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April 12, 2021 9 min read

Yesterday you pushed hard and had a killer leg day. Fast forward to the moment you went to roll out of bed this morning. Your alarm goes off and you wake up ready to start the day.

Then you try to move and suddenly feel a lot of regret about your leg day session. Your legs and muscles ache enough to make you wonder if they will even be able to support your body weight as you make your way to the bathroom.

After managing to sit up, you sit on the edge of the bed and all you can think is, “How am I going to survive today?” Fortunately, we have the answer to that question!

Why Do Legs Get So Sore After Leg Day?

Before we take a deep dive into how to live a normal life after leg day, let’s take a moment to talk about why your legs get so sore. The explanation for this is actually quite simple.

Your legs contain some of the biggest muscles in the human body, for example, the glutes and hamstrings. Due to their larger size, your leg muscles take longer to recover than smaller muscles such as your biceps.

As you are working out your leg muscles, itsy-bitsy tears are occurring in the muscle. Seeing as there is more area to repair paired with the larger amounts of energy necessary to complete your leg workouts, it will take your leg muscles longer to heal and restore what was lost. Essentially meaning your sore legs are gonna be with you for a little while

Young male runner suffering from leg cramp on the track at the stadium

Types of Soreness

Did you know there are actually two different types of soreness? The first type is acute or immediate soreness and the second is delayed onset muscle soreness.

1. Acute Soreness: Also referred to as immediate soreness, acute soreness is the burning sensation you feel during intense workouts or deep stretches. This “burn” is caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscle. The sensation typically dissipates once you complete the exercise or may last for a few seconds after; however, it is possible for it to lasts for a couple of hours. Either way, this is normal and should be no reason for any concern.

2. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): Just like the name implies, delayed onset muscle soreness won’t kick in until 12-24 hours after your workout session. The 24-hour mark is typically when DOMS is at its worst, but it can last up to 72 hours. It is most common in those who are just beginning to exercise or returning after a long break, but it can happen to anyone who chooses to go extra hard one morning at the gym. As your muscles grow and tone, the onset of DOMS should no longer be an issue.

With that being said, having sore muscles should not cause you to feel any sharp or severe pain. If you are suffering from more than muscle soreness, you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible to prevent or treat any serious injury.

How To Walk After Leg Day?

As the DOMS sets in, it is likely you will find yourself wincing every time you have to sit or stand and walking (maybe even limping) slowly around your house. How the heck are you supposed to get through the rest of the day if your legs aren’t working? Well, unfortunately, staying in bed and refusing to do leg day again won’t do you any favors. Luckily for you (and your legs!), there are many ways you can shorten the recovery time. Some of our favorite ways to survive the day after an intense leg day include:

Start with a warm-up: Regardless if you are focusing your workout on your lower or upper body, you should begin with a warm-up. Exercising with stiff muscles can lead to serious injury and extreme soreness. Prevent unwanted injury by loosening up your muscles with a light jog or some jumping jacks. This is why workouts are typically designed to be the most intense in the middle of the session.

Proper cooldown: Taking the time after your workout to cool down will also reduce your risk of injury as well as reduce the length of recovery. To cool down, stretch those muscles! After you complete your leg workout, focus on stretches that target your quads and hamstrings.

A recovery cocktail:  Indulging in a recovery cocktail within an hour of completing your workout will encourage muscle growth, reduce soreness, and replace proteins lost during the workout. A recovery cocktail contains  branched amino acids and L-glutamine, which you need to supplement after exercising.

Stay hydrated: Keeping yourself properly hydrated will help your muscles heal better. If you are dehydrated, your muscles will not get the nutrients they need to recover; therefore, slowing down the recovery process. In general, the rule of thumb is to consume eight 8-ounce glasses of water, which is equal to approximately a half-gallon of water per day.

Goodnight’s sleep:  Getting a goodnight’s sleep is when our body repairs itself. Reaching R.E.M sleep releases hormones that build muscle and boost recovery. You can also take supplements to help you get high-quality sleep.

Ice it away: Well you won’t be able to make it go away completely, but it will definitely help reduce any swelling or inflammation. Placing ice on an area that is swollen from muscle tears will reduce the blood flow to that area in turn reducing the swelling and easing your pain.

Maintain good nutrient intake: What you eat can greatly affect how your muscles recover. For example, if you are lacking amino acids and protein, your body will not be able to repair your torn muscles until they are replenished; thus slowing down the recovery process. This is just one reason your diet plays a big role when it comes to building muscle and seeing those gains!

Take over-the-counter pain medicine:  When taken as directed, taking ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and ease some of the pain. If you do not have ibuprofen, Tylenol will help with the pain but it will not aid any inflammation you may have.

Foam rolling: Foam rollers are a great way to work out any knots or tightness you have while will promote a faster recovery. For some ideas on how to use a foam roller, check out this video of  how to use a foam roller for your legs.

Get a massage: Treating yourself to a massage when you have sore muscles can be very beneficial to the muscles. Ask for a Swedish massage (avoid a deep tissue massage as this can make your pain worse) to stimulate blood flow which will flush out any toxic waster from the lactic acid build-up in your muscles. If your wallet or your schedule won’t allow for a massage, taking 5 minutes out of your day to massage your calves or thighs may be the difference between getting up the stairs with or without tears in your eyes.

