The occurrence of a foot cramp or calf cramp while scuba diving is an agonizing experience. Unfortunately, most divers have suffered from it at some point or the other. Aside from being a nuisance, these cramps can actually be dangerous when they impede you from swimming against a strong current or getting back to your dive boat.
To stop foot cramps from ruining or endangering your dives, it helps to understand what causes them and learn a few exercises that will stretch and strengthen your muscles before getting into the water.
What Causes Leg Cramps?
With divers, cramping occurs in the four muscle groups—the calves, hamstring, quadriceps, and thighs—mainly due to the finning action that causes muscle fatigue and triggers muscle spasm. However, it is the upper calf and the lower calf (which are responsible for pointing your toes) that are most likely to cramp while scuba diving.
Here are a couple of ways you can keep yourself from suffering from so-called “divers’ feet”:
- Eliminate faulty or ill-fitting equipment as these can cause scuba diving feet related cramps.
- Check the foot pockets of your fins to make sure your feet are comfortable enough and that there is sufficient room for them to move a bit.
- Check the stiffness and surface area of your fins’ blades. If they’re too stiff, it could lead to scuba feet related calf cramps while fining.
- Your booties should not be too tight as this will restrict circulation or bone movement of the foot.
- The strap should not bite into the back of your heel too tightly, pushing on your Achilles tendon.
Having eliminated the equipment as the cause of foot and calf cramps, a diver should focus on exercising the two main muscle groups mentioned above (i.e. the lower and upper calves) to get these muscles used to the action and strain caused by diving.
Cramping generally affects those who’ve taken a long break from regular scuba diving more than those who dive regularly. Therefore, it’s essential that you focus on exercising your calves and strengthening specific muscle groups that cramp before ending a diving hiatus.
Recommended Leg Exercises for Scuba Divers
There are several exercises that you can do to prevent “scuba divers’ feet.” It is advisable to get familiar with these at your local gym under the supervision of your fitness instructor before you try them yourself to ensure you get the form right.
Gastrocnemius (Upper Calf Stretch)
Stand at arm’s length from a wall and lean into it, bracing yourself with your arms. Place one leg forward with your knee bent in the typical lunge position. Keep the other leg back with the knee straight and heel down. Keeping your back straight, move your hips towards the wall until you feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat with the other leg.
Soleus (Lower Calf Stretch)
Using the same lunge position as the gastrocnemius calf stretch, bend the rear knee while your hands are placed on a wall. Hold for 20 seconds. You should feel the lower calf tighten.
Sit on the floor and keep your legs stretched out in front of you. Loop a towel around your feet. While keeping your heels on the floor, pull the towel with both ends and use it to draw the middle of the foot and toes towards your body. Hold the position for four to five seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
Stand with the ball of your feet and toes on a step with your heels suspended. Squeezing your calves, raise yourself as high as you can without standing on your toes, then gently lower your heels just below the edge of the step. Perform several repetitions.
This exercise helps strengthen your toes and improve their flexibility for finning. Place a pile of objects on the floor and use your toes to pick them up and move them to another pile. Continue doing sets until fatigue sets in.