Dehydration: Hydration is super important to prevent leg cramps! Try to stay regularly hydrated the day before and during your dive day. Try to protect yourself from the heat/sun which can dehydrate you through sweating. Drinking water is the easiest solution, but snacking on fruits and veggies are also a great hydrating (and nourishing) trick.
Low potassium and magnesium: Potassium and magnesium are electrolytes and having them in your body reduces your risk of cramping. Eating a banana or peanut butter or drinking a sports drink or coconut water is a great way to increase these electrolytes when you are feeling low.
Improper fitting fins or booties: The foot pockets of your fins should be long enough and wide enough that you can wiggle your toes just a bit. Check the stiffness of your fins. Old or brand new fins can be too stiff and force you to exert more effort while swimming. Your booties should not be too tight as this will restrict circulation or bone movement of the foot. The fin strap should not bite into the back of your heel too tightly, pushing on your Achilles tendon.
- Weak/Tight muscles: Certain activities, such as diving and swimming, involve the intense use of multiple muscle groups, including the feet, calves, quads, hamstrings, and buttocks. This overuse or prolonged use of these muscles can cause a lack of circulation, which can cause cramps. The more often you dive, the stronger these muscle groups will become. It is also important to maintain good physical health, keep active, and STRETCH! Regular stretching exercises can go a long way towards preventing cramps. You should do stretching at least 3-4 times per week and before you go on a dive to prevent leg or foot pain and cramps.
Here are some examples of leg stretches to do before your next dive:
Upper Calf Stretch - Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other. The front knee should be slightly bent. Put your hands on the wall for support. Keep the back leg straight and the heel on the ground. Lean towards the wall by bending the knee on the leg in front. You will feel the stretch in the calf on the leg that is straight. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Lower Calf Stretch - Using the same position as the stretch above, this time you should bend the back leg while keeping the heel on the front foot on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
Toe Pulls - Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Stretch out with your arms or if it is a tough reach you can also use a towel or band and loop it around your toes. Pull the towel towards you. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat 3 times.
Tip Toe Stretch - Stand next to a sturdy object, such as a table, and stretch up onto your tiptoes. Hold for a count of 3, then return to start. Do this 5 or more times each day.
Hamstring Stretch - Put a chair in front of you and place the heel of one foot on the chair. Bend at the waist and try to grab your foot or ankle. You will feel this stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for a count of 20, then switch legs.
Quad Stretch - Stand on one leg, keeping your knees close together. You can hold onto a chair or the wall for support if necessary. Grab the toes of the bent leg and pull the leg towards your behind. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.
When you get a leg cramp underwater, it’s usually in the back of your leg. The best and simplest underwater technique is the one you learned in your entry level Open Water Dive Certification.
- Bend your knee and raise that leg up in front of you.
- Grab hold of the toe tip part of the fin.
- Extend and stretch out that leg as far as you possibly can.
- Massage the calf with your other hand.
Hold that position until the cramp goes away.
If you are still struggling, stay calm, take slow deep breaths, and get your buddy's attention to have them help you stretch.
If the cramping continues, the best thing to signal buddy/team that something is wrong, and you and your buddy make your way back to the boat.
Be safe! Have Fun!