My Limiting Factor in Swimming
Ever since I started training for triathlon, my time in the pool has been cursed. Aside from my incessant hunger when I get out of the water (unless, of course, I end up drinking too much water to have room for food), I get these debilitating calf cramps that literally make me stop in my tracks (or lane, I suppose). I can usually feel it coming on, after a few hundred yards (or even a few thousand), with the flip turn and the pointed toes, and it just lingers in the background. All of a sudden, BAM! It strikes. I can’t move my foot, and the cramp is so intense that my whole body freezes up. This usually occurs halfway of the length of the pool, so I look like I just give up on my set. I really want to keep going, I swear!
So I don’t really know what it is. Here are potential culprits:
Electrolyte imbalance: I know about hypotonic/osmolalic factors that attribute to water-getting-into-the-cells. The right amount of sodium (positively charged) and chloride (negatively charged) is what matters. There’s other aspects, too- like hypomagnesemia which interferes with the sensory nerves, and low calcium/potassium triggers. Without getting too into the nitty-gritty-sciency-ness that is proper nutritional balance (especially since I am not a nutrition expert), it’s important to keep electrolytes in check. This means not too much, but also not too little. Real quick: there are two extremes to improper hydration. The first is hyponatraemia. This means that there are not enough (“hypo” = low) nutrients (in this case, electrolytes) to water in a system. In other words, the layman’s term for hyponatraemia is overhydration. Big problems can be incured with this, including renal losses and failure. The other extreme of improper hydration is hypernatraemia. Any guesses as to what this means?… Yep! Too much (“hyper” = high) nutrients (electrolytes) to water in a system. This is typically what clinicians refer to as dehydration.
Kicking too much: I try to make a good, honest effort to not kick much when I swim, especially when I am putting in big-yardage days, since it’s futile to kick much when swimming in a long-course triathlon (I want to save my legs for the bike and run). My arms are supposed to be pulling me through the water. But I know I do it! I flutter my feet too much when I swim (see the above photo of me? Where’s my left foot? That’s right, probably above the water). I might also be pointing my toes too much. Since the cramps don’t attack until I’m farther along in my swim, I have a hunch that my calf muscles might fatigue after a while and just go into a sort of seizure.
Pushing off the wall too hard: I’m probably pushing off the wall with too much force, which makes me point my toes and causes my calves to go haywire. Even when I don’t push off hard, the subsequent toe-pointing might be problematic. But, I don’t know how much force to use when I push off the wall. Just a little? Not much? How do you push off if you don’t point your toes (can you even??)?
Not breathing enough: I notice that when I am doing longer sets, I get really short of breath towards the end of the interval. I don’t breathe as well on the left side as I do on the right, but I am going to work on practicing alternate-breathing every third stroke to improve that. Maybe I am not getting enough oxygen and my muscles spasm because of this?
Wearing fins: This is a no brainer. I know this is part of the reason I got the Charlie Horse this last weekend. Although it was my first time wearing fins in the pool, it definitely accelerated the time-to-cramping in my calf.
- EFS Sports drink in my water bottle pool-side
- Since EFS has a balance of electrolytes and calories, it should keep me in-check while I’m swimming
- Less kicking (or no kicking) – I’ll use a pull buoy for help! I might even tie my feet together…
- More massage!
- I’m going to start visiting my massage therapist, Mel, more regularly
- Supplement my visits to Mel with daily treatments of TriggerPoint Therapy
- More time in the pool
- Maybe my deal is that I don’t get in there enough, and my muscles just ain’t used to all that work.
- No more flippers
- Once was enough
- If I follow these things and I’m still not cramp-free for five straight swim sessions, I’m going to start taking my magnesium tablets.
Do any of you awesome readers out there have any other suggestions that might help me fix this problem?