For some, it is hard enough to gain the motivation to go to the gym and if you tack on the immense discomfort that leg day can bring the next day, it can be even more difficult to justify it.
Leg day is an important part of any muscle-building or strength training as the muscles in the leg are the largest in the human body. Ensuring these muscles are gaining muscle at a proportionate rate to the rest of your body can allow you to avoid the dreaded chicken leg physique.
The strain experienced after leg day to do the most basic of tasks can make you feel defeated. Simply trying to sit down becomes a whole ordeal that requires you to use all the nearby handholds to slow your painful descent onto the couch. Knowing how to manage recovery from leg day can give you the support you need to go into leg day with confidence that you will still be able to walk and function the next day.
Below is a breakdown of why you get sore as well as actions you can take before and after to help your recovery from leg day. With this knowledge, you will hopefully gain a newfound love for leg day and no longer push off a necessary part of your training in fear that you won’t be able to do your daily tasks.
Why you get sore
Muscle soreness has been heavily studied by many sports medicine practitioners and scientists throughout history. In this time many theories to the origin of muscle soreness have been proposed and many of which have been proven false.
An example of this progression is that it was once thought that muscle soreness was due to a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid is produced in anaerobic respiration which is a process where the mitochondria are bypassed in the event there is no oxygen. The lactic acid buildup in muscles was thought to be contributing to soreness and that actions like massage could help push it out.
It is now known that muscle soreness is caused by microtears occurring during repeat muscle contraction or heavy loads being placed across a muscle. Micro tearing of muscle may sound gruesome, but in reality, it is a natural part of muscle building. When the microtears occur, it grows back stronger to avoid further tearing. As time progresses and you continue to induce muscle tears, the muscles will begin to grow in size, and this is what causes the observable muscle gains you can see after months of training.
Preparation is the key to success in many aspects of life. Whether you are painting a room and are masking off molding, or are looking to get the most out of your leg workouts, preparation is essential to get the best results possible.
Preparation for leg day may seem like overkill, but the things you do before you hit the gym can play a direct role in how you perform and how much you need to recover. Below is a look at four factors to consider in your pre-workout regime.
Sleep is an integral aspect of your overall wellbeing and can have an impact on your ability to perform. The day before you plan to get in your leg day, make sure you do not skimp out on sleep and try to get at least eight hours of good quality sleep.
This task can be easier said than done for those that have trouble going or falling to sleep. A great way to start getting better sleep is to create a consistent bed and wake-up time so you can train your body’s internal clock.
Establishing good sleep habits is an important preparatory step as it will allow your body to work at its best during the workout and it will pay dividends during the recovery phase. One study suggested that a lack of sleep can have negative impacts on the muscle recovery process. Preparing for your workout by making those sleep habits a routine will ensure you get a good rest and get the most out of your hard work.
Hydration is important during any physical exercise. While most people bring a drink to the gym, hydration should start well before you even step foot in the gym. Staying hydrated before working out can help reduce the risk of injury by aiding tissue elasticity and fluid flow while you are working out.
When you are inadequately hydrated, cells within the body shrivel and become rigid. This rigidity can contribute to muscle tears that can significantly lengthen recovery time and hinder your progress.
Warming up is the process of building up to your workouts and starting off with light exercise before moving into intensive exercises. For leg day this could be as simple as going on the treadmill for 10 minutes at a moderate pace before starting squats or leg presses.
Warming up is a good preemptive step to take because it increases blood and fluid flow across the tissues you are about to work extensively. It also gets your heart pumping a little harder and increases your respiration rate. All of these reactions make warming up ideal for performing at your best and reducing the risk of unnecessary injury which could lengthen your recovery.
Leg day like any other workout requires you to pay close attention to the nutrition you put into your body. While what you put into your body is important, it is also important to time your nutrition appropriately to have those necessary nutrients available to your muscles when they need it.
One way you can prepare your muscles for leg day is to take supplements that help support cellular functioning. Muscle cells face immense amounts of energy requirements during a workout. The transition from the chemical energy of food to the mechanical energy of muscle movement is incredibly demanding and supporting your muscle cells at a cellular level is a great way to ensure they are working at their best.
MitoQ is a great way to help support the mitochondria within your muscle cells. By re-establishing CoQ10 molecules in the mitochondrial membrane, MitoQ can support the cellular energy mechanism within your muscle cells. Muscle movement is energy-intensive and supporting the mitochondria is a great way that you can help.
Muscle recovery is also energy-intensive as cells need to replicate and rebuild following a workout. Having a strong cellular energy basis by having supported mitochondria can put your body in the best position to recover quicker.
After the Workout
Post-workout is when the dreaded soreness becomes a reality and while you can take preemptive steps to help minimize the post-workout soreness, there is no way to completely avoid it. Within the first 48 hours following leg day, you will most likely experience delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the muscles of your legs which may make it hard to walk, sit, or extend your legs. Below are two strategies to help with DOMS and get back to everyday life.
When you can barely walk or sit down, more exercise is most likely the last thing you want to do. Your muscles are sore and ache and every step can be a challenge. Even though initially it can be uncomfortable, participating in a light exercise during recovery can help the recovery process and can even alleviate some soreness.
After leg day you should consider going on a brisk walk or jog. Doing aerobic exercise involving the legs increases blood flow across the muscles which is an important aspect of the healing process. Blood delivers all of the nutrients your cells need to repair and rebuild. By increasing fluid flow you increase the availability of these tools to the tissues that need them which could help the recovery process.
Both hot and cold baths are utilized by athletes to achieve muscle relief. Immediately following an exercise a cold bath can be utilized to reduce swelling by constricting blood flow and reduce acute soreness. Warm baths after the first couple of hours can help increase the blood flow required for recovery and can help loosen tight muscles. When utilized in conjunction, the application of hot and cold can be immensely beneficial for relieving sore muscles.
Leg day can be an intimidating workout day for many as they fear leg soreness and decreased mobility the following day. While there is no possible way that you can completely avoid muscle soreness, there are actions you can take before and after your workout to help mitigate the extent of the soreness.