In this episode, I discuss a range of actions a hiker can take before, during and after hiking to prevent cramps, and help manage them when they happen.
How To Prevent Cramping When Hiking
Okay. Hello. Hello guys. Today we are talking all about how to reduce cramps while hiking and in your training. Now this is a subject that comes up all the time for my hikers and it's something that a lot of people struggle with. And if we've ever had a cramp, we know it absolutely sucks. Whether it happens during the trail, when you're in the middle of a hike, whether it happens afterwards, the night after, maybe it happens at night when you're actually sleeping or whatever it may be. Even for some people, if they've had a really big hike, it'll happen the next few days. And whether it's in your feet or your calves or your quads or your glutes or whatever it may be. It absolutely sucks. It's super uncomfortable. It's super stressful, and it can lead to discomfort other areas of the body. And unfortunately, when it comes down to cramping, it's still not super, super well understood in the sense that there's no magic fix for cramping.
There's no easy solution for most people. There may be something that works for some people, but it won't work for others. And it can be a little bit tricky getting your head around it. So, today I thought I'd go through a bit of an episode around this subject and just talk through a few ideas which may help. Now, these are the exact same ideas that I talk through with my clients. And basically the approach that I take is like, okay, if we can't exactly identify the one thing which is causing these muscle cramps, what we're going to do is give you a whole list of strategies and you're going to try them all and something in there, hopefully, will give you some relief. And these strategies, they're not too crazy. They're not going to take a lot of time, a lot of money, but I'm just going to be listing off a bunch of things that you can do before, during, and after your hiking or your training sessions, which will hopefully reduce the risk of cramps coming on in the first place and also help deal with them if they do come up.
So, hopefully if you are prone for cramping or they creep up out of nowhere, you'll have a list of things that you can do to help. So, to start with, let's talk about before hiking, because when it always comes down to this stuff, prevention is always better than treatment. And if we can prevent it happening in the first place, prevent these cramps coming on, it's always going to be good and you're not going to have to deal with it. That's always going to be better. Obviously you can't tell when you prevented muscle cramping. Obviously you're never going to know whether you have prevented it or not, but going through these simple things is probably a good idea. Now, first and foremost, which ties in pretty well with this podcast is physical preparation. Now, one of the reasons why we get muscle cramps is if the muscles we're using in a particular exercise or particular hike, they just get overworked and they're not used to what they're doing.
And they just get too much work too quickly. They start freaking out, they start spasming and that can lead to cramping either in your hike or the day afterwards. So, if you are aware that certain areas in your body cramp or have cramped in the past, this may be an indicator that you need to either strengthen that area up or strengthen up muscles, which support this area. So, what I mean by that is calves. Calves are pretty straightforward. If your calves are not strong enough and you haven't done enough work on them. And then you go on a hike where they're just getting constantly pounded, you're going up and down there and they start cramping up, that's a pretty clear indicator, look, you need to strengthen up your calves. Alternatively, with your hamstrings. So, your hamstrings are pretty much the same. Basically if you're going up and down hills or whatever it may be, or if you're slipping in the mud and your hamstrings start cramping up, that's a pretty clear indicator that your hamstrings need a little bit of work in your training.
But then if you want to take that a step further with the hamstring specifically, you might think, okay, this may be a bit better on some people, but it's something that I can tell you about and you can email me or message me, and I can give you a hand here, but you can say, okay, my hamstrings do a certain job in the body. Are there any other muscles that do a similar job and do they need work? And when it comes down to the actual hamstrings, it typically leads into the glutes work as well. Almost everything that the hamstring does, the glutes kind of do a similar thing. So, a typical thing, if someone has got really regularly cramping hamstrings, and they've been doing lots and lots of hamstring strengthening, and they're confident that that is not an issue, it might be a case of their glutes are just not strong enough.
