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Swimfit Training Camp: Avoiding foot cramp

Swimfit Training Camp: Avoiding foot cramp

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There can be few things more frustrating to a fitness swimmer than having to stop mid-way through a session with foot cramping.

Usually felt after a freestyle kick or a turn, a short, sharp muscle spasm occurs at the sole of the foot which can be relieved with a bit of stretching but makes it very difficult to continue.

And it’s not a problem confined to the pool – foot cramping is one of the most common complaints during open water swimming and triathlons.

So we asked British Swimming physiotherapist Carl Butler to explain why you might be cramping and what you can do to stop it.

Anatomy of a kick

"Cramp occurs when a muscle is fatigued and overused, when a swimmer is dehydrated and has a electrolyte deficit or if the muscle is tight from a previous session," said Butler.

“The plantar fascia is a fibrous, connective tissue which surrounds the muscles in the sole of foot.

“It’s stretches from the toes to the heel and works closely with the main calf muscles in the back of the lower leg – the gastrocnemius, soleus and the tibalis posterior.

“These are the main muscles involved in pointing the foot and toes during streamlining and kicking. Cramp in any of them will be felt in the back of the lower leg or the sole of the foot.”

Prevention

"The first thing to remember is to stay hydrated, not just with water but with electrolytes, and to eat the right things to help your body before and after training," added Butler.

"Secondly, stretching is vital for maintaining flexibility in your muscles and should be included in your warm-up and warm-down for pool and land-based sessions."

Specific muscle stretches

Try these stretches for the individual muscles on the calf and foot - hold each stretch for two minutes in 10, 20 or 30 second intervals.

  • Gastrocnemius stretch - stand with one leg in front of the other and lean against a wall. Bend your front leg and keep your back leg straight with your heel on the floor until you feel the muscle stretch in the back of the lower leg between your heel and knee.
  • Soleus stretch - stand with one leg in front of the other and lean against a wall. Bend both knees and transfer your weight to your back leg, ensuring you keep the heel of your back leg on the floor. You should feel the muscle stretch in the back of the lower leg.
  • Plantar Fascia stretch - stand with one leg in front of the other with the toes of your front foot on or up against a raised platform (such as a step or a wall). Bend both knees until you feel the stretch in the sole of your front foot.
  • Alternative plantar fascia relief - roll your foot over a golf or hockey ball. If you find this too painful, try it in warm water to help the muscles relax more.
 

Further Reading

  1. Head to Warm Up and Stretch to make sure you're stretching the right muscles before and after your swim.
  2. Watch Advanced Technique Videos to make sure you are kicking and turning correctly in the pool.
  3. Leave a comment below or head to Ask an Expert with a specific question about your foot cramp.

Useful?

Go Swimming has everything you need to know about swimming. If you are a parent, a non swimmer or just want to improve your technique this is the section for you.

In British Swimming you will find information about the world of high performance sport, including the disciplines of Swimming, Diving, Synchronised Swimming, Water Polo and Para-Swimming.

The ASA is the governing body for the sport in England. In this section you will find all you need to know about joining a club or competing in England and becoming a swimming teacher or coach.

The IoS delivers the ASA’s courses and is a member organisation. Whether you are a teacher, coach, employer or club you will find everything you need to know about qualifications or educating your workforce.

Accessibility - Text Only - Display Options - Accessibility

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