If you do leg day in the gym, chances are you will feel it the following day. DOMS and muscle weakness are the most common signs of doing a great leg workout the previous day… But what does it mean for runners?
Is running after leg day a good idea… Or a very bad one? The truth is, it has some advantages. That being said, it also has some obvious disadvantages, so it’s a valid question.
Here’s what you should know. If you’re already getting a solid leg workout every week, you should have a better idea of how to structure your workout and your running after this article.
If you aren’t doing leg day yet, you’ll also learn why you should… Plus, we’ll cover when the best time is to do it.
Is Leg Day Important for Runners?
Yes! The main muscles used in running are in the legs, so it makes perfect sense that building more muscle in your legs will benefit your running.
However, you can’t just leap into doing a serious leg workout once a week without considering what it means for your running. There are definite benefits, but you need to time it right as well.
What Are the Benefits of Leg Day for Runners?
Here’s what you can expect when you train your legs at least once a week.
Develops Strength in the Posterior Chain
The most effective exercises for building your legs also tend to build glutes, strengthen the lower back, and, ultimately, develop strength in the posterior chain.
A stronger posterior chain helps you maintain a good posture, so your running form will naturally improve. You can look forward to improved performance when you start developing your posterior chain muscles.
The other great benefit is that a stronger posterior chain means you’ll most likely have less injury. The posterior chain plays a major role in stabilizing you as you walk, run, and perform other movements, so the stronger, the better.
Prevents Muscle Imbalances in the Legs
Muscle imbalances can develop without you even realizing it. But once you start working your legs in the gym, they become easier to spot and fix.
If you’re one of the many runners who are quad-dominant, the gym is the perfect place to start balancing it out by working on your hamstrings and glutes. You can easily isolate each muscle and develop it to iron out muscle imbalances.
Fixing muscle imbalances can significantly improve your form and your performance when running. Pay attention to your form—most runners are quad-dominant, so it’s something to be aware of.
Build More Muscle Mass
The more muscle you have in your legs, the more power you have driving you forward in your runs. You’ll also store more glycogen for better performance so that you won’t fatigue so early in your runs.
If weight loss is one of your goals, building more muscle will help. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, as your body needs to expend more energy to move muscle than fat.
Reduces Back Pain
Strengthening your posterior chain also has the added bonus of reducing any back pain you may feel.
A lot of back pain is a result of weak glutes, so building muscle and strength in this area can have a positive impact on back pain. In turn, this can elevate your running performance by improving your range of motion.
Helps You Become a Better Runner
More power, more range of motion, better form, and less pain… How can that not make you a better runner? Incorporating a leg day into your fitness routine could be one of the best choices you make for your running performance!
Why Are Leg Days So Hard?
Leg day may be one of the best things you can do for your running, but it’s not exactly easy, especially in the beginning.
The quads, hamstrings, and glutes are some of the biggest muscles in the body. This means that when you effectively work them out, you expend a lot of energy.
Doing a good leg workout burns a lot of calories. But it takes a lot out of you, provided you’re doing it properly and lifting heavy. The heavier the weights, the more effective the workout… As long as you’re doing everything with proper form.
The other thing that makes leg day so hard is that you’ll likely feel pain and weakness for at least a day or two afterward! This means that any leg-related exercise on those days will be more difficult.
While leg day can be difficult and painful, it’s important to focus on the benefits of it—building your running muscles, increasing your power, and burning a lot of calories!
Should You Be Running After Leg Day?
Running after leg day is all about HOW you run. You shouldn’t expect to win sprinting races the day after leg day, but you can do an easy run without any negative effects… In fact, an easy run can have advantages after leg day.
Ultimately, running after leg day is up to you. You can do it if you want to, or you can shuffle your schedule up a little so you can have a rest day after leg day. It’s really up to you and what feels most comfortable to you.
Advantages of Running After Leg Day
That being said, there are certain advantages to running after leg day. Here’s what you can expect if you do want to run the day after your leg workout.
Helps Combat Muscle Soreness
Leg day is known for its leg-numbing DOMS. But going for an easy run the day after your leg workout can actually help reduce the soreness in the days to come.
A relaxed run can improve circulation, bringing oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the leg muscles, easing that stiff pain and improving your range of motion. It also helps to clear out lactate faster—the substance responsible for DOMS.
All that blood circulating through your leg muscles doesn’t just reduce the DOMS. It helps your muscles to heal faster, which means they’ll grow faster too.
Pushing through the initial discomfort of running after leg day can help to build valuable endurance. You’ll be training your body to handle discomfort and do the exercise anyway, which is an excellent way to boost your stamina and endurance.
When your muscles are still working to heal themselves after leg day, adding exercise on the following day can actually increase your energy metabolism. That means burning more calories on your run than you might normally for the intensity of your run.
Increased Cardiovascular Health Benefits
When you run after leg day, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to your sore leg muscles. Your heart and lungs will get a more intense workout, as you’ll already be slightly fatigued. This means that running after leg day can improve your cardiovascular health!