And that may give a bit of help. So, typically you want to have a look at just making sure your physical preparation is right. And if there is an area that is constantly cramping up or giving you trouble, and then exploring that a little bit more on your training, maybe give it a bit more emphasis. Now, beyond the physical preparation. And that's obviously in the weeks and the months, and there's a general thing you should be doing. On the actual day of your hiking there's two things that you typically want to look at. Number one is making sure you start the day hydrated. Now, dehydration is one of the bigger causes of muscle cramping. And when your body gets dehydrated, the body again, freaks out and it can lead to muscle spasms and muscle cramps. So, an easy way to get on top of this early is just to make sure you do start the day hydrated.
Now, this doesn't mean have to drink liters and liters and liters of water or camel up or do anything crazy before you move, but just making sure you are at adequate hydration. And the easiest way to measure that out is just go to the toilet before you start hiking and try to aim for clear to straw colored urine. If it's there, happy days, you're hydrated, get on your hike and get into it. If it's a little bit darker than that, maybe just drink a little bit of water and try to bring that up. Super simple, but can make a big difference. And then the third thing you can do before you're hiking and it may or may not help, but it's definitely worth trying. And it's good for other reasons, anyway, is warming up. So, at the trail head, just spend two or three minutes going through some stretches or some warmup exercises for whatever muscles you are aware cramp.
So, if your calves regularly cramp, maybe doing some kneel wall stretches or some calve stretches. If your hamstrings cramp, maybe doing some leg swings. If your hip flexors cramp, maybe doing some hip stretches or whatever it may be. Now, warming up before the trail is always going to be a good idea. And if you struggle with cramps it very well may well help you. So, definitely worth considering. Now, the next area I want to talk about is actually during your hiking. And so what should you be doing on the trail to make sure to minimize the risk of cramping and again, preventing it in the first place. Now, the first thing again is maintaining your hydration. As I said before, it can affect your muscle cramping. And again, trying to maintain that sort of clear to straw colored urine as you're going through.
Now, this is obviously a little bit tricky out when you're on the trail to maybe judge this, but give it a crack, try and stay on top of it and it will make a big difference. Now, alongside that as well as what you really need to stay on top of is electrolytes. Now, one of the bigger causes of cramping alongside dehydration is an imbalance in your electrolytes. So, whether it's magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, whatever, but if the body gets a little bit out of balance with these particular things, which can happen when you're sweating a lot in a hot environment or whatever it may be, it can lead to cramping and a number of other consequences. So, this is why having electrolyte an electrolyte supplement on the trial is going to be a good thing. And I would recommend having an electrolyte supplement that you sip through the day.
And it's not just wait till you're feeling hot and sweaty and dehydrated, and then having it, but maybe having half in the morning and half in the afternoon, or if it's a particularly strenuous hike or it's a hot hike, maybe not having a full serving in the morning and a full serving in the afternoon or whatever it may be. The electrolytes definitely go a long way. And you want to stay on top of that. Now, alongside that as well. It's not directly linked to the cramping in the literature, but it does play into the area quite well is making sure you're eating enough. Typically, if you don't eat enough, you're going to lead to fatigue early, which can lead to the muscles getting overexerted, which can lead to that cramping, or be a risk factor in the cramping.
So, just making sure you are eating enough, which I talk about all the time, having something every single hour, if you can, or if not, every couple of hours trying to make sure it's carbohydrate based or a reasonable amount of carbohydrates, as long as you're not avoiding carbohydrates for any reason and really getting in that. Now, during your hiking, that typically is what you want to be looking at. Now, after your hiking, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of cramping. And these will also be exactly the same things you can do if you are cramping and you want a bit of relief. And there's a whole bunch of different things we can do.
Now, on these things I'm about to recommend, none of them, again, are going to be a magic pill. So, if you are cramping, some of them will work. Some of them won't for you individually, but they're worth trying. And the good thing is that these things all typically lead into your general recovery practices as well, that I often recommend after a hike, and they can be a good thing to think about. So, first one you want to think about is stretching. So, stretching after a hike, always a good thing. If there are as a muscle that is particularly prone to cramping, spending some time stretching that always going to be a good thing and also stretching the muscles above and below it to take a little bit of tension off.
