How to Recover from Leg Day Workouts
Leg day is one of those days that you either love or you hate, and there’s really not much in between. Some people look forward to it as the rising sun, whereas others dread it like the plague. However, no matter how you feel about it, one thing is true for everyone: the days following a leg workout are about as painful as it gets.
We all know how it feels to waddle across the room and have your friends or coworkers ask, “Are you okay? What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” And that’s not even the most annoying part – the pain gets progressively worse with each passing day! Most people don’t feel the effects of leg day start to wear off until about day 3 or 4 when your body finally has at last managed to repair most of the fibers in those large quad muscles.
Thankfully, there are some things you can do to help combat this immense muscle soreness and limit that post-leg-day pain to as little time as possible. Check out the tips and tricks below.
3 Elements you need to know
Nutrition is the most important factor in helping you recover as fast as possible after leg day. Let me explain why. Your legs are in pain because your workout created thousands of little micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Your body now needs to repair these micro tears, which in turn makes your leg muscles bigger and stronger.
With that said, your body doesn’t just repair your muscles with magical internal healing powers, it needs an assortment of different nutrients to assist with the process.
The two most important categories of nutrients that your body needs for repair and recovery are protein and amino acids (more specifically, branched-chain amino acids, or BCAA’s for short). Therefore, giving your body easy access to these nutrients is crucial in ensuring you recover quickly and efficiently.
Protein and amino acids can be obtained from several different sources. The most popular method by far is to use supplements. Supplements give you a convenient way to get high-quality, concentrated sources of each nutrient, plus they allow you to quickly calculate exactly how much of each nutrient you are taking in.
If supplements aren’t your style, or if you want to use two methods to ensure the most total intake of these nutrients, you can also obtain protein and amino acids through your regular daily meals.
Do some research on foods that are high in protein and high in amino acids so that you can create a custom diet designed specifically to help with building muscle and recovery. For example, meats like chicken, steak, or fish are typically very high in protein and contain a plethora of amino acids.
If you want to recover from leg day in the best way possible, you’re going to need to attack the beast from all angles. Dialing in your nutrition will help you recover from the inside, but foam rolling is going to help you recover from the outside.
If you’ve never tried foam rolling before, let me give you a brief synopsis. This practice involves using a cylindrical piece of foam to massage your muscles, similar to how a rolling pin rolls out dough for baking.
The purpose of rolling out your muscles is to use trigger points to relax your muscles and remove knots that are creating tightness. If you’ve ever had a massage before it’s the same idea, except instead of a therapist rubbing your back, you’re doing things yourself. Foam rolling also helps to remove lactic acid (a substance that builds up in muscles after a workout, known for causing soreness) from your legs, which is another benefit in helping you recover.
Foam rolling can be a little tricky if you’ve never tried it before because it requires a precise technique to hit specific trigger points and release the soreness. With that said, once you get it down, it will become a regular part of your routine in helping you recover after leg day. If you’re a beginner to foam rolling, you can check out this exercise guide to learn the specific moves for targeting each part of your leg.
I know what you’re thinking: “It hurts just to walk into the other room, but you actually want me to go outside and be physically active?!” It might sound crazy, but it actually works! Have you ever heard the phrase, “the hair of the dog that bit you”? It’s an old expression that basically means if a dog were to bite you, then putting that dog’s hair in your wound would make it heal. Now, obviously we know THAT doesn’t actually work, but the meaning itself can be applied to tons of different instances and workout recovery is definitely one of them.
As you’ve learned above, your legs are stiff and sore due to micro-tears in your muscles as well as tightness and knots. Well, in addition to foam rolling, moving around and keeping your legs in motion can also help to relieve the tightness by stretching your muscles out and increasing blood flow to the legs. This phenomenon is known as “active recovery.”
Active recovery can be as simple as stretching, but to get the most benefit try a simple jog around your neighborhood or a quick bike ride. This doesn’t have to be an hour-long adventure, just a short 5 or 10 minutes can be enough to help bring some life back to your exhausted legs.
Wrapping It Up
Leg day has the biggest reputation out of any other workout day. It involves powerful movements using the largest muscle group in your body, and it can provide massive strength benefits all across your body. Unfortunately, these benefits do come at a price – the price of pain, stiffness, and waddling around like a wood-legged pirate for 3-4 days after your workout.
Using the tips above can help you significantly reduce your recovery time. Nutrition, foam rolling, and active recovery are all great methods of aiding in leg day recovery; but remember, there is no one-method-cures-all. For best recovery results, you should use several methods simultaneously, and soon enough you’ll be able to return to walking like a normal person again.
Cole Matthews is a 24-year-old personal trainer from California. He’s a major health and fitness geek and has a huge passion for writing. When he’s not lifting in the gym, you can find him in the mountains riding his bike or hiking with his friends.