Can’t Walk After Leg Day? [8 Science-Backed Recovery Strats]

If you need to recover from a tough leg workout, start by shifting your diet. Hydrate with plenty of water, take BCAA supplements, and eat a high-protein diet. This will jumpstart your recovery. Then, care for your body by foam rolling, taking hot showers, and immersing yourself in cold water. Finally, alleviate the symptoms of pain and tightness with over-the-counter pain relievers (such as ibuprofen) and performing some light exercise. This can reduce soreness as your muscles recover.

Can't walk after leg day

Is it Normal to Not Be Able to Walk After a Workout?

If you can’t walk the day after working out your lower body—or if intense soreness lingers for several days—you have an extreme case of DOMS. DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Although a certain amount of soreness is normal after a workout, a debilitating case of DOMS is definitely not normal, nor is it something to strive for.

  • It is not normal to be unable to walk the day after leg day.
  • Avoid extreme muscle soreness by working with a trainer to craft a safe training program.
  • Start small—if you have extreme muscle soreness, scale back your workout next time you’re in the gym.

Extreme muscle soreness is caused by pushing your body too hard, too soon. If you are beginning a new workout program, ease into it. Start by lifting less weight than you think you can manage. Work with an experienced trainer to create a training program tailored for your skill level. Then, slowly increase the intensity of your workouts to keep muscle soreness within manageable bounds. Overworking your muscles can cause Rhabdomyolysis, a potentially deadly condition.

8 Scientifically Proven Ways to Cure Sore Leg Muscles

If you have a case of DOMS that’s making it difficult or impossible to walk normally, you need relief fast. Rather than relying on advice from a gym buddy, tackle the problem with scientifically backed ways to relieve sore muscles. The tips below are proven to get you back on track so you can recover, get motivated for legs, and work out again sooner. Just take it easier next time in the gym to prevent acute muscle soreness.

Take BCAA Supplements

BCAAs, or Branched Chain Amino Acids, are a supplement that is clinically proven to provide relief to sore muscles. This BCAA supplement is made up of three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. These amino acids form the building block of muscles. By taking BCAAs directly, you provide what your damaged muscles need immediately. Taking BCAAs causes your muscle fibers to repair more quickly, alleviating your muscle soreness and contributing to muscle growth.

Hydrate

This scientific study directly links dehydration to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. If you do not have adequate hydration before, during, or after your workout, you’re more likely to experience acute soreness. So, if you’re suffering from sore muscles after a tough workout, reach for the water. Hydrate to reduce DOMS and prevent them in the future.

Eat High-Protein Foods

In addition to amino acids from a dedicated BCAA supplement, the proteins required to repair damaged muscle fibers comes from your diet. Without protein in the form of food, your muscle recovery will drag on, resulting in days of intense soreness. So, combat that soreness with good food. Eat high-protein foods such as chicken, fish, nuts, beans, and tofu. Your body will metabolize these foods and use the amino acids within them to repair, and build, your muscles and reduce soreness quickly.

Use a Foam Roller

Foam rolling sore legs may sound like the last thing you want to do, but it’s been proven to reduce DOMS. A study published by the Journal of Athletic Training found that using a good foam roller on the quadriceps muscle (one of the largest muscles in your legs) “improved quadriceps muscle tenderness by a moderate to large amount.” So, if your thigh muscles are painfully tight, foam rolling will provide relief.

Hot Showers

Don’t skip the shower just because you’re too sore to hit the gym. Studies have shown that both heat and cold applied 24 hours after a workout reduce muscle soreness more than not being exposed to heat or cold. Even better, this study was performed on subjects that were asked to do heavy squats. This means that a warm shower is proven to reduce your level of soreness after leg day.

Cold Shower

The same study that showed the benefits of heat and cold applied to muscles after a workout also found that cold is even better than heat for reducing muscle soreness. Other studies also prove the benefits of cold water immersion for workout recovery. Why not have your cake and eat it too? Start with a hot shower, then turn the water to cold for the last few minutes. Or, like some experienced athletes, you can experiment with an ice bath.

Use NSAIDs for Pain Relief

Just as you would for a headache or other pain, consider using an over-the-counter NSAID such as ibuprofen or aspirin to combat DOMS. By using an NSAID at the recommended dosage and frequency, you can get relief from muscle tightness. In the past, using an NSAID was thought to “undo” your workout, but this isn’t true. This study found that safe use of NSAIDs won’t hinder muscle development.

Perform Gentle Exercise

If you want to get rid of the pain and tightness in your legs, consider performing a light workout. Whether it’s walking, biking, or a gentle weightlifting routine, performing light exercise has been found to reduce the symptoms of DOMs temporarily. However, don’t confuse light exercise with stretching. Studies have found that stretching provides almost no benefit in reducing DOMS.

What to Do When Your Muscles are So Sore You Can’t Walk

If leg day at the gym has left you unable to walk, sit, or perform daily tasks normally, it’s time to speed up your muscle recovery and eliminate the painful symptoms of an extreme case of DOMS. The best ways to do this are:

  • Take a BCAA supplement
  • Hydrate with plenty of water
  • Eat high-protein meals
  • Foam-roll your legs
  • Take a hot shower
  • Try cold therapy, such as a cold shower or ice bath.
  • Take a non-prescription NSAID
  • Perform light exercise.

Remember to stay safe during future workouts. Follow a safe workout plan that is tailored for your skill level. If muscle soreness persists for several days, or you notice darkening of your urine, consult a doctor immediately, as these may be signs of a dangerous medical condition called Rhabdomyolysis.

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