Socks on, shoes laced, and you’re out the door running—literally. But about halfway into your workout, it starts to creep up on you, and you know it’s going to be painful. We’re talking about those pesky calf cramps that come on without warning and just won’t subside.
While there can be a handful of reasons you’re experiencing nagging calf pains, generally speaking, calf cramps happen because the muscles in the posterior chain, which include the glutes, hamstrings, and calves, aren’t strong enough, and so the muscle goes into a spasm, or small contractions, if it’s pushed too hard.
These cramps generally happen at the beginning or the end of a run. Why? “At the start of a run, your muscle isn’t warmed up, and at the end, chances are it’s fatigued,” Metzl says. These are two situations that leave the calf muscle extremely vulnerable. Uneven terrain can also cause cramps because it emphasizes the need for supporting muscles to activate.
While it’s tempting to just power through when you start to feel the pain, that’s not always a good idea. If the pain is only mild, it’s fine to try to shorten your stride and keep on running, explains Metzl. “If it feels more serious, I’d recommend pulling over and stretching it out,” he says. Try stretches such as downward dog, a lunging calf stretch, or standing bent-over toe touches, depending on what you’re able to do without increasing the pain. Then you can try running on again.