From your calves and knees to your quads and glutes, many areas on your body can feel sore after leg day. And even if you’re doing interval training, a day or two off before hitting your legs again isn’t always enough time for proper muscle recovery.

Fortunately, there are several ways you can take your leg day recovery into your own hands, cut back on muscle soreness, cramps, and aches, and make sure you’re ready to go in time for your next leg day.

If you’re wondering how to recover from leg day, keep reading for five helpful tips, plus everything you need to know about why your legs can get so sore after a day at the gym.


Why Do Muscles Get Sore After Working Out?

As anyone who exercises regularly can tell you, sore muscles are a requisite part of working out. And in most cases, a certain level of ache is nothing to worry about. In fact, post-workout soreness is a sign that your physical fitness routine is working.

What causes muscle soreness after working out?

Post-workout soreness is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is the result of two specific things that happen as a result of your workout:

  • Microtears – When you’re hitting your legs hard on a leg day, your muscles and the tender connective tissue between them become damaged by tiny, microscopic wounds known as microtears.
  • Inflammatory responses – As a result, your body instigates inflammatory responses to heal those microtears. Although the inflammation is necessary for healing, it may also worsen muscle soreness or even initiate it.

In other words, the microtears you sustain during your workout as well as your body’s reparative inflammatory response are what cause the muscle aches you feel after leg day. Usually, soreness sets in within a day or two of your workout, beginning where your muscles and tendons meet and gradually spreading throughout the rest of the muscle.

Differentiating Between Good Soreness and Bad Soreness

Natural muscle recovery can entail a certain amount of muscle soreness after performing leg exercises, but it’s important to be able to distinguish between good discomfort and bad discomfort.

If you’re only a day or two out from leg day, there’s a pretty good chance that any muscle soreness you’re experiencing is DOMS—in other words, nothing to worry about.

But if your soreness persists or becomes unmanageable, you may want to seek medical attention or schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. If your soreness isn’t a standard case of DOMS, it could be linked to a more serious condition, illness, or ailment.

There are several kinds of medical conditions that can cause muscle aches or soreness. Some of the most common conditions include:

  • Autoimmune diseases – Conditions like inclusion body myositis, polymyositis, and other inflammatory myopathies can lead to physical discomfort.
  • Infections – Bacterial infections and viral infections can result in intense muscle and joint aches. These can include colds, the flu, or foodborne infections like trichinosis.
  • Injuries – Broken bones, sprains, and conditions like tendonitis can also leave your muscles sore and achy.
  • Neuromuscular disorders – Certain neurological conditions that affect muscle function can also manifest as muscle aches, such as muscular dystrophy and spinal muscular atrophy.

Certain medications can also carry side effects that can leave you feeling uncomfortable. This is especially true of certain medications for high blood pressure, statins used to treat high cholesterol, and radiation treatments for some kinds of cancer.

You should seek medical attention right away if your muscle soreness is accompanied by dizziness, labored breathing, fever, or unusual muscle weakness.


Post-Leg Day Recovery Tips

Although DOMS is a typical and largely unavoidable aspect of a sufficient leg day routine, there are steps you can take to minimize the severity of soreness and ease the symptoms of DOMS between workouts, ensuring that you’re ready to go hard again when leg day rolls back around.

The best way to alleviate muscle discomfort between leg days is prevention. Those microtears that lead to sore muscles and inflammation are necessary for the muscle growth that’s likely a big goal of your workout, so you aren’t likely to avoid all discomfort.

That said, you can reduce post-leg day soreness by:

  • Starting slow – Especially if you’re new to working out or if you’re returning to the gym after an absence, easing into your routine can minimize soreness afterward. Start with low-intensity exercises and slowly work your way up to more strenuous workouts.
  • Staying hydrated – Drinking water is very important when it comes to preventing dehydration, which can be a common outcome of working out. Unfortunately, dehydration can exacerbate DOMS and lead to cramping of its own.

But even following these preventative steps won’t necessarily free you from post-leg day strain. Here are 5 tips for alleviating your symptoms and getting back to the gym.


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#1 Get a Massage

A deep muscle massage on your recovery day may be just the thing you need to help you cope with your DOMS symptoms. In fact, one study suggests that a good massage may help reduce symptoms by up to 30%.

That same study revealed other optimistic findings as well. For example, in addition to alleviating soreness from DOMS, there’s a chance that massages may also help reduce associated swelling.

You can also opt for a self-massage that incorporates a THC-free CBD muscle cream, CBD roll-on for pain, or muscle salve with camphor and menthol, which can ease tenderness and promote full-body relaxation.


#2 Use a Foam Roller

If you’ve never used a foam roller, you may want to consider integrating it into your post-workout routine. They’re lightweight foam tubes that aid in self-myofascial release. Myofascial release is an integral part of massage therapy that aims to release stress on the myofascial tissues that connect your muscles to one another.

