Muscle cramps are every Mudders’ worst nightmare. You’re out there killing it, running through the muddy course, climbing up Mudderhorn, sliding under Tight Squeeze, and then wham-o! You feel that first twinge of a muscle seizing up and before you know it, you’re in a full-blown, swear-inducing, body-clutching cramp.
“Cramping can sideline your performance,” says athletic trainer Eric “EROCK” Botsford, creative director of Tough Mudder Boot Camp. “No matter if it’s in training or on the Tough Mudder course, you’ve got to stay ahead of muscle cramping.”
Cramping can be a symptom of dehydration, muscle overuse, or other issues. While there is no proven research guaranteeing why you experience muscle cramps or how to get rid of them, there are some tried-and-true ways athletes prevent and deal with them.
Try these ideas to avoid muscle cramping and cross your next Mudder finish line in epic fashion.
1. Train in the same conditions you expect to see on the course.
Will you be running a Mudder course in the heat? Up hills? Set up your training sessions to mimic the course to get your muscular and cardiovascular systems in sync with the environment you’ll be facing. “Train hard to perform your best when your body is put to the test,” Botsford says.
2. Hydrate and fuel your body.
Some muscle cramp theories suggest that an extreme loss of fluids or electrolytes causes a contraction of the fluid around muscles and a misfiring of nerves, resulting in a cramp. “Replenish your electrolytes every hour,” Botsford says. Eat a pre-workout banana for potassium, ingest salt tabs or increase your sodium intake to refill the supply you’ll be sweating out, and drink plenty of liquids, especially sports drinks with electrolytes or pickle juice with loads of sodium and potassium.
3. Plan adequate rest days.
Knowing to take time off when your body needs it is important to prevent cramps as well as other performance problems. Muscles that are still recovering from a hard training regime are not able to absorb nutrients as easily. Most athletes swear by a workout schedule that includes both active rest days and total rest days.
4. Avoid extremely tight clothing.
Compression gear is fantastic—until it cuts off your circulation. Make sure your calf sleeves and compression shorts aren’t too tight, or improper blood flow to muscles could result in cramping.
5. Warm up with dynamic stretching.
This movement-based type stretching called dynamic stretching—in which a stretch is not held—stimulates and prepares the muscles for exercise. This use of the muscles during the stretch, especially of your muscles that tend to cramp most, can help prevent spasms at critical times.
6. Keep stretching on course.
“Stop and stretch often,” Botsford advises. Stretching the muscles as you’re using them helps extend muscles that are continually contracted during your movements on course. Putting the muscle under tension in a static stretch, where you hold the stretch position, initiates the relaxation reflex and can both stop a burgeoning cramp and prevent future ones.
7. Be prepared.
When you push yourself to the limit on course, cramps might inevitable. Our brains are pretty smart, and despite your serious dedication to Mudder Nation, your brain might just decide your body has gone bonkers to be doing what it is doing and sets off firing nerves to stop your muscles from continuing this insanity. That’s the working theory behind slurping down spicy mustard or hot sauce packets during a muscle cramp: Basically, the strong flavors trigger nerves in your nose and mouth, distracting your brain from continuing to send nerve messages to your cramping muscles.