Pay attention to your form: When you are performing heavy lifts or deep squats, being mindful of your form will help to reduce soreness the next day. If there are not any mirrors to access so you can watch your form, try recording yourself and reviewing it to see if your form may be part of the reason why you are so sore. Keeping good form will allow for much faster muscle recovery.

Walk it off: Pushing through the pain is always going to be better for you than laying around complaining about it all day. Going for a relaxing walk is a great way to get some fresh air and blood flowing to your lower body. Movement really is the best cure for sore muscles.

Enjoy a hot salt bath: Submersing your sore muscles to the heat and salt will help them relax while getting your blood to circulate further promoting healing of the muscle tears. Plus a nice soak in the bath can be relaxing to your mind as well, so it’s a win-win!

Athlete using foam roller on a track.

Workouts For After Leg Day

Walking after leg day may seem impossible, but as we learned above, movement is the best medicine! It would be fair to argue that rest days may be inappropriately named due to the fact that we know too much rest can be detrimental to your recovery.

This is why there are rules when it comes to your workout post-leg day. For obvious reasons, you do not want to do any exercises that focus solely on the legs. Your legs are so because they are healing.

If you push them too hard the next day, it will do more harm than good. Simple, low-impact workouts will be your best choice. At first, you may think performing any kind of cardio while your legs are sore would be one of the worst ideas; however, when you choose active recovery options you will get the blood flowing to your healing muscles helping them heal faster.

But what counts as active recovery? Some options are to:

  • Use a stationary bike for 30-40 minutes
  • Jump on an elliptical for 20 minutes
  • Power walk on a treadmill with a slight incline
  • Go for a light jog outside
  • Take a swim if you have access to a pool
  • Ride your bike around the neighborhood
  • Do some  yoga for the legs
  • Incorporate a foam roller into your routine
Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C

    Why Are Nutrients Vital For Fast Recovery?

    Supplying your body with the proper nutrients it needs provides many benefits related to a faster recovery period. Some of those benefits being they supply your body with energy which it can then use to repair the muscles.

    You can speed up the healing process by eating the nutrients post-workout to replace any loss of glycogen (basically a fancy word for carbs) during your workout. Glycogen works hand-and-hand with the protein to stimulate new muscle growth.

    The nutrients that are most commonly recommended after an intense workout are proteins, vitamin C, vitamin D, carbs, calcium, fiber, and of course lots of water/fluids to stay hydrated. You can find these nutrients and vitamins in foods like:

    • Fruits like berries, bananas, and oranges
    • Potatoes 
    • Leafy green vegetables
    • Nuts, grains, or oats
    • Eggs
    • Cottage cheese
    • Chicken and lean meats
    • Salmon or tuna
    • Greek yogurt

    If eating immediately after a workout is not something you can do, bring a shaker bottle to the gym with you and drink a  protein supplement or enjoy a protein bar at the very least. These are things you can eat or drink even while driving so there are no excuses to not supplement your body with what it needs to heal.

    Common Leg Day Related Injuries

    Sometimes it does not matter how much we try to prevent a workout-related injury, but they can happen. However, if you are new to exercise or getting back into the swing of things after a long break, your risks of injury are higher. Some of the most common leg day related injuries you may find yourself visiting the doctor for are:

    • Shin splints
    • Sprained ankle or knee
    • Pulled hamstring
    • Achilles tendinitis
    • Meniscus tears
    • Low back pain
    • Knee or muscle strain
    • Groin pull or strain

    When you have an injury of any kind one of the best things you can for yourself and the healing process is to rest. Rest after a workout is already an extremely vital step of recovery, but if you have an injury, it is even more critical.

    Benefits of Rest After Leg Workouts

    We touched on rest briefly above; however, since it is such a big part of a quicker recovery, let’s talk a little bit about why rest is so beneficial. First of all, rest allows your muscles to grow.

    As you grow more and more muscle, you will begin to burn more calories when resting because muscle burns more energy than fat. So that means rest is not only good after a workout, it is also great for weight loss.

    Resting also allows your body to store up more energy which will give you more endurance when you return to the gym. If you do not give your body the amount of time it needs to replenish what it has lost, you may push yourself beyond your limits.

    When you withhold your body from the rest it needs you can actually be negatively affecting your recovery making it take even longer for you to heal and walk without any soreness.

    Lastly, rest is equally beneficial to our mental health as it is for our physical health. Forcing yourself too far can decrease your motivation and commitment to keep going.

    Whenever you have an intense workout session planned, make sure to schedule yourself plenty of time for rest. If you must work out the day after leg day then choose workouts that target different muscle groups.

    The Keys To Surviving Leg Day

    Though we listed many ways to help you live a normal life after leg day, there are some key points that stand out. Those key points being to maintain a balance of proper warm-ups, good nutrition, stretching to cool down,  rest, and steady movement.

    Also, keep in mind that DOMS is less likely to occur as you continue to build and tone your muscles. So keeping up with your workout routine is a vital piece to surviving leg day without sore muscles.