I know this is something that many of you want to know, “Why Do My Abs Cramp When Doing Crunches?”
We’ve all been there.
You’re performing a set of crunches and suddenly out of nowhere extreme cramp kicks in.
In fact, it’s so bad, you’re not sure whether you’ve done yourself an injury, such as giving yourself a hernia.
Plus, the frustrating thing is you seem to get cramps in your abs every single time you perform crunches.
Allow me to explain why this occurs and what you can do about it.
Why Do My Abs Cramp When Doing Crunches?
There are numerous reasons why your abs cramp when doing crunches. The most obvious of these is that you are potentially dehydrated. Additionally, a lack of electrolytes in your diet, e.g. calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, etc. could lead to muscle cramping. You may also lack muscular endurance in your abs. A good way to increase muscular endurance through crunches is to perform them Tabata style, i.e. 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, for a total of 8 sets.
1. Cramp Could Be a Sign of Dehydration
There are various reasons why we suffer cramps in general, whether in your abs or anywhere else in the body.
However, the primary reason is typically due to dehydration.
Dehydration will generally mean that your body is losing more fluids than it’s taking in.
So, the body almost goes into panic mode and starts storing water for your vital organs.
These include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and spleen.
Basically, the body is aware that efficient functioning of the vital organs requires water.
However, what this does is leave less water available for your muscles and digestive system.
Additionally, dehydration will also lead to decreased blood volume.
So, in effect, there is less blood flow to the muscles and organs, which can also lead to cramp.
Now, the reason that dehydration causes stomach cramps is that the digestive system requires fluids in order to store nutrients, as well as creating waste.
But, without these fluids, you’ll experience stomach cramps, and it can usually also lead to constipation.
So, you need to ensure that you’re drinking enough water throughout the day, and especially during your workouts.
With that being said, dehydration can also be caused by a lack of electrolytes.
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2. You’re Not Getting Enough Electrolytes
So, as I’ve mentioned, a lack of electrolytes could also cause dehydration.
And this of course can eventually lead to ab cramps when doing crunches (or general cramps in any part of the body).
Basically, when you’re dehydrated your body won’t have the right balance of electrolytes.
This in turn can lead to a decrease of certain minerals in the body.
Plus, electrolytes play a major role in muscle function.
Therefore, electrolytes are especially essential if you’re someone who exercises on a regular basis.
The electrolytes and specific foods you’ll want to consume more of to avoid dehydration include:
- Calcium – The best sources of calcium are typically dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
- Chloride – For all the bad things you hear about table salt, if you’re someone who regularly suffers from dehydration or cramps then adding some salt to your meals could make the world of difference.
- Magnesium – You’ll probably already know that seeds and nuts are a great source of protein and healthy fats. However, they are also high in magnesium.
- Potassium – Various fruits and vegetables contain potassium, such as avocados, sweet potatoes, and of course bananas. Plus, bananas just so happen to contain magnesium as well. So, this should explain why the humble banana is such a popular workout food.
- Sodium – You can once again get sodium from table salt, but you may also want to eat foods like pickles and cheese to increase your sodium intake.
3. You Lack Muscular Endurance in the Abs
Another reason why you may experience cramps in your abs during crunches is that you lack muscular endurance.
In effect, your abs will start cramping up as soon as they fatigue during crunches.
You’ve probably noticed that your abs are literally on fire as soon as you reach a certain number of reps.
And then during each subsequent set of crunches you typically perform fewer reps, as your abs fatigue even faster.
So, the solution would be to increase your muscular endurance.
Now, this all sounds great in principle, but surely if your abs are fatiguing fairly quickly during crunches, it’s going to be near impossible to perform more reps.
Well, I came across a fantastic solution from the legend that is Jim Stoppani (video included below).
Jim suggests that you perform crunches as a Tabata workout.
Basically, rather than worrying about the number of reps you perform, you simply go for time.
So, the Tabata training protocol will involve performing crunches for 20 seconds and then taking 10 seconds rest.
You perform crunches this way for a total of 8 sets, so you’ll be done in 4 minutes.
If your abs do fatigue during a working set, simply stop and rest until the next 20-second working set begins.
Eventually, over time you should be able to complete all eight 20-second sets.
Additionally, I also think it’s important to state that the abs are a muscle just like any other muscle group in the body.
Therefore, it’s important to train them the same way.
So, while you may perform high reps of crunches for endurance, you shouldn’t ignore hypertrophy and strength training.
Therefore, mix things up a little when performing crunches.
So, you could do a session of bodyweight crunches one session, and perform weighted crunches in another session.
How to Avoid Muscle Cramps When Training Abs
4. Don’t Eat Right Before an Ab Workout
This probably seems fairly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway – don’t train abs immediately after eating.
If you ever have performed crunches, or any other exercise for that matter, straight after a meal then you’ll understand why.
You’re likely to experience cramping, as well as the dreaded stomach stitch.
There are once more many different reasons for experiencing a stitch, although most commonly it will be indigestion.
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And of course this will be heightened if you perform physical activity, such as crunches, so soon after eating.
There’s a few eating and training rules that I live by, regardless of which body part I’m training.
I would suggest that you wait for at least 30 minutes after eating a light snack.
This increases to 1-2 hours after a medium-sized meal.
And I would recommend that you don’t train for at least 2-3 hours after a large meal.
5. Your Abs Need Warming Up Too
As I’ve mentioned, the abs are a muscle group just like any other.
Therefore, it’s important to warm up your abs and core before performing crunches.
However, for some reason when it comes to ab specific training many of us seem to jump straight into a workout.
Unfortunately, if you don’t warm up properly you’re more likely to feel cramps in your abs.
Once again, much the same as any other muscle group, you’ll want to warm up the entire body, but especially the core.
So, this would typically involve dynamic stretches, as well as movements to fire up your cardiovascular system.
Warm Up Before Abs Workout
So, as you can see, there are many reasons why your abs cramp when doing crunches.
Initially, you’ll want to ensure that you’re consuming enough water and electrolytes, as these are the most likely reasons that you experience cramps.
Furthermore, cramps could be a sign that you lack muscular endurance in your abs.
So, you could perform your crunches Tabata-style to help increase your endurance.
However, don’t forget to give your abs an all-round workout by focusing on strength and hypertrophy too.
Finally, be wary of when you’re eating before performing crunches or an ab workout.
You’ll want to ensure that you’ve given yourself ample time to digest your meal before your workout.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.