It’s no laughing matter if your quads cramp when squatting.
Okay granted, it can be quite hilarious to watch someone suffer with quad cramps.
However, it’s not something that any of us particularly want to go through, especially when you have a heavy load on your back.
But why exactly is this happening to you?
Are you doing something wrong?
Is this a form issue?
Should you give up squatting?
Will these cramps eventually go away?
Allow me to answer all your questions about squats and quad cramps.
Table of Contents
Quads Cramp When Squatting
There are various reasons why your quads cramp when squatting. The most obvious of these would be dehydration due to a lack of fluids and electrolytes. Then again, poor form or performing squats while fatigued can also be a factor. You should also ensure that you warm-up properly prior to squatting, as well as regularly stretching and foam rolling.
1. The Hydration & Nutrition Quad-Cramp Factor
The most common cause of cramp is either due to being dehydrated or having a lack of electrolytes in your body.
This is true whether you’re squatting, performing another exercise, or not even taking part in any physical activity.
Furthermore, a lack of fluids and electrolytes can make cramp even worse when you do exercise.
In effect, you’re dehydrating your body even more.
Plus, squatting happens to be one of the most intense exercises out there.
So, it’s actually quite normal to sweat profusely during a squatting session, which obviously means that you’re losing even more fluids.
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Additionally, a lack of electrolytes will typically lead to cramp as well.
These electrolytes include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and sodium.
And they are all found in the various foods you eat and fluids you drink.
So, in effect, if your quads regularly cramp up before, during, or after squatting, then you’ll need to take on more water and electrolytes.
The easiest way to do this is to drink plenty of water, once more, before, during, and after your workout.
Plus, you can eat a banana before or after your workout, or even during if your quads start to cramp, as this will provide a good hit of potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
This should also explain to you why you’ll often see athletes chomping away on a banana.
2. You’re Using Poor Form
It probably goes without saying that if you’re feeling something that you shouldn’t during an exercise, poor form could be the problem.
And this can definitely be the case for quads cramps whenever you squat.
Let’s face facts, squats are extremely tough.
They hit your Central Nervous System, pretty much every muscle in the lower body, as well as some in the upper body, and they tax your conditioning too.
So, it’s always important to perform squats with perfect form.
Now, what may lead to quad cramps is something that we all probably see in the gym on a daily basis (and perhaps you’re guilty of it too), namely half-squats.
Yes, I agree that there is a place for half-squats or half-reps when training for hypertrophy.
But, there’s a world of difference between a pro-bodybuilder looking to flood a muscle with blood and a recreational gym-goer performing squats with really bad form.
Your knees will always be at their strongest when fully flexed or fully extended.
So, you’re actually placing a lot of undue stress on your knees by not squatting all the way down.
Furthermore, where you place your feet, and where your toes are pointing also make a huge difference.
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Basically, with all this pressure you’re placing on your knees, they need some support from somewhere.
And more often than not your quads try to help out, but this can cause them to cramp.
So, it could be time to reduce the weight on the bar and learn proper squatting form all over again.
3. You Are Fatigued
Now, without wishing to get too scientific on you, there is something known as altered neuromuscular control.
This is basically a theory about fatigue and muscle cramping.
What this theory proposes is that when your neuromuscular system is fatigued or overloaded, this causes an imbalance in the nerve signals sent to the body’s cells, organs, and tissues.
And unfortunately, this can cause involuntary, but continuous, muscle contractions.
This in turn increases nerve stimulation of the quad muscles, as well altering your reflex activity.
Realistically, all this means is that you are experiencing quad cramps when squatting due to potentially overworking the muscle.
This may occur if you’ve been squatting numerous times a week, or if you currently have a real focus on leg training.
Then again, it could simply mean that you’re exerting more effort and intensity in your current workouts, and potentially more effort than you previously have, e.g. attempting a new one-rep max.
To be honest, altered neuromuscular control is simply a theory, and while it may seem a possibility, there are those who question its reality.
However, to be on the safe side, if you find that your quads are cramping towards the end of a squatting session or if you’ve been training with a lot of intensity recently, then take some time out.
4. The Importance of Warm-Ups, Stretching & Foam Rolling
Just as poor form can contribute to “feelings” you shouldn’t be experiencing, so can a lack of proper warm-ups, stretching and foam rolling.
In fact, if you’re someone who squats regularly, then these are all things you should be doing on a regular basis.
I won’t go into the ins-and-outs of warming up for squats, as the video below from Squat University provides the perfect example.
Additionally, it’s obviously extremely important to stretch.
Now, I know that stretching is typically seen as something you do as part of your cooldown.
This is basically because stretching relaxes the muscle, so you don’t want a relaxed muscle just before you’re about to load it with weight and train it.
So, you typically wouldn’t stretch before a warm-up.
Well, that’s not strictly true, but you should really be performing dynamic stretches prior to exercise.
So, for a lower body workout this could include lunges, leg swings, touch touches, etc.
That being said, due to the mobility and flexibility required, I actually like to stretch both before and after I squat.
However, I will always ensure that I am “warm” after my initial stretching session.
Furthermore, if you’re squatting, but not foam rolling, then you’re missing out.
This is especially true if you’re a regular gym-goer.
In fact, I can’t tell you how much foam rolling has helped me over the years.
It’s almost indescribable, as you experience both pain and relief at the same time.
So, make sure you check out Barbend’s 8 best foam roller exercises for your legs.
The Greatest Squat Warm-Up Routine
So, as you can see, there are various reasons why your quads cramp when you squat.
However, the first place to look is the same as whenever you experience cramp, your levels of hydration and electrolytes.
Simply put, drinking plenty of water and consuming a banana or two prior, during, or even after you squat could be the only cramp cure you ever need.
That being said, poor form, and especially half-squats, will place the knees under a lot of undue stress, which in turn can lead to quad cramps.
Furthermore, this could be a sign that you’re potentially fatigued, or perhaps even overtrained.
Finally, you should always ensure you perform a proper squat-focused warm up, always stretch, and remember that the foam roller is your best friend.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.