Are There Disadvantages to Running After Leg Day?
While there are some advantages to running after leg day, there are also some possible disadvantages. Be aware of these.
May Increase the Risk of Injury
When your muscles are sore and tired, you may be more at risk of hurting yourself. Your leg muscles are already tired and sore, so it’s extremely important to keep in mind that it’s easy to overdo it.
Not only will you be more at risk of things like tripping, turning an ankle, or being unable to right yourself after a misstep, but you’re at risk of developing an overuse injury.
Leg day—when done properly—will fatigue your leg muscles. That means you’re not starting at the same place you normally would when you get out there for your run. You’re already disadvantaged because you’re fatigued from the previous day’s workout.
As a result, you may need more time to run as far and as fast as usual. So keeping your post-leg-day run short and easy is in your best interest.
While doing an easy run can improve muscle soreness, if you go overboard, it can make the pain worse. This usually happens if you run too fast or too far, so you can get around it by carefully monitoring the length and pace of your runs.
Limited Range of Motion
When your legs are sore and stiff, you might find that your range of motion is limited. You might not be able to run like you normally would, which means your form will be impacted, leading to reduced performance and a higher potential for injury.
Does Running Reduce Leg Gains?
As long as your nutrition and recovery are on point, you won’t lose any gains when running after leg day. You will see muscle growth by eating enough protein and training the muscles hard.
Contrary to popular belief, cardio doesn’t make you lose muscle. It does, however, help to strip excess fat off your muscles, so you’ll look more lean and toned.
When Shouldn’t You Run After Leg Day?
It may sound obvious, but if you’re too sore to walk the next day, it’s probably not a good idea to go for a run. This will place you at a higher risk of getting injured, so giving it a day or two before taking a run is best.
Some people think running after leg day will negatively affect your muscle gain if you’re trying to bulk, as it will place you in a calorie deficit rather than a surplus. However, there’s an easy—and happy—way to fix this—simply eat more to stay in a surplus!
Tips for Running After Leg Day
Thinking of running after leg day? Follow these tips to do it right and get the maximum benefits from it.
Warm Up Properly
Warming up is even more important when your muscles are already a little sore and stiff. Do dynamic stretching and easy running drills to prime your muscles, get the blood flowing, and put you in the best position for a good run.
Go for a Short Run, Slowly
This is important. You want to stick to a slow to moderate pace and a short to moderate distance when running after leg day.
Choose a too-long route, and you’ll find yourself fatiguing halfway through. Go too fast, and you’re likely to overwork your muscles.
Don’t be tempted! Run too fast, too far, and you’ll feel worse the next day. You might also need longer to recover after your post-leg-day run, so it’s not worth pushing yourself on this one.
Wear Compression Leggings or Shorts
Wearing compression leggings or shorts can help to increase circulation as you run, easing pain in the leg and glute muscles and helping them to perform better.
The extra circulation can also reduce soreness, helping you to run more comfortably and give those muscles a good stretch.
Tips for Recovery After Leg Day
Incorporate these tips after leg day to help you recover faster. This can make running after leg day much easier!
Foam rolling is an excellent way to ease stiffness in large muscles like the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. If you foam roll on the evening after your leg day, your muscles are likely to be less painful the day after.
Drink Enough Water
Staying hydrated is much more important than most of us realize for recovery. Being hydrated speeds up your metabolism and recovery, and it’s easy to do. Keep a large water bottle with you and sip on it throughout the day.
Have an Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salt is an easily-absorbable form of magnesium—magnesium sulfate. This compound is one of the best things for muscle cramps, so if you’re feeling pain after your leg day, taking an Epsom salt bath can help.
Add a cup of Epsom salt to the warm water in your bathtub and soak in it for as long as you’d like. You should notice that your muscles feel less stiff and painful the day after.
Eat for Muscle Recovery
Protein is the nutrient in the spotlight here. You should eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight to maintain muscle mass and strength.
The rest of your nutrition should be whole foods—nothing processed. Include plenty of vegetables and fruits, as they include antioxidants that could help lower your muscle soreness and increase recovery.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol
Alcohol is a diuretic and can easily dehydrate you. Part of recovery is replenishing the fluids you lost during your exercise, so avoiding alcohol is an important part of recovery.
You don’t need to avoid alcohol forever. But try to avoid it at least for the day of and the day after leg day.
Make Sure You Get Quality Sleep
Don’t neglect your sleep! Getting quality sleep is essential for recovery. You should get between 7 and 9 hours every night—not just the night after leg day!
Poor quality sleep can impair cognitive and physical functioning the day after. This, in turn, can lead to overeating, poor food choices, and a lack of motivation for exercise.
Get the right amount of sleep, but ensure it’s also good quality. Optimize your sleep environment—it should be dark, quiet, and cool enough for your comfort.