5 Tips to Prevent Side Stitches + Just a Call Away 5K!


You know the feeling: you are in the middle of a run or a cardio workout when you feel a side cramp, or side stitch. You try to run through it but are unsuccessful, so you stop for a few minutes and lose your pace. Wouldn’t it be great if you could prevent side stitches from happening in the first place? 

While there hasn’t been a lot of research done on side stitches, exercise physiologist Susan Paul says that they are thought to be caused by a muscle spasm of the diaphragm, or a spasm of the supporting ligaments. Your diaphragm contracts and flattens when you breathe in, in order to pull air into your lungs. This means that the cramp could be caused by breathing patterns. Being dehydrated, not stretching enough beforehand, and eating before you run could also contribute to side stitches. But you are in luck! Here are a few things you can do to help prevent them on your next run or cardio workout: 

Control your breathing
Since side stitches are often connected to the diaphragm, shallow breathing can cause them. When you are running or are doing a cardio workout, try to regulate your breathing. If you are running, experiment with inhaling and exhaling every two steps, and increase or decrease that based on your speed. Try to breathe deeply. If you already have a side stitch, slow down or stop what you are doing and take deep, controlled breaths. 

Stay hydrated, electrolytes
Staying hydrated is very important for any exercise activity, but it especially helps with preventing side stiches. When the body doesn’t have the electrolytes it needs, muscle movement becomes more labored. Make sure to drink enough water before your workout, and take a few sips when you are feeling thirsty. Check out my other blog post on staying hydrated in the summer heat for more tips. 

Stretch and Warmup
Stretching and warming up well can prevent many issues, including side stitches. When you don’t warm up and stretch enough, it is more likely that your breathing will be labored and shallow when you get up to a quicker pace. Try walking and then jogging for five to seven minutes. Then do a few twists to stretch out your torso. Focus on your breathing during the stretch and warmup, too.  

Don’t eat before you run
You may have heard not to swim on a full stomach. Well there is good reason for that! Eating before you exercise, especially fat or fiber, turns on your body’s digestive processes, and this takes away energy from you during your workout. It can also cause digestive problems in general that will have you running to the bathroom instead of on your planned route. If you need to eat before you run, try to eat foods that are higher in carbs and lower in fat or fiber. Keep a food log of what you are eating so you can see what works best for you. 

Side stitches during a workout can derail your pace and goals for the day. But there are many things you can do to prevent them, like controlling your breathing, staying hydrated, stretching and warming up, and avoiding food before your run. If you find yourself in the middle of a run or a workout with a side stitch already, stop what you are doing and begin to breath in and out deeply. You can also run through the side stitch if you need to by regulating your breathing, too. And make sure after every workout to hydrate and stretch!

For those of you in Birmingham, I’ll be running in the Just a Call Away 5K with a group of D1 Bham and Hibbett friends on Saturday, August 17. Sign up and join us!

Hopefully the tips above help you ELEVATE!

Sarah Orner