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Name: Jane

Question: Cris,
I currently run approx 35 miles a week, do weights 3-4X a week and cycle 3X a week (15 miles approx. at a time). I am hydrating well and for the most part, eat healthily--lots of veggies, fruits, carbs and proteins. I have noticed that intermittently, when I am doing legs, specifically squats, my right thigh cramps and stays cramped for a few days. Is this a fuel deficiency, hydration problem or just my legs telling me they need a rest? Would you have any idea? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

Hi Jane,

Cramps are not well understood, but can be resolved

It's understood that a cramp is an uncontrollable and often painful muscle contraction. What isn't understood is what exactly causes a muscle to cramp. It seems that when regular exercisers are properly hydrated, consume the daily recommended nutrient intake of electrolytes, and don't overdo their exercise, they tend not to experience cramping.

That's why the standard recommendation to resolve a cramping problem always includes drinking more water, consuming more electrolytes, and exercising within the boundaries of your current fitness level.

Although you have mentioned some of your exercise and eating habits, I can't say whether or not you are exercising or eating optimally - this would require a detailed assessment.

What I can tell you:

Stop the activity that causes cramping. If you know squats are going to cause thigh cramping that lasts for days; why would you do that to your self?

See a massage therapist, athletic therapist, or physiotherapist who specializes in trigger point therapy. 100% of the time that I have dealt with cramping problems in an athlete, there have been trigger points in the effected muscles, and trigger point therapy has helped to reduce the incidence of cramping. A trigger point is a painful nodule of muscle found in a tight band of muscle fibers. Think of a trigger point as sort of a micro cramp that effects only a tiny portion of muscle fibers. The trouble with trigger points is they tend not to resolve unless there is intervention.

You may have technique errors in your running, cycling, and weight training that causes your thigh muscles to do more work than would normally be done with correct biomechanics. These technique errors may be causing muscle strength imbalances.

You may be training too much and too hard, too often.

In summary, I recommend cutting the squats and other challenging leg exercises from your weight training, getting trigger point treatment, and having someone assess your technique in all of your leg activities, as well as having your bike position checked by a professional.

Once the trigger points in your thigh muscle have reduced, you can return to weight training exercises for your legs, but you should return very conservatively. Start with less than body weight exercises for the legs like light cable kickbacks.

Therapy and a gradual return to leg exercises in the weight room should resolve your cramping problem.

For self - help massage therapy I recommend the book, "The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook", Second Edition, by Clair and Amber Davies. This is the best self - help trigger point massage book on the market and I recommend it to all my clients.


- Cris LaBossiere

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This page was last updated on August 6, 2007