Most people focus on different muscle groups on different days of the week.
If you’re like me, you probably dread the leg workout day.
Squats, lunges, deadlifts, and dozens of other exercises can push your leg muscles to the breaking point.
When you wake up the next day, you may struggle to lift your legs from the bed. You then take it easy, put off your workout for the day, and hope your legs feel better the next day.
Unfortunately, leg pain doesn’t always go away quickly. The day after leg day workouts, you may still feel the pain.
In some cases, you may not even be able to walk.
So, you want to sculpt your legs, but you don’t want to deal with sore muscles? Muscle spasms, cramps, and general soreness come with the territory.
Luckily, there are a few ways to limit leg pain from intense workouts. The key steps for avoiding unnecessary muscle soreness include the following:
- Stretches and warmups
- Proper hydration
- Proper form and technique
- Cold compresses
- Hot compresses
Always perform stretches before you work out, especially before performing squats or strength training exercises that engage the leg muscles.
You also need to stay hydrated. It prevents cramping and reduces inflammation.
Using proper form and technique when working out helps prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
With those steps, you should experience less of a burn immediately after your workout.
But what about later in the day or the days that follow?
After a tough workout, jump in an ice bath or apply a cold compress. Later in the day, use a hot compress to loosen the muscles.
The day after leg day exercises, keep working out.
Using the same muscles to perform less intense exercises keeps them from cramping.
That’s a basic overview of how to avoid leg muscle soreness. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple.
If you’re serious about preventing leg muscle soreness, here’s everything you need to know.
- 1 Why Do Your Leg Muscles Feel Sore After Working Out?
- 2 Does Stretching Really Help Prevent Leg Soreness?
- 3 Stay Hydrated to Prevent Muscle Soreness After Leg Day
- 4 Always Use Correct Form When Exercising
- 5 How to Prevent Leg Soreness After a Workout
- 6 Tips for Preventing Sore Muscles the Day After
- 7 Is Pain After a Workout Always Good?
Why Do Your Leg Muscles Feel Sore After Working Out?
Everyone knows that muscles become sore after strenuous workouts. It doesn’t matter if you’re cycling, jogging, or performing squats.
But why do your muscles get sore?
When you work your muscles, you may experience two types of soreness – acute or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Acute muscle soreness occurs during or immediately after your workout.
During your exercise, muscle contractions create small tears along the muscle and connective tissues.
The small tears don’t cause pain. The pain comes from the recovery process. The natural inflammatory process leads to soreness.
Here’s the good news and bad news. The good news is that acute muscle soreness goes away quickly. In fact, you may not even feel very sore after an intense workout.
The bad news is that DOMS is just around the corner.
DOMS is the soreness that you feel for one or more days after your workout. It’s even more pronounced when you work muscles in a new way or work muscles that you rarely exercise.
Besides inflammation, several other factors contribute to the soreness.
Your body starts to accumulate electrolytes and T-cells. Scientists still don’t know how these details combine to cause pain, but they know that they’re the main culprits.
One issue that doesn’t impact soreness is the buildup of lactic acid.
When you work out, your muscles break down glucose and lactic acid starts to build up. But according to a 1983 study, the lactic acid doesn’t impact DOMS.
While some trainers disagree with this study, the American College of Sports Medicine and most medical professionals agree that the theory of lactic acid causing soreness is wrong.
How long does DOMS last? Up to three days. How do you get rid of it sooner? Use the remaining tips.
Does Stretching Really Help Prevent Leg Soreness?
If you want to keep your leg muscles from cramping up the day after leg day exercises, be proactive.
You need to try to stop your muscles from becoming sore in the first place. The first step to this is starting with a good warmup.
Use dynamic stretches to warm up your legs instead of static stretches.
How many times have you heard that you need to hold a stretch? Next time you hear that, ignore it.
Static stretching provides no proven benefits for muscle soreness, but dynamic stretching may help.
Dynamic stretching requires you to use a full range of movement. For example, walking lunges, walking, or slowly jogging are all examples of dynamic stretches.
Stretching is also useful the next day. Using a foam roller or performing active stretching helps alleviate some of the discomforts of DOMS.
