This post makes this week a sort of de facto science week here at Optimal Training. Well, so be it. This stuff is really interesting.
The last couple posts here and here have been about the apparent discovery of why muscles fatigue. I'm glad to see the guys over at The Science of Sport took up this topic, and as usual, they provided some depth and insight into the topic.
Now, we have another article at the NY Times on a topic near and dear to every runner's heart: muscle cramps. I have to say, I never suffered from these the way I've seen others suffer. Probably because I'm genetically superior and inherently more tough. Be that as it may, I have suffered calf cramps. The most memorable were in high school. I ran a high school cross country race in the morning, and then played in a club soccer tournament in the afternoon. Later in the evening, I stretched my legs and both calves locked up something fierce. Then, in the middle of the night, they locked up again. Talk about a wake up call!
Personally, I find the muscle-shaking nerves-freaking-out feeling of a good calf cramp to actually be pretty cool. I've always tried to stop screaming in pain and look at what was happening as objectively as possible. It's amazing to watch your muscle look like it's literally sucking itself in and blowing itself out.
And like most people, I've heard different things about why we get cramps and how we can prevent them. Drink more water, eat a banana, drink Gatorade (I think Gatorade told me that one), stretch well, etc. And since I never knew what was supposed to work, I just kind of did it all. I imagine you are much the same.
Now I find out from Dr. Andrew Marks of Columbia University that "there is no really convincing biological explanation for muscle cramps". What? Is anyone else here appalled that we spend so much money on things like HIV, cancer, and heart disease when we don't even know what causes muscle cramps or muscle fatigue?
Seriously, just look at this logical argument for why we should be focusing first on muscle performance related issues.
1. People aren't naturally strong enough to fight off HIV, cancer, heart disease
2. Strength resides in muscles.
3. Eliminating fatigue in muscles makes them stronger.
4. Therefore, eliminating muscle fatigue would make people strong enough to fight off HIV, cancer, and heart disease.
I mean, duh.
Anyway, we don't know what causes muscle cramps. But we do know that we don't know what causes them. And knowing is half the battle.
(photo from TheFinalSprint.com)