Ask Stew: Remedy to Running Cramps (Diaphragm)

Teams 7, 36 and 42 make their final strides to cross the finish line April 12 as loved ones, fellow Soldiers and fans stand by at Camp Rogers during the final buddy run at the 2015 Best Ranger Competition. (Photo Credit: Noelle Wiehe)

This is one of the most common ailments is all of sports – the cramp. Cramps can form in any muscle and are typically caused by dehydrating and lack of electrolytes after profuse sweating.  However, the bouncing motion of running can cause an ache deep in the torso.  Here is a common question from a future Army soldier preparing for more running in his path to Rangers.

Stew, I have been trying to improve my running before I enlist in the Army, and eventually the Rangers. In the past few weeks, however, I have been dealing with obnoxious chest / lower ribs cramps just about every time I go for a run. They are usually painful enough where I have to stop running after 1 1/2 miles to take a break. I was hoping you would have an idea as to how to get rid of cramps when I run. I have tried drinking more water before I run, less water, and taking deeper breaths. Occasionally the cramps will go away after a while, and I can finish the run. Any advice you can offer me would be fantastic.

Running, as you are progressing into higher mileage each week and being fairly new to the mileage, can cause this type of diaphragm cramping. See other causes (too much water or dehydrated)

Two Typical Causes and Remedies:

Irregular breathing patterns – If you are huffing and puffing sounding like a hyperventilating anxiety attack, you are breathing incorrectly. Focus on regular breathing and in step with your actual steps of foot impacts.  If you can inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2-3 steps, you will find the steady rhythm to help prevent the cramping or fix it when you have them.  You may have to slow down to get control of your breathing, but soon you will be able to run faster, have lower heart rates, with a regulated breath.  These breaths should be belly breaths too – “breathe from the diaphragm.”

Too Fast – Too Soon – If you are picking up the mileage and pace without much of a progression over a few weeks, you may find that these cramps will strike. Allowing yourself to get into better running shape with few miles and faster miles over time will help you progress logically.  See ideas:  Running Progressions.

Stomach too full – Whether food or liquid, running can cause contents in your stomach to bounce and tug at the ligaments and the diaphragm itself – causing a spasm of sorts. You can try not to bounce as much when you run or wait until your food / drink has better digested.

My recommendation is to focus mainly on your breathing.  That is the trick.  Once you learn how to breathe, you will become a better and faster runner. Your ability to progress will be greater and with less effort than before.

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