cramp prevention

Fitness expert Tom Jones recommends running on the sand to condition muscles and prevent cramping. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Paddle Healthy | How to Combat Muscle Cramps with Tom Jones

If you've ever endured muscle cramping, you know how debilitating it can be. The pain it causes can temporarily put even the strongest athletes out of commission, and unfortunately, lower body cramping is a common issue for standup paddlers. While summer is a favorite time to paddle weather-wise, increased heat means increased opportunity for heat cramps, particularly if you don't warm up properly for your workout. Professional endurance athlete, Tom Jones, has dealt with plenty of cramps throughout his career as a marathon runner, distance paddler, muay thai boxing champion and karate master; he’s no novice when it comes to warding off the agony. SUP mag caught up with Mr. Jones for some tips to help keep you stroking through summertime sans cramps.

What exactly are cramps?

Cramps are brief but painful muscle spasms that typically affect weight-bearing muscle groups like the thighs and calves, and are usually intermittent. There are a variety of causes, but cramps are most commonly caused by exercising in the heat (heat cramps), overexertion, dehydration, deficiencies in magnesium, sodium or potassium, and poor circulation. Medication and pinched nerves are also known causes of muscle cramps.

Cramp combat

When cramps come about during an exercise routine, Jones advises paddlers to, "Immediately try to stretch or massage the area cramping."

Sit on your board if needed, and be proactive. "For example, if I get a cramp in my calf, I'll try a downward dog yoga pose on the board,” Jones says. “I'll also sit down and massage my calf out.”

Other options for cramp treatment include soaking the muscle an Epsom salt bath, which works over time and helps prevent soreness, too. Consume fluids with electrolytes or foods with minerals like potassium, sodium, and magnesium, as a deficiency of any of the above can cause cramps as well. If cramping doesn't subside after a short period of time, seek medical attention.

Pre-paddling preventative measures are the best course of action to keep cramps at bay. A couple of the easiest and most efficient ways to ward off cramping are staying well hydrated and stretched out prior to paddling. "It's always a good idea to be super-hydrated before paddling out," Jones says, not just because studies show that cramping is correlated with dehydration and electrolyte depletion, but because dehydration causes a variety of other issues, including heat exhaustion.

Barefoot strength building

Building up weak muscles will also help prevent cramps: "You need to strengthen," Jones says. "Do exercises on an unstable platform, like a Bosu ball or Swiss ball or an Indo Board, and do them in your bare feet.”

"Do hindu squats (extra-deep squats) without your shoes on. Exercise those little toes because those are what's making you cramp; those are what either are causing or directly relating to cramps further up your leg," Jones continues. "If you can, take walks or runs or jogs in the sand."

To take your barefoot workout to the next level, Jones suggests working on balance with light weights. "If you want to step up, get on unstable platforms like a Bosu ball, grab a couple hand weights and do squats with them in your hands," says Jones. "Exercise all the small, abstract muscles you're using [on SUP] that cramp up on you."

Challenge yourself further by following Jones' approach and using an unstable platform throughout the length of a weightlifting workout. "If you want to step it up again, you can do all your weightlifting on an Indo Board; I do it and perform curls, military presses, etc.," Jones says. "You might as well do something that helps you on your board while you're working out on land." 
—Shari Coble

More How To’s here.