Prevent Calf Cramps While Running: 10 Actionable Tips

Calf muscles can cramp while you run for multiple reasons. Some of the most common include muscle fatigue and overloading as well as dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. We have all felt it. There’s nothing worse than enjoying a nice run to find yourself stopping abruptly with cramps so strong and painful that you cannot finish. And it’s definitely not something you want to happen while you’re running your dream race!

So, what causes calf cramps while running and what can you do about it? We’ve rounded up 10 tips that could help prevent your calf muscles from giving up on you during your runs.

What Causes a Calf Cramp While Running?

A key scientific report stated that muscle cramps during exercise happen because of 2 main causes: 

  1. Muscle overuse (AKA overloading), which causes muscle fatigue 
  2. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

When calf cramps often occur because of overloading or muscle fatigue, it happens typically when you’ve been training heavily without appropriate rest and recovery. Calf cramps can also appear because of dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes in your blood, which is caused by poor water intake or a lack of salt, potassium, or other electrolytes.

If you have been training heavily, your calf muscles can simply be tired and in need of recovery. In these cases, what we think of as muscle cramps can be a form of delayed onset muscle soreness. Remember that cramps are defined as involuntary muscle contractions, so they could also be caused by stepping on an irregular surface, an ankle twist, or an unexpected obstacle.

The other popular connection to calf cramping is dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Researchers reported that you lose a high amount of electrolytes through sweat. Additionally, electrolyte imbalance is common when you sweat heavily for a long time and do not drink enough water or electrolyte mixes. When you are not consuming enough fluids or electrolytes while running, the body can lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium and eventually cause calf cramps while running. These electrolytes are all needed for good muscle function. So, your calf muscles can cramp if you either start your run dehydrated or become dehydrated while you’re exercising.

Ultimately, research is not 100% certain about what causes cramps because cramps are hard to replicate in a study setting. But various studies have attempted to pinpoint this runners’ problem. A 2019 study highlights that the cause of exercise-associated muscle cramps is unpredictable and may be due to a combination of factors (like fatigue and electrolyte imbalance).  Another study found that muscle cramps while running may be more likely if you have chronic disease, use medications, have a history of running experience, or if you are new to running.

Because the main cause of calf cramps is hard to pinpoint, it might be hard to find an effective prevention or treatment strategy. This is why it’s important to trial the suggested solutions in this article to prevent or treat how your body can respond to your calves cramping while running.

Help muscles recover with compression socks after long runs.


How to Prevent Calf Cramps While Running

2022 review analyzed the causes of cramps and found that a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors cause you to be in a “cramp-prone state.” This highlights how complex exercise-associated muscle cramps can be and that the experience of calf cramps is highly personal and variable.

To prevent and manage calf cramps during your runs, we recommend trying the tips below in training to see how your body responds. Bear in mind that the scientists are still trying to find consistently effective preventions and treatments of this problem!

1. Stay Hydrated & Maintain Electrolyte Balance

If you’ve experienced leg cramps because of dehydration before, you may be a person that experiences dehydration or electrolyte imbalance more than others. It is especially important to drink enough water. The Mayo Clinic recommends 3.7 liters per day for men (15.5 cups) and 2.7 liters per day for women (11.5 cups). You may even need to drink more water, especially on days that you exercise.  Remember that you are also losing electrolytes when you exercise, especially in warm climates. So, be sure to drink enough water and experiment with sports drinks that will replenish electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. 

In general, runners who stay well hydrated can benefit from improved circulation, which means that hydration may help you feel more energetic and experience less swelling in the feet and ankles during their runs.

2. Wear Calf Compression Sleeves

Compression garments boost local blood flow and support the muscles, and one benefit that may occur is improved oxygen delivery to the muscles, according to one scientific study. Although there is little research about how compression garments may prevent calf cramps while running, studies found that compression garments improve exercise performance because they improve circulation. The improved circulation may help reduce the risk of calf cramping from fatigue and overloading.

Wearing calf sleeves gives you the opportunity to target those muscles specifically. It also gives you the choice to try different socks and shoes combinations so you can be comfortable while running. Graduated compression socks are also a great option for boosting blood flow back to the heart while also reducing the risk of lower leg swelling, too.

3. Prioritize Proper Warm-Up and Stretching

Sometimes, muscles may cramp because you haven’t warmed them up enough. To avoid this, ensure you jog gently for the first 5-10 minutes of your session. Then, do dynamic stretches to gradually increase blood flow and improve your readiness for running.

Wondering what dynamic stretching entails? Here are some of our favorite dynamic stretches:

  • Arm circles, forwards and backwards
  • Leg swings, forward to back, then side to side
  • Hip circles
  • Lunges with a twist

Warm up the calf muscles by wearing compression socks before your workouts.

4. Strengthen Your Calf Muscles

Stronger muscles will deal with the repetitive impact of running better, absorbing shocks and unexpected movements.

