After doing karate for about a year I started to get problems with cramp in my feet. This doesn't generally happen whilst I am actually in a karate class, though I sometimes get problems when we are doing a full bow, sitting back on the heels with the tops of the feet flat on the hard floor. I usually have to position my feet perpendicular to the floor with the toes bent forward at right angles to the foot and pressing down onto the ground so that the stretch is on the palms of my feet rather than the tops of my feet. Most of the cramp I get though occurs between classes, often whilst sitting with my feet up or when I am in bed.
I wondered why I should suddenly start suffering foot cramps. Presumably it has something to do with exercising barefoot. I have read that foot cramp can occur if you consume insufficient potassium or calcium in the diet. Well, I eat bananas every day as well as apples, oranges and vegetables so I'm not convinced my diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals. Dehydration has also been implicated in cramps but if that was the case I would expect to experience the cramp during a karate class when I've been sweating and have increased evaporation of water in my breath. However, on the other hand, during exercise the muscles in my feet and legs are warmed up - so perhaps this ameliorates the effects of dehydration?
I read somewhere that cramp can actually increase the tone in muscles and tendons and people who have had surgery on their feet, resulting in a loss of muscle tone, are told to bend their toes to deliberately induce cramp because it helps to increase the strength and tone of their feet. Though this sounds a little incredible it might go some way to explaining why I am now getting foot cramps. I have spent years wearing comfortable, well supporting footwear - particularly when exercising. It would not surprise me then if the muscles and tendons in my feet were a little weak from lack of exercise. Lets face it, even when you are hard at it in the gym exercising your body, most of us generally keep our feet nicely cocooned in expensive, cushioned trainers. It has never occurred to me to actually exercise my feet!
Then I started karate and suddenly I'm doing hard physical exercise in bare feet on a hard floor. I'm learning techniques that require me to 'grip' the floor, tensing the muscles in my feet. Or they require me to be up on the balls of my feet, transferring my weight quickly from foot to foot. All this requires strong muscles my feet. It is no wonder I'm getting cramp - my feet just aren't up to the job. I don't experience the cramp during class because my feet are warmed up, but at home, resting, they are stone cold and are reacting to the unaccustomed demands that have been made of them!
I think I need to exercise my feet like I exercise the rest of my body. I have noticed when watching my sensei demonstrating techniques that his feet and ankles are much more flexible than mine, they grip the floor more firmly and the edges of his feet make greater contact with the ground than mine. After more than 20 years of barefoot exercise he has developed 'karate feet'.
Do you have 'karate feet' or do you have problems with cramp like me? Have you any tips for strengthening the feet or dealing with cramp? I would welcome your comments.