Isometrics and Muscle Cramps are something that come up from time to time. In this article I am going to briefly explain what a muscle cramp is and how they can occur during isometrics practice and better still - how to avoid it. ;-)
A muscle cramp is an acute, suddenly occurring involuntary muscle contraction. It is an excessive shortening of the muscle tissue and causes mild-to-excruciating pain, luckily however it is temporary and not permanently damaging.
The pain can be so severe that it can result in paralysis-like freezing and immobility of the affected muscle(s).
While usually very sudden in onset they resolves spontaneously, often within seconds, however they can take up to several minutes, or even hours.
There are two major categories of muscle cramps with skeletal muscle tissue. Both of these can relate to the practice of Isometrics.
The first common cause is the actual fatigue of the muscle - which is kind of assume! You've performed an isometric contraction so hard that you've fried your muscles! Obviously that's NOT THE GOAL.
And I've had people ask me about this before - YOU SHOULD NOT GO TO A POINT WHERE YOUR MUSCLES CRAMP.
It's not beneficial.
First it's really sore. Secondly it causes reflexive abortion of the exercise of the muscle and thus takes the load of the muscles and undoes all that good work. If cramps were voluntary and 100% contractions then women with dysmenorrhea (a medical condition called painful periods which results in extreme abdominal cramps) would have the best abs in the world without ever working out. ;-)
It's important to remember that a muscle cramp is the muscle going into spasm - not a 100% voluntary contracted muscle. There's a big difference.
This is WHY in Perfect Body I teach a specific method of pre-contraction preparation. As long as you go slow and have good blood supply and hydration you should be fine.
The other aspect in understanding Isometrics and Muscle Cramps involves the the chemical balance in the blood and the blood itself. The lack of electrolytes such as low sodium, low potassium, and/or low magnesium can lead to muscle cramps.
As many of you know, outside of being an expert in Isometrics I am also a consultant of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In TCM there are multiple causes of muscle cramps however the most common involves Liver Blood Deficiency / Vacuity. This essentially means that the body is low in blood volume (due to poor diet, not enough protein, blood loss etc).
If your Liver is deficient according to Traditional Chinese Medicine then you may suffer from a constrained or low blood volume – this will in turn inevitably lead to problems with the muscles, including but not limited to cramping, weakness, increased length of recovery times, poor reaction times, a higher risk of injury in terms of pulled muscles, strains and DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscular Soreness) and can also affect your vision, balance, cause headaches and more. The funny thing is it’s a relatively simple organ to treat and restore to optimal function – in which case, you’ll be faster, more fluid and resistant to injury among other things.
In dealing with Isometrics and Muscle Cramps the immediate treatment is to slowly...very slowly...and gradual contraction of the opposite muscle to the one being cramped will help. This slowly stretches the cramped muscle.
From a preventative point of view - make sure you are taking in lots of fluids.
And protein - this is often overlooked and VITAL. Within Traditional Chinese Medicine cramping of the muscles, particularly the lower calves is associated with Liver Blood Deficiency / vacuity.
Make sure you are getting plenty of protein, ideally red meat at least twice a week, lots of leafy green veg like spinach and kale, plenty of beetroot, and warm apple-sauce with cinnamon.