The world of water sports doesn’t come without pain. Swim fin cramps happen to the best of us, whether you’re a swimmer, diver, or bodyboarder. The problem is, there’s no telling when these muscle spasms will arise — they can happen as you take off, or as soon as you put on your swim fins.
Cramps may vary from manageable pain to severe ones that can be lethal if you catch them at the worst time. That’s why when a cramp starts to kick in, you have to know exactly what to do to stop it. In this guide, you’ll find ways to prevent swim fin cramps from occurring, as well as possible solutions to eliminate this problem.
What are the causes of swim fin cramps?
Muscle stiffness is common to swimmers, and most have experienced this dilemma at least once in their careers. In summary, here are the most common causes of swim fin cramps:
- Wrong size of fins
- Heavy flippers
- Poor construction or low-quality made fins
- Muscle fatigue or overexertion
- Cold temperature
- Dehydration or loss of electrolytes
- No warm-ups
- Over kicking or paddling too fast
How To Stop Swim Fin Cramps
Cause: Wrong size of fins
You point your toes when wearing flippers, that’s why the size of the fins contributes to why you may experience cramps in your toes or at the bottom of your feet. If your flippers are too large, your feet will put a little more effort into keeping them on. Meanwhile, flippers that are too small for your feet will cramp up your toes; hence, resulting in muscle strain.
Solution #1: Opt for fins with leg straps
If you have wide feet and you find it difficult to look for flippers, choose fins that use leg straps instead of ankle straps. With this kind of fins, your feet size won’t matter as you will just attach the fins to your legs. Your feet are free to move without any constrictions, ergo eliminating swim fin cramps.
Solution #2: Wear socks for a snug fit
Already have the perfect pair of flippers but they’re a little bit too loose? Try wearing neoprene socks underneath them. These give a snugger fit, and they also prevent skin blisters, too.
Cause: Heavy flippers
Heavy swim fins are difficult to paddle, that’s why the muscles on your toes and ankle put more effort in keeping the flippers moving. This results in strains and contractions because the muscles are not relaxed.
Solution #1: Strengthen your feet muscles
To stop having swim fin cramps because of heavy flippers, you need to strengthen your foot muscles first. What you need to do is get a lacrosse ball (or any firm sports ball of the same size) and roll it under your foot to loosen up its tendon muscle. Do this frequently on both your feet, ideally before you put on your fins, so they can adjust to the weight.
Solution #2: Resistance training
You can also do resistance exercises like squats. This improves your feet muscles, especially in the toe, ball, arch, and heel areas.
Solution #3: Start with short fins first
If your feet are having issues accommodating the weight of long fins, you need to start with split or short flippers first. These kinds of fins allow your feet to adjust slowly as they’re more lightweight.
Cause: Poor construction or low-quality fins
Beginner swimmers often face the dilemma of accidentally buying low-quality swim fins. They’re either duped in purchasing ones with stiff rubber materials that don’t flex or those with poor construction that don’t give good fitting. As a result, the flippers pinch the insides of the feet, they’re very uncomfortable to wear, and they give muscle cramps.
Solution #1: Buy swim fins made of high-quality materials
When purchasing training swim fins, you must choose the ones made from 100% natural rubber, silicone, or high-grade rubber. Although they’re a bit more expensive, these flippers are comfortable to the feet. They can also enhance your performance and kicking techniques.
Solution #2: Choose swim fins with orthopedic features
As technology advances, more features are now added to swim fins so they’re pleasant to wear even during long hours. If you’re constantly bothered by cramps, you can choose flippers that have orthopedic foot pockets to help support your feet when paddling. The pockets also provide added cushion to lessen the impact on your toes.
Cause: Muscle fatigue
Another cause of swim fin cramps is overexertion, a reason why muscle contractions often happen after rigorous swimming or when you’re too tired. In these events, the muscles on your feet don’t receive enough oxygen, resulting in the buildup of lactic acid. When the muscles reach a critical mass, they tend to contract involuntarily, which then leads to cramps.
Solution #1: Start with strenuous activities gradually
To help your feet muscles adapt easier to challenging swimming activities, you need to start gradually. Focus on lighter exercises first or shorten your activity period, and then progress as your feet adjust to the fins.
