Why Does My Foot Cramp in Pilates Class?

There’s nothing worse than transitioning seamlessly from one exercise to the next when WHAMO. A cramp grabs a hold of your calf or foot and takes you hostage. You spend the next two minutes trying to shake it out and breathe throughout without the rest of the class looking at you like you’re an alien.

The dull ache that remains through the rest of the class keeps you cautious, praying that the instructor never says to point your toes just a little harder or reach your legs a little more. After class you run up to the teacher and pleading with her to tell you the magic secret to avoid any future cramping.

Why oh why, does this happen to you?

Your instructor asks you how much water you’ve been drinking and when was the last time you had a banana. You vow to improve your water intake and swear you eat a banana a day and yet, it keeps happening?!

You are experiencing Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC).  And the truth is we don’t yet fully understand why they happen.

Some say it’s dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance but research isn’t conclusive. Other theories include that the cramping muscle is fatigued, overly tight, weak or improperly warmed up. And further theories include a muscular imbalance (recruiting muscles unnecessarily), and faulty nerve/muscular signalling.

The truth is all of these are viable reasons. At this point, we’re not 100% sure what causes those pesky cramps during exercise. But perhaps even more important than what causes them is what to do when you get one.

Here’s my top tips to overcome the dreaded calf and foot cramps in a fitilates class:

1.     Relax Your Toes – many Pilates exercises ask for elongated ankles, which is interpreted as “Point Your Toes”. Participants then scrunch their toes as hard as possible in order to achieve a ballerina-esque foot. Instead, focus on lengthening from the ankle and reaching out through the toes instead of curling them under.

2.     Completely relax the foot or flex the ankle – if it’s too late and a cramp has taken over, there’s no need to be a hero. Relax the working foot or try to flex the ankle (pull the toes and foot up towards the shin). You may even be able to continue to perform the exercises while gently relaxing and flexing the foot.

3.     Stop and massage – if it’s really debilitating (and yes, sometimes they are) just stop. Gently massage the cramped area and focus on your breath. Think about bringing fresh oxygen to the affected area with every inhale and releasing the cramp (getting rid of the yucky stuff) with every exhale.

4.     Hydrate – check in with yourself and see if you’ve had enough water the past few days or if your primary source of fluids came by way of a coffee mug or wine glass (it happens, no judgement).

5.     Strengthen your arches and feet – footwork in the Pilates reformer repertoire is perfect for this BUT not everyone has access to a reformer. That’s why this week’s freebie is a pdf download of my three favourite do-anywhere exercises to strengthen and release the feet. Click the button below and add these in while checking facebook, brushing your teeth or watching tv (they are that simple).

Although they may not be completely prevented, hopefully there’s a tip or two that you can use to overcome that dreaded cramp in class moment. And hey, if all else fails, you can always eat a banana!

About the Author

Jessica Zapata is the founder and creator of fitilates, a methodology that fuses fitness, performance and Pilates. Designed specifically to make you stronger and leaner in all aspects of life, not just on the mat.