Question: I’m a 39-year-old former athlete, still in decent shape from speed- and power-oriented sports. I’m also new to cycling. My progress is being stalled by calf cramps, and I’ve been told that it’s because I “ankle” too much when I pedal. Is that straining my calves? — Tom P.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: For some reason, leg cramps seem more prevalent in athletes like you and me who have a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers. I was a high jumper and hurdler.
Endurance training on the bike for several seasons will convert potentially cramp-prone fast-twitch fibers to endurance-oriented fibers. But even after 40 years of riding, I don’t think my muscles have completely gotten the message!
Maintaining sufficient sodium levels is the key to preventing cramps, at least for me. Sufficient hydration is usually essential, too. However, most studies indicate that cramps are multi-factorial and remedies that work for one person may not work for the next.
Too much emphasis on “ankling” (trying to exert pressure on the pedal all the way around the stroke) might be part of the problem. Fit factors, such as a saddle that’s too high, can play a role.
Also, check the location of your cleats. If they’re forward, you may be pedaling too much “on your toes,” which can unduly stress calf muscles. Try moving the cleats rearward to see if it helps.