Every snorkeler has had it happen at one point or another. They are paddling along when suddenly the muscles in their legs starts to convulse and they start sinking into the ocean like they are being featured in a bad water-based horror movie. Leg cramps can be as annoying as they are occasionally terrifying, typically manifesting in the calf, hamstring or arch of the foot. There are a few quick ways to help ease a leg cramp while in the water without having to flounder your way back to shore, but the best way to fix leg cramps while snorkeling is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
What Causes Leg Cramps? Providing you don’t have any sort of condition that can affect the strength and durability of your muscles, leg cramps in the water come down to three major causes.
- Poorly-fitted fins
- Vigorous kicking
- Being out of shape
If you are out of shape, you are likely just a beginner snorkeler or getting back into the hobby. Leg cramps are just an unfortunate reality until your leg muscles become used to the increased work out. It is best to limit your snorkeling ventures until you get back in snorkeling shape. You can help speed this up by partaking in some jogging or swimming to strengthen those muscles up. A more common cause for leg cramps is because the snorkeler is kicking too much, too forcefully, or utilizing bicycle kicks or other improper kicking styles. If you are paddling every second of your snorkeling excursion, a leg cramp is almost assured, that is, if exhaustion doesn’t set in first. It may be recommended to consult with a veteran snorkeler for a critique on your form. They will be able to tell on sight if you are employing improper kicking techniques that will lead to leg cramps. However, the most common cause of leg cramps while snorkeling are fins that don’t fit well. Many novice to intermediate snorkelers don’t even realize their fins are a problem, but what a difference can a properly fitted set of fins make. What can go wrong with a fin to make it result in leg cramps? Everything…
- Fins are too tight. This can impede blood flow to the foot itself resulting in cramps. Unfortunately, just like shoes, the size of your fins can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer which can make getting the right size a real task.
- Stiff fin blades. Imagine if you put two flat blades of wood on your feet and went snorkeling. Not only would you have splinters, but you would have a leg cramp every couple of minutes. If your fins don’t bend, your muscles have to work too hard.
- Too flexible fin blades. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, a fin blade can be too loose as well. You, yet again, overwork your leg muscles in order to get from Point A to Point B.
- Poorly designed foot pocket. When it comes to adjustable foot pockets, you want to make sure that, at most, your foot pocket only covers the arch of your foot. Otherwise, the foot pocket is too big and you will get cramps (and likely blisters). Naturally, if the foot pocket doesn’t cover your arch, your fins will probably fall off, so really no worries about cramps then!
How to Fix Leg Cramps Now that we have discussed all the ways to prevent leg cramps while snorkeling, you have likely realized that it is kind of impossible, and that’s true. So while you should try to check as many potential causes before heading out, you can’t catch them all. Instead, just be sure you know your triage methods for leg cramps. Since you should never snorkel alone, these leg cramp treatments can be done easily with a partner.
Technique #1 – Point Your Toes Sometimes you can unkink your leg all on your own without moving out of snorkel position. For professional swimmers, they can avoid leg cramps by having proper swim position, which included pointing your toes straight out behind you. If you have been swimming with a bent foot, try pointing your toes straight back.
Technique #2 – Stretch Against the Cramp This technique is the most effective, but it can be hard to do in the water (though much easier with a partner). Essentially, you just need to grab your fin foot pocket around the area where your toes would be and pull your foot forward towards your shin so that it stretches. Since leg cramps primarily occur in the bottom on the foot or back of the leg, pulling your toes towards your ankle will cause the entire back leg muscles to stretch, shaking out the kinks. Aside from those two techniques, there is not much else you can do for leg cramps in the water. Be sure to take steps to prevent them in the first place, which also includes stretching before getting in the water. Definitely don’t neglect it.