To improve calf strength, simple calf raises can help you build muscle, and to start, just rely on your body weight. Do 3-4 sets of 10 calf raises with both legs. Then, gradually progress to single-leg calf raises with wall support. Then, learn to balance on the one leg while doing calf raises.  This improves your core strength and may even help reduce injury risks to your calves and ankles.

5. Wear Supportive Footwear

Some people struggle with calf cramping while running because they’re wearing shoes that don’t support their weight effectively. This can lead to poor running form, especially if you are a new runner or have pronated feet. Poor running form might cause certain muscles to become overloaded, which can lead to your calves cramping while running. The right running shoes will help you run with better form. The right running shoes will also accommodate expanding foot volume, absorb landing shocks, and may keep you feeling energized for the longer workouts by improving your form.

Try your running shoes in store if you can and gradually increase the mileage you do in them. For example, go out for a short walk or recovery run of 20-30 minutes on the first day, then longer runs once you’ve got used to how your new shoes feel.

Keep feet dry and well-ventilated thanks to merino wool running socks.

6. Incorporate Cross-Training

Athletes often do more than one sport or type of exercise to support their running performance. This may reduce the risk of injuries and cramping because you’re changing how your muscles are used and not overloading them with one repetitive movement. Ideal cross-training for running includes cycling and swimming, which both provide cardiovascular benefits with a lower level of impact on the joints and muscles. You can also include recovery walks and group exercise classes that you enjoy doing with friends.

7. Improve Running Form

You’re more at risk of cramping or straining your muscles when you have improper running form. For example, over-striders who step far out in front of their own center of gravity can cause calf muscles to pull, while those who over-pronate (landing on the outside edge of their feet) expose themselves to the risk of rolling an ankle.

You can get some information about proper running form here, but of course this can vary depending on your preferences, weight, body shape, and more. The best course of action is to collaborate with a running coach or to have your running gait assessed in store. Improving your form will reduce your risk of injury or calf cramps while running.

8. Gradually Increase Intensity

Increasing the volume and intensity of your running at the right pace is key to keeping yourself injury-free. When you run too far, too quickly, you put too much strain on your muscles and risk sprains, strains, or pulls. This is often when you can experience muscle spasms or cramps while running.

Instead, follow a gradual training plan and increase both volume and intensity gradually, allowing your body to rest 1-2 days a week. A common rule of thumb is that you should increase your running distance by about 10% each week. A key scientific report found that people who increased their distance by >30% over 2 weeks had significantly more injuries than people who increased their distance by 10% or less.

 Relax and recover in compression socks.

9. Incorporate Rest and Recovery

Your muscles and cardiovascular system need time to rest and absorb the adaptations that your running training provides. This is why most running programs recommend at least one to two days of rest per week.

Moreover, think about recovery techniques that will soothe your calf muscles and prevent cramps:

  • Elevate your legs when resting
  • Apply ice packs to extremely sore calves
  • Take a bath with Epsom salts to relax the muscles and the senses
  • Wear soft, comfortable compression socks when you relax to boost blood flow to the lower legs and help muscles recover more quickly.

10. Listen to Your Body

All the tips and tricks you will find here and online in general need to be adapted to your own feelings. Since cramps are quite unknown in the running world, there is no clear protocol for preventing or treating them. Some runners swear by “shocking the system” with pickle juice to help reset neuromuscular patterns, others have successfully eradicated them since wearing calf sleeves, while others have yet to find a solution.

This is why it’s essential to listen to your body, try different options, and find out what works best for you.



Maughan, R. J., & Shirreffs, S. M. (2019). Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 49(Suppl 2), 115–124. Read it here.

Miles, M. P., & Clarkson, P. M. (1994). Exercise-induced muscle pain, soreness, and cramps. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 34(3), 203–216. Read it here.

Baker L. B. (2017). Sweating Rate and Sweat Sodium Concentration in Athletes: A Review of Methodology and Intra/Interindividual Variability. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(Suppl 1), 111–128. Read it here.

Miller, K. C., McDermott, B. P., Yeargin, S. W., Fiol, A., & Schwellnus, M. P. (2022). An Evidence-Based Review of the Pathophysiology, Treatment, and Prevention of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps. Journal of athletic training, 57(1), 5–15. Read it here.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). How much water do you need to stay healthy? Mayo Clinic. Read it here.

Brophy-Williams, N., Driller, M. W., Kitic, C. M., Fell, J. W., & Halson, S. L. (2019). Wearing compression socks during exercise aids subsequent performance. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 22(1), 123–127. Read it here.

Schwellnus, M. P., Swanevelder, S., Jordaan, E., Derman, W., & Van Rensburg, D. C. J. (2018). Underlying Chronic Disease, Medication Use, History of Running Injuries and Being a More Experienced Runner Are Independent Factors Associated With Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramping: A Cross-Sectional Study in 15778 Distance Runners. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 28(3), 289–298. Read it here.

Nielsen, R. Ø., Parner, E. T., Nohr, E. A., Sørensen, H., Lind, M., & Rasmussen, S. (2014). Excessive progression in weekly running distance and risk of running-related injuries: an association which varies according to type of injury. The Journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy, 44(10), 739–747. Read it here

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