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.