Squats are a whole-body workout. When you do them properly, they build nearly every muscle you have. Do them improperly and you run the risk of real pain or injury. Even if you're a squatting pro, you might still suffer severe leg cramps after squats. Cramps are a bit of a mystery. Despite how agonizing they are, scientists have no surefire methods to eliminate them. Consider what can influence cramping and adjust your routines to see what brings you relief.
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Staying hydrated is one of the simplest solutions you can try to combat severe cramping. If your cramps are really that bad, you may just need a lot more water in your system. Drink eight full glasses every day. If you're sweating a lot, drink even more. Same goes for warm climates and hot gyms -- keep guzzling water.
Electrolyte loss often goes with dehydration. Squats use your shoulders, upper back, lower back, glutes, thighs, calves and more. If you don't have enough sodium or potassium or you sweat it out, you're more likely to get cramps after your workout. Electrolyte loss is often marked by popping or twitching in the thighs or calves 20 to 30 minutes before cramping. If you're in the middle of your squats when this happens, it's easy to attribute the tremors to the intensity of the workout. Drink sports drinks with salt and potassium before and during your workout.
Even if the problem is dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, your diet or fluid intake may not be to blame. There are plenty of prescription drugs that influence severe cramping for lots of reasons. Diuretics will flush out electrolytes. Statins, drugs used to lower cholesterol, can weaken the muscles so that they fatigue before you realize it. Allopurinol, prescribed for uric acid conditions related to gout, cancer or kidney stones, and corticosteroids or steroid hormones are both associated with excruciating leg cramps, too. Talk to your doctor to see if you can switch drugs and keep squatting.
If you have nerve damage, some leg cramps may be with you for the long haul. Since you're using so many muscles at once when you squat, communication gets slowed between them and your legs cramp, either while you're squatting or afterwards. Unfortunately, you don't know when you're fatigued because your legs don't tell you. This is most likely for diabetics, smokers, alcoholics or people who have experienced accidents. Move slowly, build up weight slowly and take breaks during your routine--and of course quit smoking.
The problem may not be your muscles at all. Squats are tough. Stick to full squats, for starters. Your knees are strongest when they're fully extended or flexed, so they'll work with your legs best when you don't strain them with half-squats. Get a professional trainer to coach your technique. Your chest should be out, face looking forward with a thumbless grip at the right width for you. Your stance might need a little adjustment, too. Watch the feet and direction of the toes. Every movement counts when you squat, so learn to do them right to avoid excruciating pain. Consider squatting with less weight. Consider isolating the various muscle groups of the leg with machine exercises as an adjunct to your squats and to assist in your squat execution and performance.