Cramp in swimming generally occurs in one of three areas:
1. the small muscles in the toes
2. the arch of the foot
3. and/or the third and main area, the calf
It’s no coincidence that all these muscle regions activate together when you point your toes, something that you shouldn’t be doing if you want to kick correctly.
Correct kicking requires a good range of plantarflexion movement and if you have it, the water pressure should automatically bend the ankle as you kick downwards, not only into a point but even further – just like a ballerina on tip toes. This degree of ankle movement is achieved by firstly having the flexibility, then more importantly by keeping your ankles fully relaxed, no matter how hard your legs are being kicked.
It should be the water pressure that bends the toes into a point, and not muscular contraction. A good rule of thumb is that none of the muscles below the knee should be involved in kicking. You may discover though that with certain movements and skills you may unconsciously point your toes without realising, and therefore you’ll develop a nasty dose of cramp. This is no more evident than with beginners or swimmers who are learning a movement that involves a lot of rotation. Kicking helps stabilise rotation so when it’s exaggerated this often leads to cramp. The key is to stay relaxed and aware.
Other factors associated with cramp are balance and breathing. If you suspect that you haven’t quite mastered correct body positions or even the breathing action itself, then you are probably experiencing cramp regularly due to your reactions to this. Any fixation mentally on how you are going to gasp for air next, will invariably lead to tension and cramp in the lower leg too.
There are valid situations where nutritionals or prior hard training sessions can play a part. But on the whole, the main reason why people cramp up in the swim are flexibility or pure tension related. So if you continually work on your flexibility, breathing and body positions this will serve the best results.
Good luck with your training and racing and we hope you can continue to motivate yourself and improve over the remaining summer months!
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