Stay Hydrated to Prevent Muscle Soreness After Leg Day
Keep yourself hydrated, before, during, and after your workouts.
Staying hydrated helps replace those electrolytes that you lose during your exercises. You may even want to consider drinking a sports beverage for extra electrolytes and sodium.
Water energizes your muscles and reduces muscle weakness during your workout. Staying hydrated also keeps your joints lubricated, improving range of motion and reducing stress during lifting exercises or squats.
Studies also suggest that water improves muscle recovery time, which can help decrease the duration and severity of DOMS.
While you need to stay hydrated, avoid drinking too much water during your workout. Chugging a few glasses of water may lead to unnecessary cramping.
So, how much water should you drink each day? The general recommendation is to drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water. The problem with that recommendation is that other factors influence how much liquid you need.
Working out leads to the loss of electrolytes and increase dehydration. You also get fluids from the food that you eat.
Your overall mass also impacts how much water you require.
Basically, drinking eight glasses of water may not provide enough hydration for everyone but it may be more than enough for others.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men need about 124 ounces of fluids per day. Women need about 92 ounces.
Close to 20% of your fluids come from food. If you take 20% away from those recommendations, you end up with the following recommendations:
- 99 ounces per day for men
- 74 ounces per day for women
Drinking eight glasses of water only provides 64 ounces, and if you work out, you need more.
You don’t necessarily need to keep track of how much liquid you drink. However, you should keep water nearby and always take a sip whenever you feel slightly thirsty.
Besides water or sports beverages, you may also want to drink some coffee before your workout. Studies show that caffeine consumption before a workout helps reduce DOMS by up to 48%.
If you want to test this for yourself, drink two cups of coffee about an hour before your leg workout. It hydrates just as well as water and may keep you from being unable to walk the next day.
Always Use Correct Form When Exercising
Using correct form helps prevent unnecessary soreness. If you use bad form, you may work muscles in unusual ways, leading to additional tears in the muscle tissue and increasing the duration of your DOMS.
As squats are an exercise that tend to lead to a lot of muscle soreness in the legs, let’s review the basics.
When performing squats using a barbell, stand with the bar behind your upper back. Keep your feet evenly shoulder-width apart.
To start the squat, inhale and squat down as you push your knees to the side and move your hips back. Continue to squat until your hips pass your knees.
Squat up while keeping your chest up and your knees out. Lock your knees at the top and exhale. Take a big breath and repeat.
Using proper form also helps reduce the risk of injury. Without proper form, you risk injuring your back and knees.
How to Prevent Leg Soreness After a Workout
When you finish working out, you may feel great.
Exercising releases endorphins, boosting your energy. You’re riding a high and may not feel the pain of your workout.
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.
If you want to limit the pain that you’ll feel the next day, you still have a few things to take care of after your workout.
First, ice your legs and then apply heat.
Cold and heat treatments both provide advantages for reducing pain and improving recovery. In fact, alternating between the two is beneficial for exercise-induced muscle pain.
Jumping in an ice bath is standard practice for most athletes. If you walk into a locker room at any college or pro sports team, you’ll see an ice bath.
But you don’t need to buy a bag of ice and fill your tub with it. Instead of wasting ice, use a cold compress on your legs.
The cold treatment reduces inflammation and slows blood circulation. This reduces pain by numbing the sore muscle tissues in your legs.
It also reduces the risk of tissue damage and works best when applied within 48 hours.
You can use a variety of items for cold therapy.
Slap a package of frozen vegetables on your legs or fill a Ziploc bag with ice. You can also purchase cold compresses that you store in the freezer.
No matter what you use, massage it over your legs for at least ten minutes.
A few hours later, switch it up. Use a hot compress on your legs.
The heat stimulates blood circulation and loosens the sore muscles, helping to speed up the recovery process. It helps tight muscles to relax and feels good.
Before applying the hot pack on your legs, test it. Make sure that it’s not too hot.
If you don’t have anything that you can heat up, soak yourself in a hot bath.
Either soak in the tub or massage the hot pack over your legs for about twenty minutes. You should start to feel relief quickly.
Tips for Preventing Sore Muscles the Day After
The day after leg day workouts is when the fun begins.
