I’m a big tennis fan so I was glued to the TV during this year’s U.S. Open. As usual it was an exciting two weeks of tennis that culminated with Serena Williams winning her 18th grand slam title and Marin Cilic winning his first grand slam! While I always appreciate the great shot making, exciting matches, upsets and mental fortitude that accompany the grand slams, something else stood out to me over the course of the tournament. Players succumbing to muscle cramps and heat exhaustion! Ivan Dodig, Steve Johnson and Peng Shuai all had to retire early from their matches due to cramping. I can only imagine the emotional pain these players must have felt…having to exit one of tennis’s biggest tournaments because of cramping. Calling for the trainer became a daily occurrence as a number of other players battled through these same symptoms. Like many athletes I’ve dealt with heat exhaustion and cramping and let me tell you, it isn’t fun. Fortunately, I learned from those experiences and equipped myself with the knowledge needed to not repeat the past. Here are some tips to help you form a solid game-plan to ward off cramping before it starts!
1.) Hydrate Electrically: If all you’re knocking back are bottles of lifeless Evian then over time you’ll likely end up competing with an electrolyte deficiency. Couple this with a diet of mineral deficient food and your athletic ability will take a hit. Electrolytes are minerals in your body that have an electric charge, whose job it is to regulate nerve and muscle function, PH levels, blood pressure and to rebuild damaged tissue. Calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium garner the most attention. These valuable minerals are lost through sweat and exercise so making sure you replace them during and after competition is important! I’ve found adding 3-4 pinches of Himalaya salt and Concentrace mineral drops into my water helps to keep me electrically hydrated!!
2.) Magnesium: This is a vital mineral that plays a role in many important bodily functions, so pay close attention to your intake. In particular, magnesium is responsible for muscle relaxation, whereas its antagonist, calcium, is responsible for muscle contraction. A deficiency in either will increase the sensitivity of the nerves and muscles that require a balance of the two minerals to contract and relax smoothly. Low magnesium levels are much more prevalent in this day and age, due to the modern diet and depleted soil, so in addition to adding more magnesium rich foods I suggest supplementing, especially if you’re an elite athlete.
3.) Stretching/Mobility: One tight muscle or restricted area can cause a hinge in your entire system, so maintain loose muscles and mobile joints to keep your body moving freely and efficiently. Experiment with foam rolling during change overs in a tennis match. Personally, mobility work before hockey games and light stretching during them really helps me. I also try to avoid sitting too much while on the bench and during intermissions as I’ve found this brings on tightness.
4.) Train It: Your body needs to adapt to meet the demands that it will face during competition. If you’re a tennis player and you haven’t trained to be able to play 3-5 set matches in extreme heat every other day, which is common in grand slam tournaments, then there’s a good chance your body will cramp up or break down in some way. Try attempting to make your practices harder than your games. Experiment training at different elevations, intensities, in different climates, with a weight vest or for a longer duration to accomplish this. Do so occasionally to avoid overtraining.
5.) Recover It: This is an extremely important step in allowing your body to function at its highest level from day to day while competing. If you don’t fully recover, your central nervous system will be drained, muscles will have less power output, fatigue will set in quicker and your ability to be your best will decrease in subsequent games. This is a recipe for muscle cramping and exhaustion. Bottom line…Do whatever it takes!! Nutrient dense food, ice baths, massage, lots of sleep, meditation and walking are some basic modalities I use to recover quickly. In later posts I’ll discuss some other not so common recovery methods.
Don’t let cramping get the best of you and your performance! Start paying close attention to these tips during your training regimen and you’ll likely notice a rapid improvement.