Tips on how to avoid cramp:
Over the years there have been many theories on what causes muscle cramps (or more specifically, Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps) and how to prevent them. Some of these theories include increasing salt intake, ingesting magnesium tablets or maintaining hydration levels. Some cultures have even advocated runners place a small stone under their tongues when they feel a cramp coming on. While opinions are split on the actual causes, research by a Martin Schwellnus has shed some light on the topic which might help you prevent getting them. Below are some tips which might be able to help you next time you step on court.
Research suggests cramps occur more frequently when people are fatigued. We also know that the muscles that cramp are usually the ones that are working the hardest. These two clues point in the same direction: get fitter. Include some court sprints after practice, or start a running program to improve your fitness. Or click here for more information: http://www.thetennisspace.com/how-to/how-to-improve-every-day/ Although you might feel like you’re tennis fit, a match can be more draining due to nerves, increased intensity, delayed starts, and hot and humid weather, or even accumulated fatigue from previous matches. All these factors, and more, can make you feel fatigued quicker. Your aim should be to train hard enough in practices so that your matches (with all the potential additional stressors) feel easy.
Include some static stretching
Schwellnus’ research proposes cramps could be the result of an imbalance between two types of sensors in the muscles. Static stretching has shown to help correct this imbalance. If you have a history of cramping, use your change-of-ends wisely and stretch the muscles that are most likely to cramp. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. Perform these stretches in anticipation of the cramps (even in the early stages of the first set) – prevention is better, and less painful, than cure.
Eat on court
We know that good nutrition can help delay fatigue. And since most people only start cramping when they are fatigued, a few prudent choices of on-court snacks could help prevent cramps. Keep a small bag of jelly babies in your tennis bag. Make sure you have had a handful before the match goes into the third set. Again, it is prudent to anticipate your fatigue and try to prevent it.
An irony of cramps is that the people who train the hardest might be the same people who are increasing their chances of cramping. With hard training comes muscle damage, and muscle damage increases the likelihood of cramps. This can also apply to those who are playing matches: a tough three-setter the day before could set up the ideal scenario for cramping in the following match. This is one reason elite tennis players have employed strength and conditioning coaches and sport scientists in their quest to reach the top: http://www.thetennisspace.com/how-to/how-to-recover-with-ice-baths/ http://www.thetennisspace.com/how-to/how-to-sleep-your-way-to-success-in-tennis/
Make sure you take care of your body through the correct nutrition strategies, stretching and recovery protocols. These will go a long way in helping to prevent cramps.
Grant Jenkins is the Physical Performance Coach at the National Academy Queensland in Australia. He is currently travelling with and advising Jarmilla Gajdosova. Follow him on twitter @Grant_Jenkins or email firstname.lastname@example.org.