BJJ Injury: Muscle Cramps

Last night saw me returning to the BJJ mat for the first time after the Christmas and NY Holiday period. While I wasn’t completely inactive (I ran and did 1hr yoga sessions 3 times a week) I didn’t do any grappling, rowing nor swimming (which I feel are the closest in energy demands) during the 3 weeks I was off and I planned on taking it nice and easy.

Well, we all know how that goes…

Half way thru the second hour (BJJ Advanced), I was working a Side Control Escape (Martyn’s focus for the week is Side Control) and I felt this quickly escalating pain in my left calf. I don’t know about you but I’d never had a calf cramp before. Not in BJJ or any other situation. I was a CCV - Calf Cramp Virgin!

When the cramp started, I thought to myself “Oh that’s weird. Oh well I’ll just push thru it. It’ll sort itself out” and of course my very next thought was “Aaaaaaaaoooooh!”

Some random picture I found on Google but it's pretty accurate!

I quickly tapped to my partner, sat up and pulled my trouser leg up and my calf had spasmed into a solid mass right below the knee. It looked like someone had surgically inserted a tennis ball under my skin. Both my training partner and I lost our jaws to gravity. He offered to push my toes to stretch the calf muscle but I stupidly declined (I didn’t want to be any trouble. After all, I felt I was wasting his rolling time) and kind of shook my leg a little until it was ok-ish enough to continue rolling. I avoided putting much strain on that leg for the rest of the session.

The thing is, it didn’t completely relax. I can still feel it a little bit and it’s now the following day! Maybe I should’ve taken that stretching offer after all.

Since I was a CCV, I thought I’d do some quick research online on cramps and why they happen, how to treat them and how best to avoid them. After checking multiple sources this is what I found out:

Why cramp?:
1. No one is completely sure
2. The most likely reason is “overexertion*” (this could be sudden increase in work volume –e.g. tennis - or intensity –e.g. BJJ)
3. The more commonly cited “dehydration / mineral depletion” is most probably more myth than truth

1. Stop exercising
2. Stretch the muscle
3. Massage it gently
4. Move around

1. Emphasise a good progressive warm-up and cool-down routine

2. Constantly work on your fitness
3. Constantly work on your technique
4. Keep your transitions smooth instead of ballistic
5. Ease your way back into training after long breaks

But I must say that my general attitude towards them is: Laugh them off! Do the above but don’t forget that they are just cramps.

Some people make such a huge deal of the little stuff. It’s a cramp, not a bullet.

*If you are getting a cramp when there is no reason to get one (lying in bed, sitting on the train, standing at the water cooler at work…etc.) then that’s different. That’s not necessarily an exertion-provoked cramp. It probably means you’re gonna die.

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Anonymous said...

If I'm not careful, the ball of my right foot, below the big toe will cramp up. Not sure why, but that baby never wants to relax. Wearing heels makes it worse, and some of the things we do in class exacerbate it as well.

For a calf cramp, the best advice I've seen and FELT--

Have your partner sitting at your feet facing you. He should grab the top of your foot and pull toward himself. While he is doing that you resist and try to keep your foot at a 90 degree angle.

If you don't have a partner, use your other foot and push down on the top of your foot while trying to maintain that 90 degree angle.


The Part Time Grappler said...

@Julia. That's excellent advice. When you contract a muscle, you send a signal to the brain to relax it's antagonists on the opposite side (sit at a table and try to lift it using your right bicep curl and you can feel your right triceps relax). Thanks for that!