regularly are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, hydrogen phosphate and hydrogen carbonate. You want to focus on sodium (salt) and potassium in order to avoid cramps, and to do this your best strategy is to eat a banana (high in potassium) as well as having an isotonic sports drink to increase your salt and sugar levels.

You should also drink a lot of water prior to swimming in order to combat dehydration, and it won’t hurt either to consume some cabs to ensure your muscles have plenty of energy. You should also always warm up before swimming just as you should warm up before any physical activity – this will encourage blood flow to the limbs thus keeping them warm and supplying them with the necessary nutrients. At the same time it will help to avoid muscle tears and other problems associated with exertion.


In the immediate short term if you feel calf cramps then you need to address the problem in order to continue swimming. To do this you should first of all remove yourself from the water in order to avoid any chance of sinking – or at least move to the shallower parts. Then massage your calf in order to encourage blood flow and to help relax the muscle. When you begin to get enough movement, try stretching the area gently and drink some water.

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