When it comes to leg day recovery, studies suggest that using a foam roller may be helpful in addition to proper stretching exercises. One study from 2015 linked foam rollers to substantial relief of muscle soreness, particularly for tenderness localized to the thighs. 

There’s also a chance that foam rollers could benefit your future leg day workout, in addition to helping you care for your legs on off days. According to that same study, foam rollers may also help: 

  • Improve sprinting performance
  • Boost performance during strength-endurance exercises 


#3 Do Active Recovery Workouts

Active recovery workouts are a good idea anytime you’re experiencing exercise-related muscle soreness, whether you’re aching from leg day, arm day, or any other aspect of your exercise routine.

What is active recovery and how can it help speed up your leg day recovery?

After you finish a strenuous workout, you might think the best way to deal with DOMS is by taking it easy. That’s what’s known as passive recovery—you’re doing nothing while you wait for your muscles to repair themselves.

But proponents of active recovery believe that engaging in low-intensity exercise after leg day can actually do more to relieve muscle soreness. And there’s some scientific evidence to support this. A 2018 review of relevant studies suggests that active recovery workouts can decrease the severity of DOMS, sometimes substantially.

Wondering how to recover after leg day? Consider incorporating low-intensity recovery workouts into your routine. Options include:

  • Cycling
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Tai Chi
  • Walking
  • Yoga

#4 Isometrics

Isometric exercises are low-intensity exercises that focus on contracting muscles in a specific area of the body. Examples of isometric exercises include:

  • Leg lifts
  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Squats
  • Wall sits

Isometric exercises are used in a range of recovery therapies, such as following rotator cuff surgery. Generally, they’re believed to be an effective exercise for people who are experiencing muscle tenderness, especially if that soreness inhibits mobility.


#5 Stay Mobile

Whether you’re doing an active recovery workout like taking a walk or going for a swim, using a foam roller, or exploring another technique for how to recover from leg day, it’s important to keep moving. Passive recovery is generally not a great way to manage DOMS or any other exercise-related soreness.

Fortunately, staying mobile between workouts should be far less strenuous than the workout itself. Low-intensity active recovery workouts can help keep your legs nimble between leg days, but you can also look for ways to integrate similar exercises into your daily routine. For example, even simple activities may help, such as:

  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Walking instead of driving
  • Standing instead of sitting, when possible

Another important movement activity you can do to help your leg day recovery is working your knees in low-intensity circles. Performing these light exercises may help relieve DOMS symptoms because it releases synovial fluid from your joints. This fluid keeps your joints lubricated, which cuts back on uncomfortable friction when you’re moving around.


Find Relief After Leg Day

If leg day has a tendency to leave you feeling achy and sore, alleviating your symptoms and relieving muscle tenderness is probably at the top of your list of priorities. And that’s understandable: working out is a big part of your life and you don’t need sore muscles getting between you and the gym.

If leg soreness has you down, consider ProVault’s line of natural pain relief products. Whether you prefer a CBD cream vs. salve, or a spray, our products are made with camphor and menthol for natural, fast-acting relief from pain and infused with 1500mg of THC-free CBD-hemp isolate, arnica and a blend of natural botanicals.

Gain the confidence to do what you love, pain-free, with ProVault.

Sources

PubMed. Delayed muscle soreness. The inflammatory response to muscle injury and its clinical implications. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7481277/

Cleveland Clinic. Muscle Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17669-muscle-pain

Mayo Clinic. Muscle Pain: When to See a Doctor. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/muscle-pain/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050866

Best Care. Are You Dehydrated? 6 Signs You May Need to Drink Up. https://bestcare.org/news/20190528/are-you-dehydrated-6-signs-you-may-need-drink

PubMed. Effects of Massage on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness, Swelling, and Recovery of Muscle Function. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1250256/ 

Mayo Clinic. Myofascial release therapy: Can it relieve back pain? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136#

PubMed. Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4299735/ 

PubMed. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/

Mayo Clinic. Isometric exercises: Good for strength training? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/isometric-exercises/faq-20058186 MedlinePlus. Synovial Fluid Analysis. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/synovial-fluid-analysis/#

About the Author

Laura Pitlik, Chief Marketing Officer at Arcadia Biosciences, Inc.

Laura Pitlik is the Chief Marketing Officer at Arcadia Biosciences, Inc., a producer of innovative, plant-based health and wellness products.  With degrees in Journalism and Advertising/PR from Texas Christian University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Southern Methodist University, Laura is a proven and accomplished Packaged Goods marketer and executive leader. Her areas of expertise include innovation, brand building, and omnichannel marketing strategy; her passion is developing unique, quality products that deliver on consumers’ evolving needs.  She has over 26 years of experience working on leading consumer brands including Dr Pepper®, Sunkist®, Hostess Brands®, On The Border® Tortilla Chips and Salsas and now, at Arcadia, GoodWheatTM, Zola Coconut Water® and SoulSpringTM and ProVaultTM CBD-infused body care products.