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I'm at the gym 2-3 times per week and run a standard set of machines (full body work out) to stay healthy and (hopefully) tune my body a bit.

One of the machines for training the legs always causes my calf muscles to strain and cramp up. When I started working out a couple of months ago my instructor told me to use the cross trainer machine for 10 minutes as warm up. I like it, get warm and probably burn some fat but It doesn't seem to warm up my calf muscles enough.

Are there any exercises for warming up the calf muscles I can add to the cross trainer to avoid the strain/cramp when using the leg machines? I stretch my calf muscles after the work out session and I can really feel them strain. I can usually hold the stretch for 60 seconds without feeling any sense of relief in the calf, so I guess they are pretty strained. Is it OK to stretch muscles when not warmed up? (same exercises as after work out, but before?) Mostly my left calf cramp up, almost never the right one.

I also occassionally wake up when sleeping because of sudden strain/cramp in my calves, though I do believe this has gotten a little bit better since I started working out.

Here is the machine/exercise, but I am lying straight on the bench, not angled: work out machine

Edit: If I lower the weight one step I can perform the exercise without cramping. But then I manage 15-20 reps and I feel that is too light weight, so I increase the weight one step and cramp up.


Progress, at last. This evening I managed eight reps and stopped only because I was exhausted, not because of cramp!

I can't point to a single thing that helped - probably a combination of the preparations I made during the day and warm up (mostly suggestions from you guys):

  • I've been drinking alot of water today (maybe a bit too much).
  • Warming up before exercise I ran 10 minutes on treadmill instead of crosstrainer, at 4% incline. This, I think, made a big difference. As early as 2-3 minutes into it I could feel the calves stretching out and smoothen up. Crosstrainer is great, but running warms up the calves better.
  • I also did some "toe pushups", 1 minute or so on each foot, to further warm up the calves before the hamstring curl machine.

Hopefully It'll work next time as well. Thanks for all great suggestions!

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Jump rope! Maybe do one-legged in sets of paradiddles (left - right - left - left - right - left - right - right). I find when you do one legged jump roping it naturally keeps you on your toes (which will work your calfs more) and helps to ensure you aren't favoring one side.

If your only goal is to warm up the calf muscle, you shouldn't need to do that much. Maybe a few sets at 30-60 seconds. You'll likely trip if you don't jump rope often, but just keep going. You'll get the hang of it.

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Rope jumping seems like a great idea, never thought of that. Haven't seen any ropes around that section of the gym though, I'll look around tonight. – ensamgud Mar 8 '12 at 6:59
If your gym doesn't have any you should be able to pick one up for - at the most - $20 at a sporting goods store. – Dave Mar 8 '12 at 15:45
Didn't find any rope today so I tried some general stretch exercises after the cross trainer. I felt the cramp coming when using the leg machine so I lowered the weight one step and it helped a bit, perhaps I need to build up some more strength on lower weights. Anyway, I'll try some rope jumping next time, gonna get a rope from a sport store this weekend. – ensamgud Mar 8 '12 at 19:35

You might not need to warm up your calves more. You might just be dehydrated.

Try reducing caffeine consumption, increasing water consumption, monitor your salt intake (if you're eating a ton of processed food, do that less, if you're eating all whole foods, make sure you get enough salt). I've heard potassium could help, but I've also heard it's a myth, so eat a banana during the day anyway because they're delicious.

Don't do static stretches before your workout. It will weaken the muscle and make it more prone to injury. Instead, do a warm-up with dynamic stretches.

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I've suffered from a stomach flu and skipped training for a week, went back yesterday and again my left calve cramped up. This time an instructor was there and I asked him for advise, he mentioned salt intake and also try switching from the crosstrainer to running the treadmill with a slight angle upwards (1 degree or so) to really warm up the calves. Gonna try this tomorrow. I don't drink coffee so I don't have any (notable) caffeine consumption. I try to drink a lot the days I work out, during office hours before and also during the work out, so I'm not sure that's the problem either. – ensamgud Mar 20 '12 at 19:09

If we are right handed we automatically use the right side more without thinking about it.Like reaching for something on the top shelf, we stretch using only the right leg, or play any sport, we lung with the right leg first.

Have you had any serious injuries in the past like in your gastrocnemius and the soleus (calf)? This could be causing your cramp.

Try doing some lunges and I would suggest you only use the left side - step forward with the left leg, lower the right knee so it drops towards the ground at a right angle and push back with the left leg keeping all the weight on the heel not the ball of the foot. Another good way to try is 'knees to standing' - start kneeling on the floor and stand up using the left leg first. Reverse to kneeling using the left left. Try 15-20 of these each day.

I hope you come right.

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Had no no such injuries. Thanks for the lunges suggestion, this is somewhat similar to how I stretch the calves after workout. I just tried the knees to standing with left leg first and it felt really strange, I definitely need to use that leg more in general. Thanks man. – ensamgud Mar 20 '12 at 19:24

I agree with @Dave's answer. Also, the exercise you show is a hamstring curl. However, your gastrocnemius (calf muscle) also crosses the knee joint, so you may be overworking the gastroc when you do this exercise. Try lowering the amount of weight (until you can do it without cramping) to see if this eases the problem.

As for muscle cramps at night, this Mayo Clinic reference says that the cause is usually unknown, and although generally harmless, there are some conditions that may be associated with them.

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I can perform the exercise fine if I lower the weight one step. But then I get 15-20 reps, at my current work out scheme I'm supposed to increase weight as soon as I can do 15 reps. – ensamgud Mar 20 '12 at 19:14
I read your update. It sounds like you are succeeding! You can check exrx if you need other exercises to target the gastrocnemius. – BackInShapeBuddy Mar 23 '12 at 20:50

Generally your left leg is weaker than your right. The pain and cramping you are experiencing is too much lactic acid build up. Try doing some ankle circles at home or whenever you seated, at work, just to get your calves to get rid of the acid, drink lots of water to flush out the acid in your urine and then at the gym try using the Barbell seated calf raise machine to warm up the muscle, give yourself a stretch before workout and after, take a bath where you can and massage your calves 5 min each calf.

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Thanks, I'll try some ankle circles today and lightly stretching the calves after warm up. Gonna get a lot of water as well. – ensamgud Mar 8 '12 at 7:01
I did some ankle circles today at work and tried to drink more water than usual, didn't really help. I tried lowering the weight one step on the machine and managed maybe 10-12 reps, unfortunately I felt the cramp coming after that and had to stop before really tiring myself out. – ensamgud Mar 8 '12 at 19:38
"Generally your left leg is weaker than your right". Who says? – Ryan Miller Mar 9 '12 at 17:36

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