We’ve all experienced this problem. You wake up and your muscles are completely stiff due to the workout from the previous day.
Luckily, it can go away on its own.
Most people recover fully within a few days, but the pain may occasionally keep you from wanting to stick to your workout routine.
To make the pain go away quickly, follow these steps:
- Work your muscles
- Massage your muscles
- Fight the inflammation
- Apply cold compresses
Try to combine these tips to maximize your recovery efforts.
Work Your Muscles
While it may seem counterproductive, working out is one of the best ways to reduce muscle soreness from working out.
Active recovery provides a cooldown from your workout. It stimulates blood flow to your legs and improves circulation in the muscles, reducing pain and speeding up the recovery process.
Low-intensity exercise also alleviates fatigue and allows you to remain active instead of taking a day off.
While lactic acid doesn’t impact muscle soreness, it does lead to muscle exhaustion. When you perform an anaerobic exercise, you burn more glucose, fat, and glycogen compared to your oxygen intake, leading to the buildup of lactic acid.
Aerobic exercises allow you to burn the fuel stores in your body without exceeding your oxygen intake. This allows the lactic acids to travel from the muscles to the bloodstream, aiding circulation.
What types of exercises should you perform and what should you avoid?
Anaerobic exercises include short bursts of high-intensity movements, such as strength training exercises and jumping. Skip these exercises.
For active recovery, use aerobic exercises, such as:
Basically, you need to perform low-intensity cardio exercises.
Massage Your Muscles
Massaging your muscles provides some of the same benefits provided by aerobic exercises. It helps promote blood circulation.
A good massage also reduces tension and pressure, helping to knead some of the knots out of your legs.
Unfortunately, most of us can’t afford to go to a professional masseuse after each workout.
An alternative option is to use a foam roller or massage stick. You have control over the pressure, ensuring that you don’t make the pain any worse.
Fight the Inflammation
Fighting the inflammation should help ease some of the pain in your legs, but avoid taking a pain reliever. Research shows no noticeable benefit to using pain relievers to reduce muscle soreness.
During a study to determine the effectiveness of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for relieving muscle pain, researchers monitored two separate groups. One group took the pain relievers and the other group did not.
Both groups worked out and experienced muscle soreness.
Surprisingly, both groups experienced about the same amount of pain. No matter if they took NSAIDs or not, the pain gradually decreased over the next several days.
So instead of taking a medication that increases your risk of stomach discomfort or ulcers, find natural sources to fight inflammation.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods for treating muscle soreness include:
Stock up on these foods before your leg workout. The day after leg day exercises, start chowing down on these foods.
Apply Cold Compresses
It’s time for more cold compresses. As mentioned, cold therapy reduces inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of DOMS.
While cold therapy helps immediately after your workout, it also helps the next day.
Continue to use cold packs on your legs. You can also use almost anything from your freezer, but you may want to wrap the cold item in a hand towel to avoid pressing it directly against your skin.
Is Pain After a Workout Always Good?
You know that you’ll feel pain after an intense workout, but when does the pain become a bad thing?
No pain, no gain. It’s a common phrase and it’s mostly true.
During and immediately after your workout, you may feel a burning sensation. The next day, you may experience tightness or cramping. Those are normal types of pain associated with working out.
If you start to experience other symptoms, you may want to take a break from your workouts or even consider visiting a doctor.
Bad types of pain caused by exercise include sharp pain that keeps you from moving your legs or limits your range of motion. You may also feel pain in an area that you’ve previously injured.
For example, if you have an old knee injury and it acts up, stop working out.
Pain combined with bruising, excess pressure, fevers, chills, or nausea requires a trip to the doctor.
If your DOMS does not start to decrease in one to three days, seek medical help.
Last Thoughts on Preventing Sore Leg Muscles After Leg Day
In the end, you can’t eliminate muscle soreness in your legs after an intense workout, but you can reduce the pain and speed up your recovery.
Before your workout, drink water and stretch your muscles. During your workout, make sure that you use proper form.
To reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, use cold therapy and heat therapy. You can also fill up on foods containing lots of antioxidants.
The next day, massage your muscles and apply more cold packs.
If these tips don’t help, consider visiting your doctor.