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    How to Avoid Calf Cramps While Spearfishing

    January 15, 2024 5 min read

    How to Avoid Calf Cramps While Spearfishing

    Calf cramping is an intensely uncomfortable and often painful sensation characterized by a sudden, involuntary contraction of the muscles in the calf area, typically at the back of the lower leg.

    The onset is abrupt, and spearos may feel a tightening, knot-like sensation in the affected muscle. The cramp can range from a mild discomfort to a sharp, stabbing pain, and the affected muscle may visibly contract or twitch.

    During a calf cramp, the muscle becomes temporarily shortened, causing a feeling of tightness and making it difficult to move the foot or flex the calf. The sensation can be so intense that it can prompt individuals to immediately stop their current activity (likely finning) and try to alleviate the cramp by stretching or massaging the affected area. This can be a massive problem if you are 60ft below the surface or 1km from dry land. 


    5 Common Reasons for Calf Cramp

    As the conversation on the UK Spearfishing Buddies Facebook Group evolved so did my understanding of this issue. I initially thought that there were 3 causes but now recognize 5 distinct causes. 


    Briefly they are:

    1. Poor finning technique

    2. New diver using muscles in a new way

    3. Dehydration

    4. Unfit or out of ideal physical condition

    5. Unsuitable fins (poor fitting foot pockets or blade rigidity)


    The first step is diagnosing the problem


    Professional Help

    If you can, go to a freediving pool training group and get direct feedback from experienced people. They will be able to quickly diagnose technique or equipment issues. You’ll also get physically fit and receive coaching that will immediately make a difference. Brisbane Bullsharks are a great local club in Brisbane for this. You could also do afreediving or spearfishing course and upskill not just this area of your diving but much more. 


    Self-Help

    Watching some videos on good finning technique will help you understand in theory what your finning should look like.Here is an example, note these specific aspects of the technique.

    1. Streamlining especially head position (neutral)
    2. Streamlining (kick amplitude - how wide or far apart the divers fins are)
    3. Pointed toes and slightly bent knees
    4. Cadence (rhythm)

    After watching and getting a grasp on the fundamentals, you could go to a pool with a mate and practice. Give each other feedback and film each other so you can look and compare later on. But hold off on any underwater breath-holding unless you've got a trained buddy and had a chat with the lifeguards.


    TrainFreediving.com has a practical 3 step approach to good finning technique.

    1. Power the front kickwith knee extension.
    2. Keep your toespointed for the back kick.
    3. Use asmall amplitude.

    Training for Finning Fitness 

    To beef up those foot, calf and ankle muscles, grab your fins and hit the local pool. Start off slow, then ramp up the speed and distance, throw in some sprints for good measure. But hold off on any underwater breath-holding unless you've got a buddy and had a chat with the lifeguards – blackout risks, as you know. So let's be good buggers and stick to safe diving practices).


    Hydration

    Specific sports hydration supplements will help with dehydration. You can also follow good hydration practices like drinking water regularly, starting the day hydrated and taking a bottle with you. For more information on this, check out my full article about hydration and spearfishing HERE

    *avoid the alcohol the night before, this will be a game changer.


    Blade Stiffness (and material)

    Consider your build, strength and fitness level when choosing the blade material and stiffness for your spearing. Freedivers and spearos are different here as spearfishing often requires a bit more power, durability and toughness in a fin. This guide to fins was adapted from an article onNoobSpearo.com


    Material. Plastic vs Fibreglass vs Carbon


    Reactive

    The reactivity of a fin is defined by how efficiently the material transfers energy from the person finning to the amount of force generated to move them forward. Reactive in fact refers directly to the parabolic curve associated with finning. 


    Durability

    Basically this is a measure of how tough the fins are.*There is a huge difference between manufacturers and models and local specialist spearing store advice should be sought.


    Rigidity (Hardness)

    With Carbon Fibre and Fibreglass fins, you are able to select the level of rigidity. This is often distinguished by ‘soft’, ‘medium’, or ‘hard’ however there is more nuance than this between manufacturers, material and even different product lines. 


    Choosing the Correct Rigidity

    Blades that are too stiff will exhaust your legs and cause you to develop a maladaptive (shit) finning technique. Blades that are too soft will not give you good power which is poor for finning quickly or powerfully. Sometimes in spearfishing you want power in current or when you have to keep a fish out of structure when it runs for the bottom. 


    Foot Pockets

    Ensure your foot pocket fits snugly to prevent your foot from moving around inside. If your foot rolls, it can result in a loss of power transfer through the blade, causing inefficiency. An overly tight foot pocket can also lead to discomfort and foot cramping, while a too-loose fit may cause the blade to twist, leading to water spillage and reduced efficiency. When selecting the size of the foot pocket, take into account the thickness of the dive sock you plan to wear. Good foot pockets also aid in the transfer of energy from your body to the blade. 


    How to deal with Calf Cramping in the water

    If you are down at depth and your calf cramps, you may find yourself finning up with 1 leg. This is far from ideal and can be dangerous. A workaround is to change kick style to dolphin or dramatically alter your kick style so that you are still able to move. 


    When you get to the surface, lean forward and grasp the front of the fin on the affected side and gently pull the fin back towards yourself. A buddy can assist with this as well. 


    The next step is hydration and determining whether to rest or just terminate the dive. 


    When you get home do some gentle calf stretches or even better, foam roll the affected area out. 



    In conclusion

    The battle against calf cramps in spearfishing is a multifaceted challenge that demands attention to various aspects of technique, equipment, and physical conditioning. Identifying the five common causes of calf cramps — poor finning technique, new diver muscle usage, dehydration, suboptimal physical fitness, and unsuitable fins — is crucial for effective prevention.

    Seeking professional help from experienced freedivers or joining training groups like Brisbane Bullsharks can provide valuable feedback and coaching. Alternatively, self-help methods involve watching instructional videos, practicing in a pool with a buddy, and incorporating a practical three-step approach to good finning technique, as suggested by TrainFreediving.com.

    For finning fitness, hitting the local pool with fins is recommended, gradually increasing speed and distance while avoiding underwater breath-holding without a trained buddy. Hydration plays a pivotal role, with specific sports hydration supplements and good hydration practices contributing to overall well-being. Careful consideration of blade stiffness, material, and foot pockets is essential when choosing the right fins based on individual build, strength, and fitness level.

    In the event of calf cramping underwater, adapting kick styles, seeking assistance from a buddy, and performing gentle stretches at the surface become critical.

    Hydration assessment and deciding whether to rest or terminate the dive are subsequent steps. Post-dive, calf stretches and foam rolling are beneficial for alleviating muscle tension. By addressing these various factors, spearos can enhance their chances of an enjoyable, cramp-free diving experience.


    About the Writer

    Isaac Daly - more commonly known as Shrek in our spearfishing community, is a spearfishing and freediving instructor, Noob Spearo Podcast host and Author. He froths on the spearfishing lifestyle and loves teaching others how to spearfish safely, effectively and ethically. Connect with him athttps://www.noobspearo.com/