Cramping - always the same muscles


#1

Hi,

I know that there are no conclusive answers explaining the reasons for cramping. I often have cramps in my left leg in races/rides where I’m trying to do my best. The muscle that usually cramps up is vastus medialis (a thigh just above the knee, slightly to the inside). Today I took part in a hilly ride (65miles - 7000ft) and around mile 22 I started having cramps, first in my usual left leg, and then in both). The fact that mostly I get it in the left leg can be explained by the fact that it’s weaker (as evidenced by power meter readings). Now, apart from the usual factors contributing to cramping (eg. hydration), I think the following might have been the reason:

  • starting too hard
  • beginning of the season
  • those muscles in questions are too weak.

Now, can I ask you about the third bullet point. Do you think if I go to a gym an focus on those particular muscles, it should help? I’d hope that it’d firstly balance the power between the two legs, and make those muscles stronger, and therefore less prone to being over-fatigued?

What gym/home exercises would you recommend to strengthen those muscles?
Obviously, I understand that working out ONLY those particular muscles would be a mistake (need to balance the exercises to train other parts of the body as well)

Also, would working on my pedalling technique help? I’ve noticed that the cramps always happen on a climb. Very often my legs are fatigued or I don’t have enough power to pedal smoothly. Instead of pedalling “in a circle”, I tend to do movements as if I was pushing the feet down (if that makes sense).

Any other tips? This is becoming a real nuisance for me.

Please advise.


#2

If it’s in the same place all the time maybe it’s a fit issue? I always used to always get cramps in my calves, mainly right one in my sleep. Since I started taking magnesium they’ve stopped


#3

Thanks. Could be. I didn’t think about it. I had a bike fit 2 years ago. I guess it might be worth doing it again paying specific attention to that.


#4

No stranger to cramping, either. There seems to be some anecdotal evidence in support of strength training. For instance, Dave Wiens (a past Leadville winner) says he cramps less frequently if he’s been in the gym, and he likes to get in there 8-9 times prior to leadville. (see his blog entry here). Wiens is also mentioned in a Byclicling magazine article on strength training and its potential helpfulness for cramping.

It certainly seems like it couldn’t hurt, and even if it doesn’t help with cramping, the numerous other positive benefits of strength training make it seem like a sensible thing to add.


#5

I think all the reasons you listed are possibilities. If you don’t belong to a gym already and have health insurance it may be worthwhile to put that money towards a co-pay and look into physical therapy instead of the gym. They can help assess your imbalances and get you doing exercises to help.


#6

I also have an imbalance. My left leg is noticeably weaker.
I swear my cramps have gotten worse as I’ve been stretching religiously over the last couple of years. I stretch my hams and hips 5 or more times a day to keep my back from tightening up.
Back to the imbalance; I’ve started doing pistol squats. I can’t squat very low but every two weeks I lower the seat an inch or so. My left leg is getting stronger already. It’s also getting more stable.
Good luck!


#7

The one problem with the gym is that just because that muscle gets stronger doing those exercises it does not mean there will be carryover onto the bike. It needs to be functionally related. You may be better off focusing on those isolated leg drills, and look into the other possibilities as well!

I have a 10% difference L/R but usually my stronger leg will cramp first, and I would always attribute to doing more work. So the power difference may not have anything to do with it either. Obviously, your body has already made compensations in that area.


#8

I used to cramp in my calves and get twitchy in my inner quads as well when at race intensity. The research was not clear so I hit them from different angles. I started doing some warmish yoga once a week and started skipping rope. Now I just hop a few minutes as part of a cool down. Good luck


#9

Right now I’m nursing a pain in my vastus medialus, about six inches up from the knee, under the sartorius muscle and that comes on with over-unders. Adductor longus and gracilis in both legs are the ones that hurt more than anything else on aerobic/tempo workouts.
image

It’s not a cramp, they simply burn more than the rest. Should I be concerned?


#10

Move your seat forward by 1-2 cms and adjust your front end accordingly. It takes away some work from quads and places them on the hammies. It will also open up your hip angle.


#11

I used to get crippling calf cramps during races. I think it was a combination of pushing the speed more than my muscles were capable of at the time, plus a poor position on the bike. I’ve since had a bike fit, plus got stronger on the bike and it’s less of an issue now. Like @TommyTomkins I’ve also been taking Magnesium supplements, although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how effective they’ve been. Matt Dixon (triathlon coach) claims some of his athletes have benefited from taking Magnesium supplements anyway.

@Ports - if you’re interested, this is a good podcast on the subject:


#12

I have noticed that for me, with my diet, if i go out of my way to hydrate and urinate clear for a day or two i will generally cramp in my calves. If i drink this way and take in more salt (by supplement) I dont get any cramps. I dont know why or how but it works for me.


#13

Thank you everyone for your advice.


#14

Good podcast @oggie41


#15

Used to get that at 2.5 hours in hard races. Start jumping rope or hopping for a few minutes a day after a workout. Teach them how to fire.


#16

The vast majority of cramping happens due to simply overworking a muscle group. When I cramp, your description seems to perfectly describe the muscle location of my cramps. When this happens it’s always because it’s a race and I’ve pushed myself way harder than my body is capable of handling. All the instances I can think of occurred due to me committing to closing a big gap for a teammate late in a race, chasing skinny climbers up long/repeated climbs, performing a leadout at the end of a long/hard race, or similar situations.

Ultimately you’ll probably need to find a way to reduce the strain on those muscles such as changing your bike fit and/or addressing pedaling technique to put less strain on those muscles or “simply” improving your conditioning so that your body can handle more stress before becoming overworked and pacing/racing smartly so as to reduce your energy expenditure.


#17

I got sick of my muscle cramping -___-


#18

I do agree with this. I’m not a cramper but I have two friends with I ride with a lot. We can do 3-6 hour rides on the weekends no problem, but the same time racing and they cramp. I think it’s more than coincidence.