I will always remember my first Spartan Beast. I stepped up to the rope climb, within the last mile of the race, 2 obstacles from the fire jump, and I hear my mom say to my sister “She’s got this. This is her easiest obstacle, this is nothing for her.” But then I went to jump, and my legs couldn’t move. I had been cramping since mile 5 and could not get them working.
Cramping is a common occurrence in Spartan racers. It’s a physiological disturbance of skeletal muscle which leaves your body rigid and locked in a given state.
While there are varying explanations and theories for why cramping occurs, we are going to evaluate how training can play a physiological role in the prevention of cramping, particularly when you are out on the Spartan Race course. Cramping is typically the result of multiple factors coming together for an individual at just the right time. These factors include dehydration-electrolyte imbalance and neuromuscular dysfunction.
What does this mean for you? Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance deals with your nutrition and hydration for a race. We’re going to let Spartan Nutrition take care of that for you.
Now let’s talk about neuromuscular dysfunction. Quite simply, this deals with how your muscles and your nerves talk to each other to cause a contraction. When the firing sequence is off between your nerves and your muscles, cramping can occur.
Can our training prevent this? Of course! To properly train to prevent muscle cramping, you can do a couple different things.
You can train your eccentric contractions, particularly in your hamstrings and your calves. This is the contraction that occurs when you’re climbing up a mountain or carrying a bucket. Your muscles are elongating, using that strength to propel you throughout the course. This is all a pulling action.
You will then want to train your balance and posture (you guessed it, more pulling!) to hold yourself in proper alignment, allowing the muscles to fire correctly.
Add in some power and explosiveness through plyometrics. With these actions, you create quick, repetitive contractions enhancing neuromuscular efficiency and sensitivity.
With a little extra addition of endurance training, then train the body to be able to delay neuromuscular fatigue.
Give these types of exercises a try in your next training program. With the proper mechanics, you can postpone, and eventually, virtually eliminate the biomechanical precursors for muscular cramping.