Solution #2: Stretch your cramp
If you’re caught up in the middle of a cramp, look for a wall or a partner that can act as such. Put your foot flat up the wall, and give it a good stretch. You can also give it a light massage to get the blood flowing.
Solution #3: Apply a hot compress
You can help your muscles relax during cramps by applying a hot compress on your foot. The heat will increase the blood flow, therefore lessening the pain.
Cause: Cold temperature
Swimming or diving in cold temperatures tightens your muscles. It also makes them less relaxed because the muscles try to keep up with the gradual loss in body heat. As a result, cramps occur because of muscle stiffness.
Solution #1: Wear thermal socks
If you’re diving or bodysurfing in cold water, wearing hooded wetsuits isn’t enough to prevent muscle cramps. You also need to wear thermal dive socks to protect your feet and help maintain their temperature.
Solution #2: Let your body slowly adjust to the coldness
Jumping right into cold seas and lakes will not only guarantee swim fin cramps but also stiffness in your other muscles. To stop these spasms from occurring, you need to get your body acclimated to the water’s cold temperature first.
According to John Castellani, a physiologist for the US Army, frigid and quick showers before jumping right in can help your body adapt to the cold faster. Or you can also try swimming in cold water temperatures once every week, then slowly move to a more frequent manner as your body adjusts.
Cause: Dehydration or loss of electrolytes
Electrolytes consist of minerals such as sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Sodium is responsible for muscle contraction, while potassium and magnesium are for relaxation. That being said, if your body’s dehydrated or your blood lacks electrolytes, your feet muscles will contract involuntarily, which will then lead to cramps.
Solution #1: Drink sports drinks/electrolytes frequently
People who sweat more tend to experience cramps often, that’s because they lose more electrolytes in their body when they’re active. To minimize and stop swim fin cramps from occurring because of loss in minerals, you need to drink sports drinks before, during, and after any water activity. This will help your body absorb more water in the process.
Solution #2: Put salt in your water
It may not be evident, but you also sweat when swimming or doing other water activities. If you’re the type of person who easily perspires, drinking salt water may also lessen your cramps, a study says.
See, salt helps regulate fluid in the body, and it also aids in muscle functions. That being said, having the right amount of sodium can keep muscle stiffness at bay.
To make your own saltwater, add ¼ to ½ tsp of salt in a 32-ounce (~1 liter) of water. You can also add sports drinks or any water flavorings for taste.
Solution #3: Eat a banana before your session
Ever wondered why swimmers and surfers often eat bananas for breakfast or before they get into the water? Bananas are rich in magnesium and potassium, therefore they help minimize the chances of you getting muscle cramps while swimming.
Cause: No warm-ups
Wearing flippers requires pointed toes. That’s why putting on heavy swim fins without warm-ups will put more strain on your feet and cause muscle cramps.
Solution: Stretch your ankles and point your toes
Before putting on your swim fins, you need to do some light exercises for your ankles and toes to loosen up the muscles in that areas. Watch the video below on how you can increase your ankle mobility when wearing fins.
Cause: Over kicking or paddling too fast
Swimming fins act as the extension of your feet when swimming; however, you may experience pain if you use them the wrong way. Over-kicking your flippers underwater puts more stress on your feet because of the water tension. While paddling too fast strains your ankles and toes as they work hard to keep your fins on.
Solution: Choose long fins
If you’re used to paddling your short flippers too fast, change your fins to longer ones instead. Long swim fins do most of the work when paddling; therefore your feet muscles don’t have to exert much effort when diving or swimming.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why do I get cramps every time I put on my swim fins?
There are different reasons why swim fins cramps occur. If you’re experiencing muscle contractions whenever you put on your flippers and they go away when you remove them, the underlying cause may be the size and quality of your fins. It could also be the technique you’re using whenever you’re swimming with the flippers on.
Q: How do you stop swimming fins cramps fast?
The fastest way to ease the pain of cramps is by massaging your feet lightly and stretching them out up against a wall. You can also put a hot towel or compress on your feet to help your muscles relax and get the blood flowing in those areas.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at many of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which also rubbed off on my two young sons! I am also lucky to spend a lot of ocean-time in my favorite second home, Indonesia. In addition to SurfHungry I have founded several other websites in my areas of passion, namely coffee and rock climbing, and am also a regular rowing content contributor.