I haven't swum in a very long time, although I used to be able to swim with the crawl stroke pretty well as a kid. Now after a couple decades of not using that stroke my body has forgotten how. My body is getting beat up from running, and I need to change the type of cardio I get.

Problem I ran into last night, other than working on the timing of my breathing, was that I'd get about a third of the lap done and my calf locked up with cramps. Once it calmed down I attempted to swim again, with the same problem.

I can do the breath stroke OK, as that uses a different leg technique. I do want to get the front stroke working for me again so I can just crank out a good 500 Calories of cardio and be done.

  • did you kick/push off the wall to get started? Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 18:22
  • Yes, I did. When I was in the middle, obviously I didn't but the problem still remained. Commented Jul 22, 2011 at 18:26

3 Answers 3


First off, Ryans tip about doing calf raises in my own experience seems to reduce the risk of getting cramps. The easiest way to do these is by going to one of the benches around the pool near a wall and simply step up them with one leg. Repeat this 20x per leg should be a nice start of warming up your calves.

Then I highly recommend this post on Swim Smooth about the kick technique during free style swimming. Basically the craps are because of poor technique, you're forcing your leg in a stretched position while kicking, probably because you're bending your knee too much.

The easiest way to remedy this is to try not using your legs at all, for example by using a plank or something else between your legs and simply drag you legs along motionless. From there on you can start working on your technique.

The most important thing to learn is kick from the hip, which means you keep your legs extended and pretty relaxed and try to kick starting in your hip joint and move your entire leg without bending the knee.

Also don't try to make powerful kicks, because if you don't have the muscle coordination yet, it will probably induce the cramps. Instead either try to make small rapid kicks or just kick 'lazily': left arm vs right leg, right arm vs left leg, rinse and repeat.

See how it goes and be sure to let us know how you progress!

  • 1
    +1 for stressing kicking from the hip. after ~2 years of competitive swimming, I finally learned this recently. Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 3:22

Other than the obvious causes of cramps (lack of electrolytes and/or hydration), I think time will help you out. I used to experience calf cramps frequently while swimming, albeit a few 100 yards in to my workout.

Not kicking off the wall can help, but it's kind of fun to do so. Your body probably just needs to get used to using that kick-off calf muscle and should subside in short time.

I would imagine doing either calf raises or jumping rope may help build that muscle or engage it similarly to pushing off the wall.

I don't imagine pushing through the cramp would cause any damage. So as long as you can tolerate it, I'd keep doing what you're doing. And have fun!


The reason you are cramping isn't necessarily dehydration.

It's most likely that you are experiencing neuromuscular fatigue.

Although it might not be dehydration, that certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't be staying on top of your hydration, but the cause is most likely simply that you aren't in good enough shape yet to do the work you want to do.

Without fail at the beginning of every swim season our pool deck would be littered with swimmers cramping up because they were coming back after a long layoff.


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