There’s something so exhilarating about finishing a good run. Whether you’re a beginner and it’s one of the first times you’ve run a mile or two without stopping or you’ve been running for years but have just completed a challenging workout that indicates you’re in PR shape, the final steps of a great run are nothing but joy and bliss.
However, the recovery from a hard workout can be a different story. Once you hit “stop” on your watch after smashing your run, your body immediately begins the recovery process, which may or may not go as smoothly as the preceding workout.
What happens if you have sore quads after running? Why do you get sore quads from running? This guide will discuss why you might be getting sore quads after running and what to do about it.
We will look at:
- What Are the Quads?
- Is It Normal to Have Sore Quads After Running?
- Why Are My Quads Sore After Running?
- How to Prevent Sore Quads After Running
Let’s jump in!
What Are the Quads?
The “quads” or “quad muscles” refer to the quadriceps, a group of four muscles along the front of your thigh between the pelvis and knee.
This group of four muscles includes the rectus femoris, which runs down the center of the thigh from the hip to the kneecap; the vastus lateralis, which is on the outer side of the front of the thigh; the vastus medialis, which runs along the more inner section of the front of the thigh; and the vastus intermedius, which also runs down the center.
The quads work together to flex the leg at the hip, extend the knee, and stabilize the kneecap, and they work in opposition to the hamstrings, a group of three muscles that run down the backside of the thigh and extend the leg at the hip and flex the knee.
Is It Normal to Have Sore Quads After Running?
Many runners experience muscle soreness after running, which is referred to as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is thought to be primarily due to discomfort associated with micro-tears in the muscles that occurs during a workout and potentially a residual effect of acidic metabolic byproducts leftover in the muscles from intense exercise.
Having sore quads after running a race or a hard workout is relatively common. Beginners also tend to experience mild to moderate muscle soreness in the quads after running, especially in the first couple of weeks of starting a training program.
However, if your quads are routinely sore after running, there’s a good chance that your running form might need a little tweaking. Your quads are typically not the primary powerhouses of the running stride, so they shouldn’t be absorbing the brunt of the workload. The typical running stride over level ground is more hamstring and glute dominant.
Why Are My Quads Sore After Running?
If you are experiencing sore quads after running, it could be due to one of the following reasons:
#1: Your Quads Might Be Sore If You Are New to Running
Beginners often feel muscle soreness in most of their leg muscles from running because it takes time for the muscles to adapt to the increased workload imposed by the new form of exercise.
If your quads are sorer than your other muscles after your first few runs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an issue with your form or stride.
Instead, it is more likely an indication that your quads are weaker than your hamstrings from the get-go, meaning that the work required by the quads to support your run was relatively more challenging than for your stronger hamstrings.
Depending on any other types of workouts or exercises you’ve done prior to running, you might have an initial imbalance in the strength of these two opposing muscle groups.
When a particular muscle or muscle group is sore after running, it suggests that it has either worked more than the other muscle groups or is relatively weaker than the other muscles used for that activity.
So, if you have sore quads after running, you may either be using your quads more than your hamstrings and glutes, or your quads might be comparatively weaker than these muscles.
#2: Your Quads Might Be Sore After Hilly Runs
The quads are involved in flexing the hip and extending and stabilizing the knee, so they are used heavily on hilly runs.
Many runners find their quads get sore after lots of downhill running because the quads are working eccentrically, lengthening as you descend, absorbing the greater impact, and working against the additional forces of gravity that would otherwise be trying to flex the knee.
This would be a case where your quads are sore after running because they worked harder than your hamstrings.
#3: Your Quads Might Be Sore After Races and Hard Workouts
When running a race or hard workout, you’re running faster than your body is typically accustomed to on normal training runs.
The faster you run, the higher the impact stresses and muscular forces impose on your body. To achieve a faster speed, your body increases your stride length (up to a certain point), and then speed increases beyond this point are primarily achieved by increasing your cadence.
Increases in stride length, in particular, require additional work from the quads and hamstrings, which can result in quad soreness after running.
Moreover, the faster you run, the harder you land with each step. Because the quads support your body weight and prevent the knee from collapsing when you land, faster running equates to stronger quad contractions to support your body weight.
#4: Your Quads Might Be Sore After Running If Your Form Is Off
Overstriding or improper pelvis positioning can cause sore quads from running.
If your pelvis is sitting too far behind your foot when you’re in midstance, your quads have to work extra hard to fight the gravitational force that is trying to collapse your knee. Without a strong contraction from the quads, which are working to extend the knee, the forces trying to flex your knee would collapse you onto the ground.
Having a more upright posture with your feet under your body (not overstriding with your foot well in front of your center of gravity) will reduce the momentum trying to flex the knee and thus reduce the workload on the quads.
How to Prevent Sore Quads After Running
In most cases, it’s possible to reduce the risk of experiencing sore quads after running, depending somewhat on the cause of the muscle soreness. Here are some preventative strategies:
#1: Progress Slowly
If you’re a beginner or coming back to running after extended time off, progress gradually with a walk-run method or take alternative days off to give your muscles ample time to adapt to running.
#2: Hydrate Properly
Dehydration can contribute to muscle cramping and stiffness. Staying well hydrated before, during, and after your run can help ensure your muscles receive adequate circulation to bring oxygen and healing nutrients to the cells.
#3: Eat a Protein-Rich Snack Within 30 Minutes After Your Run
A snack or meal with a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein has been shown to aid recovery and may reduce the risk of DOMS or sore quads after running.
#4: Limit Downhills
Downhills increase the workload on your quads, so avoiding them can help prevent soreness from eccentric contractions. Another viable strategy is to run more downhills to help your quads adapt. But, if you’re going to employ this training technique, progress slowly.
#5: Try Ice Baths or Heat Therapy
Evidence suggests that both ice and heat can potentially reduce the pain associated with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
One review found that both ice and heat therapy effectively reduced the severity of muscle soreness following exercise, so long as the cold therapy or heat therapy was applied within one hour after finishing the workout. There was no significant difference between the results for either heat or ice.
#6: Strengthen Your Quads
Strengthening the quads can correct muscle imbalances and develop the strength needed to handle running. Exercises like squats, lunges, step-ups, and leg extensions can build quad strength.
#7: Increase Your Cadence
Overstriding puts your pelvis too far behind your foot, putting excessive strain on the quads to prevent the knee from flexing against the strong torque.
#8: Activate Your Glutes
Learning to properly activate and recruit your glutes during midstance will help keep your trunk upright and reduce the workload on your quads. Exercises like bridges, deadlifts, and step-ups are a great place for runners to start.
#9: Stretch After Your Run
This is thought to be due to the enhanced circulation and nutrient transport brought on by stretching and the prevention of stiffness and contraction of tissues.
Do you get sore quads after running? Try out these quad stretches after your next run to decrease muscle soreness and help keep your muscles ready to go for your next workout: