Thursday, July 07, 2011

3 Ways to Avoid Cramp

After taking in all the helpful advice I received in the comments to my sorry story about getting cramp in my hand while racing my Laser a couple of weeks ago, not to mention all the friendly feedback from fellow sailors at the regatta, I am beginning to think that cramp is a bit like religion. Everyone seems to have some experience of it. It comes to some people alone in the middle of the night, and to others in a crowd in broad daylight. For some people it's an intensely personal experience while others prefer to seek professional guidance. People's views about it are all over the place and often conflicting. There is no apparent agreement about what it is and why it happens. Worst of all, you never seem to know when you are going to get it next.

So what do I conclude from all the feedback? How can I avoid further occurrences of the dreaded death grip cramp.

For sure, dehydration can be a cause of cramps, not to mention all sorts of other bad things. But I'm pretty certain that dehydration wasn't the cause on this particular day. I had drunk a fair amount of water at home before leaving for the regatta and another couple of bottles while rigging. And, without need to get too graphic about the details, I did use the same test that the US Olympic Sailing Team used in Beijing to make sure I wasn't dehydrated.

Depending on which source you believe, low sodium, potassium, calcium or magnesium in the bloodstream can also be a cause of cramps. One sailor at the regatta told me that he used to have exactly the same symptoms as me, but when he changed to drinking Gatorade rather than water to hydrate before and during the racing, his cramps went away. His theory was that drinking only water "flushed" the essential minerals from his system. Gatorade contains sodium and potassium, so if shortages of these are the cause of cramps, it could well be the cure.

The wise old man of Lake Eustis, Sam Chapin asked, "Do you think you have a death grip on tiller or maybe on the sheet. Try practice with concentrating on letting the ratchet block hold the sheet after you get it pulled in and just a light grip in the tiller?" Ahah. I think he may be right. I do tend to hold the sheet way too tightly, and also to use my sheet arm to support part of my weight when hiking. When I'm excited about doing well in a race I tend to try even harder and hike even harder and pull the sheet even harder. I'm fairly certain that this was a contributing factor on this occasion. I must learn to let the ratchet block do the work and not tense up my forearm muscles too much.

Of course, as this was the first time I'd raced in a real Laser regatta for many months, my forearm muscles were probably a bit out of shape and so it was easy to over-exert them. I suspect that some simple exercises in the off-season to strengthen my grip and forearms might have helped avoid the problem, and that now I'm sailing more regularly my arms and hands will become strong enough again that I won't work them too hard during normal racing. At least, I hope so.

Summing up the Tillerman method for avoiding death grip cramps...

1. Drink the right stuff.
2. Sail more.
3. Relax!

Sounds good to me.


Bursledon Blogger said...

Couple of pints of Old Cumudgen's Bowl Basher (brewed from finest barley and rusty chain) - would sort out 1 and 3 - not sure it will do much for 2 - but I've never suffered cramp!

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I think sugar Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice-cream) intake is a major culprit of off-the-water cramping. On-the-water? I want to hear more about Gatorade as a preventive.

Sam Chapin said...

Happy to be mentioned. I need to get busy on the HTSTL blog. I have just been too busy with other things. Had my swimming pool filled with sand, so that will save a lot of time.

Tillerman said...

And your tip really did work for me Sam. I went out for a couple of practice sails to get used to letting the ratchet block do the work and not holding the sheet so tightly. This weekend I sailed a two day regatta, 12 races, about 13 hours of sailing altogether, and didn't have any problem with hand cramps at all.


PeconicPuffin said...

Many people swear by bananas. They may contain some trace elements besides potassium that make a difference. That or jungle mojo.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Tried Gatorade yesterday. Disaster.

Tillerman said...

Why Doc? What kind of disaster? You can't use it as margarita mix, you know.

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