How to Prevent Muscle Cramps While Swimming

Michael Butler
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The Reasons Why Swimmers Cramp Up

When we’re not swimming, we get plenty of opportunities to break down, reduce and rest our muscles. We get regular exercise and are not taxed in the same way that a swimmer is. Swimmers push their bodies in a way that most of us probably don’t. When we’re not swimming, our muscles can take a break. In fact, do you know that our muscles can completely recover from a workout in as little as a few hours?

The problem with a swimmer is that they use their muscles differently than most of us. Their muscles work very hard for eight hours and may not have regular breaks. This is exactly why a swimmer can experience a muscle cramp at any time. Swimmers cramp because they don’t get to rest enough. Even after a short period of rest, most swimmers will return to training feeling fine. The minute they start training again, the cramp can return.

It can be quite frustrating to have a cramp at the worst possible moment, but there are things you can do to prevent them.

First, make sure to prepare your body for the swim workout. Stretch properly, hydrate and warm up enough. If you start a workout and start feeling a cramp, stop immediately and try doing some stretches and exercises.


Muscle cramps are highly common in the swimming pool, especially considering the water’s buoyant forces and exertion needed to propel yourself though the water. Even with endurance swimming training, muscle cramps still occur for many casual pool swimmers.

Dehydration is one of the leading causes of muscle cramps in both the pool and at the gym. Try to stay well hydrated if you are going to be swimming in the pool. Drink plenty of water, as well as fruit juices, flavored milk, and other non-alcoholic drinks, to stay hydrated.

Try to hydrate before and after swimming, as well as during the cool-down period.The cooling process you go through after exercising will actually help your muscles stay more hydrated than before.

Muscle Fatigue

If the muscles of the body get fatigued, it can be due to any number of reasons.

If your muscles are weak from improper training, they’ll get fatigued much more quickly. As well, if the weather is incredibly hot out, you’re more likely to be fatigued, and your muscles will fatigue that much faster.

When talking about muscle cramps in swimming, we are referring to the fatigued of muscles near the joints.

The main muscle that makes up the shoulder girdle is the trapezius muscle, which stretches diagonally up and over the shoulders.

If this muscle gets fatigued from a lack of warm up or overuse in practice, for example, it can tighten up over time. If this occurs, it puts increased tension on the joint. The tension causes discomfort and even pain, which is known as muscle spasms and cramps.

To prevent muscle fatigue and cramping in your shoulders, make sure to get plenty of rest and eat the right foods so your body has the energy it needs to work.

How to Prevent & Deal with Muscle Cramps

The most common ailment swimming pool patrons complain about is the dreaded cramp. Most swimmers are very familiar with the pain a cramp causes, not to mention the disruption to their workout.

There are a few things you can do to prevent muscle cramps while swimming.

Firstly, it’s important that you understand what muscle cramps are and where they come from. A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary contraction of the muscles. Most of the time, these cramps occur in the leg muscles but can affect any other muscle in the body. People who frequently get muscle cramps identify other factors that contribute to the frequency of occurrence, which can include dehydration, lack of electrolytes, and even muscle fatigue. Whatever the reason, muscle cramps can be very uncomfortable and disruptive to your workout.

The best way to prevent a muscle cramp from occurring is to keep your body hydrated and well-nourished. Most experts agree that your body loses a few liters of water during a typical workout session. It’s important that you replace those fluids and electrolytes to keep your muscles powered.

To help prevent your muscles from cramping or eating away at your workout time, we’ve compiled some tips that you can use to treat and prevent muscle cramps while swimming.

Stay hydrated.

The primary cause of muscle cramps while swimming is lactic acid build up. Doing regular aerobic exercise helps improve your blood flow, which then improves the efficiency of blood to remove lactic acid from your muscles.

You should also aim to stay hydrated while swimming. Dehydration makes your body produce and retain lactic acid which can cause cramping during swimming. You need to stay hydrated before, during and after a swim.

Try drinking cold water instead of drinking cold beverages. This is because cold water triggers circulation, whereas cold beverages suppress circulation. Drinking cold water is a healthy practice for you during swimming sessions.

Another tip is to keep something in your stomach when you plan to swim. This helps prepare your body for the swim and provides it with a source of energy with less lactic acid.

Add salt to your water jug.

If you are very prone to get cramps while swimming, try adding a pinch of salt to each 20 liters of water in your water jug. This will effectively add to the water’s sodium concentration, which is known to inhibit the spasms that cause muscle cramps.

Stretch it out.

Since the main points were touched on earlier, here are a few more specifics.

Prevent muscle cramps from your neck to your toes by stretching appropriately.

In the area you’re working out, this means targeting the muscle groups that will require the most strength.

Being flexible overall will help you move through a range of motion, and you can ice as mentioned in the tactics above, but stretching directly ahead of exercising is just as important.

Don’t neglect your little guys.

Lack of attention to your smaller muscles, the ones in your hands and fingers, can quickly make you prone to cramps when you start swimming.

Working hand muscles is important because that’s how you’ll get ahead of the game. Knowing how to stretch your hands before you go swimming will help you develop stamina and whittle away at your cramps.

Look up, look down, get down, look around.

While there are a number of swimming strokes to choose from, don’t neglect the techniques for getting comfortable in the water, which means controlling your motions around your center of balance.

Just stand in front of the mirror and watch yourself walk. No jumping, running, or stretching. Just smooth, natural motions in walking and doing anything else that you will do in the pool.

Dial up your intensity accordingly.

Muscle cramps are caused by the build-up of lactic acid, a natural byproduct of exercise. If your lactic acid continues to build up because you’re exercising at intensities that are too high for your body, you can expect to start feeling a cramp. If your intensity is too low, you’re not getting the most out of your workout. So how do you find the sweet spot of intensity that keeps you healthy although challenging you enough to see a nice benefit?

A good rule of thumb is to increase the intensity of your exercises as your body gets more fit. As your fitness level increases, you’ll be able to stick with a higher intensity for longer periods of time. For example, if you start swimming with a buddy and your swims feel very easy, you can encourage yourself to swim a little harder. If those same swims make you feel like a pro, you can try to keep swimming at that intensity and hold on for longer.

There is a popular saying amongst the fitness community: “What you’re capable of today is the maximum you’ll ever to.” That means that if you were able to run a 5k with ease, the next time you run a 5k, it’s going to feel a lot harder.

The Takeaway

“ If you have a history of cramping, start off slow, build up your endurance, and learn the correct swim stroke.

If you exercise on a regular basis, you’re probably familiar with the sensation of muscle cramps – those painful stretching sensations that come on suddenly as you exercise. Cramps most commonly occur in the calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings, but they can affect any muscle in the body, including the feet. Serious cases of cramping can be incapacitating and painful. You may even need to stop exercising.

Fortunately, you can do several things before and during exercise to prevent muscle cramps. But there’s a catch. There’s no one cause for cramping – it can happen for different reasons, depending on the exercise you’re doing, the conditions under which you’re exercising, your health, and your hydration status. Dehydration is one of the top causative factors for cramping, but cramping can also result from electrolyte disturbances which can be caused by a number of magnesium, sodium, and calcium based minerals.

Tips for Preventing Muscle Cramps While Swimming:

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