If you’ve every wondered, “should my legs be sore after leg day?” you aren’t alone.
The first few months of training you probably noticed that you could barely walk after every single leg day. But now that your muscles have grown, you are noticing that you aren’t sore as often.
It becomes confusing & causes you to wonder if you worked hard enough when you aren’t sore.
Should My Legs Be Sore After Leg Day?
Muscle soreness does not always correlate to how effective your workout was. As long as you are progressively overloading every workout, you can ensure that your workout was efficient. It is more useful to base your workouts on this, rather than if you are sore or not.
1. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
This is the muscle pain that occurs 12 to 24 hours after your workout. Not to be mistaken with acute muscle soreness which is muscle soreness that occurs during your workout. This occurs from buildup of metabolites in the muscles as you are breaking them down.
DOMS should only last two to three days after your workout and then should start to fade. I’ll provide the best ways to get rid of it as soon as possible later on in the article.
What causes it? Microtears in the muscle fibers that lead to inflammation. This is normal and actually leads to your muscles rebuilding bigger and stronger. This is the process of muscle growth.
It is most commonly felt by new athletes as their muscles aren’t used to being placed under high tension. Also, if you try a new exercise that you’ve never done before it is most likely going to occur. If you are training a body part that you don’t normally train or suddenly increase your training intensity you can expect soreness.
It can be tough because during your exercise you can’t tell how sore you are going to be the following day as it takes about 12 to 24 hours to occur. For this reason it is smart not to greatly increase intensity of a workout and to rather gradually increase it.
If you are trying out a new exercise, don’t overdo it and start out with lower weight.
Focusing on the eccentric part of an exercise results in greater muscle breakdown and is more likely to lead to DOMS. The eccentric is the part of the phase when the muscle is lengthening, typically the lowering part
For example, when you are lowering your legs back down on the calf raise or lowering into your squat.
2. What Is Overtraining?
Overtraining occurs when you don’t give your muscles enough time to recover after an intense workout and decide to train again anyway. You should leave 48 hours before training the same muscle group again.
If not, it will not have time to rebuild. Overtraining will reduce fitness levels, performance, and lead to injuries.
Should you workout your legs if it’s been 48 hours and they are still sore? This really depends on the severity of how sore they are. If the pain is making it difficult for you to sit down or walk then you should probably give them extra time.
If they are only slightly sore then consider having a lighter workout than usual.
Some signs of overtraining include being sore for longer than 3 days. This means you are past the point of DOMS and have probably sustained an injury. If you feel more fatigued and run down than usual, you are probably going too hard.
If you are injured it’s best to take a few days off from the gym and let the muscle fully recover before returning to your training.
If you are noticing a decline in performance in the gym, or you are getting weaker, this should be a sign to take it down a notch.
Sometimes taking a couple days off from training altogether is a great way to allow your body to recover and reset your mind. Go back into the gym when you don’t have any soreness and reduce the intensity slightly.
How do you prevent it? You should be progressively overloading every workout by slightly increasing the intensity or weight. Don’t make huge leaps. If you goblet squatted a 50lb dumbbell for 8 reps last week, you should not be trying to squat the 70lb dumbbell this week.
Similarly, if you ran for 15 minutes everyday last week, trying to run 40 minutes this week is too high of a jump and will negatively affect you.
3. Should You Always Be Sore After Leg Day?
Being sore is not always an indication that you had a great workout. In fact, if you’ve been training for a long time you’ll find that you won’t get as sore as your muscles have adapted to being broken down frequently. If that’s the case, they will usually only get sore if you up the intensity or try a new exercise.
However, you should still notice that you are slightly sore for a day or two after training. If you are never sore at all, you may need to up the intensity of your workout. If the soreness lasts for longer than 2 days, you are probably overtraining.
So if muscle soreness isn’t the best indicator of a good workout, then what is?
If you are progressively overloading every time you workout, then you can ensure that you had a good workout. This should really be your only indicator.
Remove this belief that you have to be in crippling pain the next day to know that you really killed it in the gym.
Increase reps, sets, or weight every workout. Decreasing rest times or increasing intensity also qualify as progressively overloading. This will let you know that you are gradually building up strength and muscle ever time you workout.
Some other methods of progressively overloading include adding in drop sets, super sets, and slow eccentrics into your training.
If you usually do 4 sets of lunges and introduce a drop set into your last 2 sets the next workout, this counts as progressive overload and will build more muscle.
4. How To Recover Properly
Nutrition is number one. Your muscles need adequate protein to rebuild properly. Without enough protein they will be unable to rebuild and grow and are more susceptible to being sore.
Protein is required for protein synthesis to occur, which is when your cells create proteins. A gram of protein per pound of body weight is sufficient.
Carbohydrates are important to refill your muscle glycogen stores after a tough workout. Your body converts carbs into glycogen to use as fuel when you are working out. These storages need to be refilled after so make sure you eat some complex carbs such as rice, whole grains, oats, or fruit.
Avoid simple carbs such as candy, junk food, or processed foods that will give you a short burst of energy and then cause a crash shortly after.
Note that insulin secretion promotes glycogen synthesis and is best stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed at the same time.
What about fats? Healthy fats such as nuts, oils, and avocado’s are the best, avoid processed fatty foods after a workout. Small amounts of fats will not inhibit muscle recovery.
Hydration will also help nutrients get into the muscles and rebuild. You should always be hydrated to ensure that your muscles can properly contract, grow, and recover.
Ice, rest, massages, and heat are great ways to reduce muscle soreness. Heat will increase muscle temperature which increases blood flow and helps removes chemical irritants which are responsible for pain.
A massage will flush out lactic acid and waste in the muscles. It will also reduce tightness by increasing blood flow and allow you to return to normal flexibility.
Try foam rolling as it will work out all the toxins built up in the muscles. It applies pressure to the muscles to break up and move the fascia, allowing them to separate and relax. This results in less muscle soreness following a workout. Read more about foam rolling here.
Make sure that you are stretching out your legs before and after working out, especially if they are sore. Do a full stretch of the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves before starting your training.
This will reduce tightness and increase blood flow into the muscles. Also perform a few lightweight sets of which ever exercise you are doing to prepare the muscles for the heavier load coming.
You must be getting at least 7 hours a sleep a night for your muscles to recover properly. Protein synthesis and growth hormone release happen while we are asleep. This will allow your muscles to rebuild and grow back stronger.
Blood supply to the muscles is also increased while we sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you risk still having muscle pain for your next workout.
Consider taking BCAA’s to help facilitate muscle recovery. Branched chained amino acids will deliver amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins into the body.
The amino acid leucine has shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. BCAA’s also decrease protein breakdown during exercise and decrease levels of creatine kinase, which is an indicator of muscle damage. This will make DOMS not as severe.
Sometimes light movement is a great way to speed up the recovery process even if it’s painful. Light activity will increase blood flow in the legs, increasing nutrient flow to the muscles which helps them recover.
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