Never get another cramp

They can come out of nowhere and ruin a session. Here's how to avoid them.

They arrive suddenly, involuntarily, and often seemingly at random for novices and experienced exercisers alike. What’s more, while cramps are no new nuisance, there’s reason to believe that today’s population is seeing more of them than in previous years—a trend that Stephanie Pipia, a Chicago-based Tier 4 master trainer, attributes to our hectic lifestyles.

“We live in a high-stress society and people don’t pay attention to nutrition,” she says, referencing overlooked yet crucial minerals such as magnesium. Those busy days take a toll on our hydration levels, too. “We simply don’t take in a lot of water,” she says.

And as on-the-go as our society can be, Equinox Tier 4 trainer and master instructor Michael Ricchio ascribes the increase in cramps to our deskbound realities. “Even those of us who exercise daily have a sedentary life 22 to 23 hours a day,” he says. “The jump from a primarily sedentary routine into a strenuous workout can easily result in cramping.” He also points a finger at today’s fitness routines. “Workout trends are moving towards the highest of intensities, and often those ask the body to perform at levels it is not prepared for.”

Here, Pipia and Ricchio share the three easiest ways to avoid cramps.

hydrate hours ahead of time.

“People go all day without drinking water or work out first thing in the morning and get a cramp because they’re dehydrated,” says Pipia. Try to hydrate two hours pre-workout, and aim to incorporate electrolytes, which help maintain muscle function and hydration status.

pay attention to minerals.

“The absence of proper chemicals in the body, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium, can cause cramps via a stimulus similar to a signal from the brain — but one we have no control over,” explains Ricchio. Fuel up on foods rich in these nutrients, such as dark, leafy greens, avocados, and bananas, to help promote voluntary, i.e. the good kind, muscle contraction.

start in a lower zone.

We might think we’re doing ourselves good by kicking sessions into high gear as soon as possible, but Pipia cautions against this approach. “Too often people jump into a routine because they want the high intensity stuff right away, but it’s important to build a foundation so that your body becomes more efficient at transporting blood and oxygen to the muscles.” Begin by working within the lower heart rate zones.