Now, if you are particularly cramping and you're going through cramps, the same thing, if you spend some time stretching that muscle and the muscles above or below it, it can make a bit of a difference. The second area is thinking about foam rolling. So, using a foam roller, a ball, a water bottle, a trekking pole, whatever it may be, but just give a little bit of self-massage, again, on the area that's prone to cramping, or there's actually cramping as well as the muscles above and below it and anything around it. So, for example, one thing that I've recommended for people who struggled with calve cramping is I get them to roll their calves.
I get them to roll their shins. I'll get them to roll their quads, roll their hamstrings and roll their feet. And typically not only does that feel really, really good once you're done, but typically that will help to some degree for a lot of people and something you want to look at. The next thing to think about to help both prevent cramps and also deal with them when they're happening is compression wear, which I talk about a lot on this podcast and I absolutely love. So, typically looking if you can get some compression recovery socks, or compression recovery tights, depending on where you're prone to cramping and wearing them either for a couple of hours after your hike or during the night after your actual high or in the days afterwards, if you're constantly regularly cramping. Again, it's not going to be a magic fix, but it's going to help promote blood flow, help flush out waste products. And it can be relatively beneficial.
Now, if you are going through lots of cramping and it is coming up again and again, and again, and again, then the other things you want to look out beyond what I've talked about there is hydration, nutrition, stretching, compression, rolling is just anything that will help the body and the muscles relax and calm down. So, this could be literally anything that feels good, but something that will literally, you just want to think, does this relax my muscles? Now, if you want to go to a professional, you can get things done like ultrasound or acupuncture and stuff like that. And yeah, that probably will work. But if you want to save yourself the trip, save yourself the money, you can literally just think what are things that will help calm my muscles down? So, things like this might involve having a warm bath, or if you don't and have a bath, just having a bucket and sticking your foot in there, simple, cheap, but it can help calm the body down.
It might be involved using things like Dencorub or Tiger Balm or just those sort of heat rubs, where you rub into the muscle and it can help relax it a little bit. It might involve sort of magnesium spray and getting some spray on magnesium oil where you spray it on and helps calm down the muscles and calm down the body. It might involve absolutely anything that feels good. It doesn't have to be too technical. It doesn't have to cost you anything, but anything that feels good and helps relax things likely it will be beneficial for your cramping. And I recommend having a think about that there. So, when it comes to reducing cramps while hiking, there are lots of things you can do. Typically, I would recommend trying to stay on top of these recommendations before you cramp. As I said, prevention is better than cure.
And the good news is all the things I recommended today. They're just good practice for your hiking anyway. They're going to help your performance. They're going to help your recovery. They're going to help your comfort on the trail. So, even if you have never experienced a cramp, all these things I've recommended, they're probably worth doing. But if you do struggle with regularly with cramps or they've crept up on you, for whatever reason, these things will likely help. One of them at a 10 or 12 will probably be really good for you. And over time, you can really identify which one's are working better. To begin with, just try them all, see what feels good, see what helps, and hopefully it will sort you out. Now, I do hope this has given you a little bit of insight, a little bit of clarity into this very, very frustrating subject, which a lot of people deal with.
Now, if you were interested to learn a little bit more about this, whether it's some of the stretches or rolling exercises I recommended, maybe had some questions about the supporting muscles of certain areas, where you may need to strengthen, or maybe you just want to discuss this subject a little bit more detail. I would love to see you in the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook Group. Now inside that group, I'm always happy to expand on these subjects a little bit more, I'm always happy to answer questions, and I would absolutely love to see you there. Now, if you wanted to get involved, that's the Training for Hiking and Trekking Facebook Group. I'll leave a link in the show notes below. So, thank you so much for listening today. I really do hope you've enjoyed it and we'll talk to you soon. Bye.
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Rowan is a personal trainer who specialises in training for hiking, trekkers and mountaineers for their bucket list adventures.
Summit Strength is a personal training for hiking service created specifically to help hikers have the best chance of a safe, enjoyable and successful adventure.