There’s nothing worse than looking forward to a great long run and then encountering a cramp early on that makes the rest of your run uncomfortable. There are three main types of cramps that we might experience while running: side cramps (stitches), stomach cramps and muscle cramps. Keep reading to find out what causes the cramps, how to prevent them, and how to treat them in the moment.
The primary cause of side cramps is incorrect breathing. If you’re breathing through your chest rather than your diaphragm, your breathing is too shallow, and your lungs are not receiving maximum oxygen.
Stomach cramps can also occur due to incorrect breathing, but are more often a result of carrying too much fluid in stomach, having eaten too recently, or eating something that doesn’t sit well with you.
Muscle cramps are caused by dehydration. When you haven’t been hydrating properly, your muscles fatigue more quickly and are susceptible to cramps.
In order to avoid side cramps, take the first 10 minutes of your run slowly and ensure that you’re breathing properly. If you know that your breathing technique could use work in general, try a daily breathing exercise, such as laying down with a book on your stomach to practice breathing with your diaphragm. You can also try a pre-running stretch of side torso twists if breathing doesn’t seem to be the whole problem.
If the issue is stomach cramps, try giving yourself more time between eating or drinking large amounts of fluids and running. You should allow at least a 2-4 hour break. Before and during exercise you should only sip small amounts of water to avoid bloating. You’ll also want to consider your diet. While you want to make sure it consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables and high-fiber foods, you might want to wait at least 4-5 hours to run after eating a high fiber meal.
Stave off muscle cramps by staying properly hydrated, but keep in mind the previous note about not taking in too much water right before a run. You can also try longer runs at a slower speed so that your muscles don’t tense up and fatigue as quickly. Maintain proper pacing so that you aren’t suddenly forcing yourself to run at a faster pace than usual. Strength training for your legs and core will help improve endurance as well.
The moment that you feel a side cramp, the best thing to do is to slow down and take time to walk and breathe and let the cramp pass. Once you’ve returned to a proper breathing style and pattern and the cramp is gone, you can continue running.
With a stomach cramp you’ll want to stop running and see if burping or releasing gas relives the cramp.
If you feel a muscle cramp, stop running and hydrate with a sports drink that can restore your electrolyte balance. When you start running again, try a slower pace.