If you are reading this, then chances are you have all experienced it. The ‘it’ is sore legs. The day after a big run or a sprint session can often be a stiff one, but how do you know if the pain is good or bad?
I have been laughed into the room as I hobble in the morning after a big run, lifting my legs being a bigger challenge than the run the day before.
Sore legs can be a good sign that your muscles are recovering and growing, and you have had a great workout. However, sore legs are not always a good sign and just because you know sore legs are inevitable does not mean you need to resign to your fate.
Your legs should not ache after running.
But first, let us talk about why your legs hurt.
What causes Sore Legs After Running?
There are many reasons your legs may hurt after a run, some good and some bad. We are going to look at 5 main culprits:
2. Inadequate Stretching After A Run
3. Running With Poor Form
4. Weaknesses And Imbalances In Your Legs
5. Injury; Pulled Muscles, Damaged Tendons or Rolled Ankles
If you recognise any of these factors in your own running, addressing and mitigating these will do nothing but good for your running game.
1. DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
How can some runners bounce back day after day without much complaint, while others are rendered immobile after a training run?
Often it is just down to fitness and training and recovery.
For those new to running, a lot of the pain and discomfort you experience post-run is due to small micro-tears in your muscles as they adapt to this new exercise load. These are not harmful to you, it’s part of the whole recovery process – the muscle repairs and rebuilds to be stronger than before.
Your body reacts to these tears by causing inflammation around the affected areas. So you may experience soreness to the touch and some discomfort as you use or stretch your muscles.
2. Inadequate Stretching After A Run
The reason we stretch after a run is to aid our flexibility and mobility and prevent tightness caused by running. It can also help flush out the lactic acid in our bodies after a workout. Lactic acid is produced whenever you push hard while training, and you feel that burning in your legs.
If this stays sitting in your muscles overnight, then the next morning, you will feel stiff and sore, and your muscles will feel very tight.
3. Running with Poor Running Form
4. Having Weaknesses Or Imbalances In Your Legs
If you have weak muscles in your legs or an imbalance in your kinetic chain (the ligaments and muscles that work together as you run), then you may end up with sore legs after running.
The most common weakness people have is weak hamstrings and strong quadriceps. You want everything to be balanced.
Having weak hamstrings will make your quadriceps work harder during the run. Your weaker muscles will tire more quickly, and the stronger muscles will have to pick up the slack.
This leads to sore thighs after running, and can cause misalignment issues that can lead to Runner’s Knee.
So, if this sounds like you, you need to strengthen your hamstrings. Maybe it is time to hit the gym and start working out. Or try some sliding leg curls if you don’t go to a gym.
5. Are You Injured?
You will be able to tell if you are injured quite quickly. There may be a stabbing pain somewhere in your legs or joints, or you may not be able to support your own weight.
Being injured, unfortunately, over half of runners contract some form of injury every year. Wow.
6 recovery techniques to aid sore legs
There are many techniques for aiding you when your legs ache after running, but I have boiled them down into my top 6 to help you get on the road ASAP.
#1 Rest, Heat And Ice
If you have sore legs after running, the best way to freshen yourself up and aid recovery are by resting, applying heat, and using ice.
Applying these three stages in the correct order can bring nutrient-rich blood to the damaged area in your muscles, take the toxins away, and promote healing.
After a big run, it is crucial to take plenty of rest for the following days. On day 1, use a heat pack or a hot water bottle on your sore legs. The heat from your hot water bottle allows the blood in your body to flush into your muscles and take the lactic acid away.
On day 2, it’s time to ice bath. Summon your inner Wim Hof and brave the dip. Ice baths or a cold shower help to reduce muscle inflammation. Your capillaries close down in your legs, and a lot of the blood in your legs is pulled back into the centre of your body.
When you get out again, your capillaries will open back up, and new blood will go to your legs.
There is a bit of debate whether you should ice or heat straight after your run, but both operate in very similar ways, and after a long run and you want to relax, a hot water bottle is much more appealing than a large pool of icy water.
#2 Go For A Walk Or Recovery Run
I am sure it is the last thing you want to be thinking about more running, but a stretch of the legs will do you well, just as your mother might have told you when you were younger.
Getting those sore muscles working again gets the blood flowing into them, bringing nutrients into the muscle and flushing toxins away. After a nice walk, your legs will hurt less than when you started.
If you are tight, then the tightness in your legs will loosen when you work your muscles.
Likewise, a low-intensity recovery run where you intentionally ignore your pace can be the best thing to quickly progress through DOMS.
#3 Stretching Post Run
Make sure you have a good post-run stretch to help start the recovery.
If you need even more advice on stretching and post-run routine, then check out our article on just that.
#4 Using A Foam Roller
The foam roller is a tried and tested way of easing muscle pain when you have sore legs after running. Foam rolling works in the same way a massage does. If you like massages, then you need to start foam rolling.
Make sure you look up the correct technique when foam rolling. Just look on Youtube, and you will see a whole host of videos to help you out.
For a quick guide, make sure you are not putting all your body weight through the roller and work down the muscles in your legs in small sections, rolling up and down and side to side. For more help, look at this video!
Foam rolling helps to manipulate the muscle tissue, bring fresh blood into the tissue, and aids in muscle recovery and repair.
#5 Drink Water and Eat
After you get in after your run, make sure you drink plenty of water. Water is the main element we need for survival, and we lose a lot of it while we run.
Getting the water in after we run helps to rehydrate us as well as carry all of the toxins in our blood to the bladder, where we can “get rid” of them later.
Getting nutrient-rich blood to our muscles has been a recurring theme to stop you from having sore legs after running, so get rid of those toxins.
Eating is also super important. We need protein for muscle repair and carbohydrates to get our energy back. So while you sit with a hot water bottle on your lap, have a nice protein-rich, healthy dinner.
It goes without saying that prevention is the best cure. Keeping on top of your strength and flexibility and staying within your limits will help stop you from getting sore legs after running, or at least reduce the number of times you suffer from sore legs after running.
And that is it, with all this information, you should be well on your way to being one of those people who can run day after day with ease.