Leg muscles are large and strong, so they require much work. Not many gym goers are fans of leg day, mainly because these exercises are strenuous and demanding.
But targeting the lower body is necessary for the proper development of all muscle groups. So you shouldn’t skip leg training in your fitness journey if you want a perfectly sculpted body. And you must learn how to perform these in the right way for the best results.
After a harsh leg workout, you can feel pain and muscle soreness. You might think these are a sign you need rest, but it’s the opposite – your muscles need an extra boost, especially if you want to build muscle mass in the lower body.
The period after a leg workout is as important as the training itself, and what you’ll do then depends on your goals. If you opt for active rest, a cardio session might be just what you need.
Should You Do Cardio After Leg Day?
Performing cardio after leg training is more than desirable. It might sound like a mission impossible because of fatigue and sore muscles, but it’s actually beneficial to your workout routine.
There are different levels of cardio you can try, from low-impact cardiovascular exercise to high-intensity training in circuits. The choice will depend on how intensive your leg day was.
Also, when choosing which option suits you best, you must have your fitness goals in mind. And by knowing what you want to achieve, you can go with different intensities and lengths of aerobic sessions after leg day.
Cardio for Endurance
People involved with sports like marathon running and sprinting need a lot of strength to endure all efforts on the court. Endurance athletes combine resistance training with cardio to build endurance, speed, and flexibility.
Resistance training helps these athletes build strength in the lower body, especially if they focus on exercises for the posterior chain (particularly the gluteus and hamstrings). Well-balanced and strong back muscles stabilize legs, allowing runners to boost their performance.
When you work out your lower body on leg day, the next day should be devoted to some lighter activities. You shouldn’t force another weight training but opt for a short cardio workout.
For instance, running after leg day is an excellent way to work out your leg muscles as they’re still firing. Interval training and tempo runs will keep your leg muscles active but not overloaded. You can also do a short but intense cardio workout if you had the explosive leg workout yesterday.
Cardio for Building Muscle Mass
People who want to gain muscle mass will force leg workouts with weights. The general rule is: if you’ve pushed your limits because you want to build strong legs, the following training should be relaxing but dynamic.
In this case, cardio serves as a recovery method, so you shouldn’t push too hard. Cycling, walking, or any other steady-state cardio will do the trick.
High-Intensity Interval Training
Another cardio training that builds endurance is HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but anyone can do it as cardio after leg day. It combines aerobic activities with leg workouts, so you get the best of both worlds.
For example, you can start with light cardio, do a few sets of squats, lunges, and step-ups, and then move to lower-intensity cardio activities on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Do as many circuits as your fitness level allows, but resting after each rotation is a must.
Benefits of Doing Cardio After Leg Day
It doesn’t matter if you’re an endurance athlete, a power athlete, or just a gym rat; cardio activities in your training program bring variety and a host of other benefits.
Speed up Recovery
Cardio after leg day is a recovery method that feels good on your sore legs. That pain comes from muscle fibers that tear apart during the weight training session. So after leg day, your goal should be healing them and relieving the muscle stiffness.
Also, low-intense cardio lightly activates muscles and warms them up slowly, so the risk of injury is minimal. Cardio exercises will slowly increase the heart rate and stimulate blood flow and nutrient transfer to sore muscles, thus improving the healing process.
Boost Muscle Growth
The nutrient inflow to muscle fibers improves their health and boosts growth. So if you already triggered anabolic processes in your leg muscle with strength training, a cardiovascular exercise will push them even harder, resulting in increased muscle mass.
Regular cardio also improves nutrient transport and the excretion of metabolic waste from muscles. That improves your workout performance and speeds up recovery, as you’ll feel less pain, meaning more stamina and motivation to exercise.
Relieve Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
The mild discomfort you feel after leg day is known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This condition happens because you ‘hurt’ muscles while working out, but it’s not permanent damage. It can be a sign of ‘good’ training, but it shouldn’t last more than 48 hours.
The soreness in muscles occurs due to lactic acid that builds up as a waste product of anabolic processes in your muscle tissue. It limits your movements, so performing bodyweight squats or leg presses can seem impossible. And because of that pain, your training program can be disrupted.
Performing moderate cardio after leg day can help you overcome this unpleasant feeling. It’ll reduce muscle soreness and ease inflammation in your leg muscles, as improved blood flow plays a vital role in optimizing lactic acid levels.
Balancing Out Leg Workouts
Adding cardio to your leg day routine as a recovery technique is an excellent way not only to build strength in your legs but also to work on other muscle groups. Depending on how you conceive your cardio workout, you can activate any muscle group in the upper body.
Cardio after a leg day workout can improve muscle growth in your lower body and balance it out, too. By doing aerobic exercise, you can develop the strength and endurance of your abs and core muscles.
Improve Heart Health
Doing cardio after leg day can do wonders for your cardiovascular health. For starters, it keeps your heart rate at an optimal level.
Aerobic exercises make your heart work at an optimal level. That boosts blood flow, so the vessels aren’t stiff anymore. Moreover, the pressure on vessels is decreased, leading to lower blood pressure.
Cardio activities are well-known as excellent fat burners. Performing them after leg exercises can extend the afterburn effect, that is, post-exercise oxygen consumption, which boosts calorie burning and helps you lose weight.
Increased caloric expenditure means burning more fat, which will result in losing weight and sculpting your body. Plus, lower body fat levels benefit your heart and overall health in the long run.
How to Do Cardio After Leg Day
Now that you learned about the benefits of cardio after leg day, you need information on how to do it. Here we come with basic guidelines on your fitness routine after leg day workouts.
Skip Resistance Training
Resistance training is an excellent way to build strength and flexibility, but working on the same group of muscles two days in a row isn’t recommended.
If you work out your lower body with high-intensity exercises, your glycogen levels in leg muscles dip. And lifting more weights the next day can drain them completely, thus triggering muscle soreness and fatigue.
So instead of another leg workout, your choice should be a cardio session. I suggest light cardio after leg day, conceived as short interval training, with exercises that last short but require a dynamic change in intensity.
You can do strength training, too, but focus on another group of muscles, for instance, your core or arms.
Set Realistic Expectations
If you’re in good shape and take it easy on harsh leg days, you probably won’t find the cardio sessions too challenging afterward. Still, you have to know your body and its limits so that exercise doesn’t lead to certain counter-effects.
The goal of cardio after a leg day workout is recovery, not overexerting yourself. Simply, the muscles are tired from intense endurance training, so now they can’t be fully functional.
That’s why it’s important to do light cardio exercise after leg day, no more than 70% of your maximum exertion level. That’s when you keep the body active but still give it enough time to recover.
Choose a Low-Impact Cardio Exercise
After an intense leg workout, your muscles, tendons, and joints need to recover. Another resistance training or high-intensity cardio, such as sprinting, would completely crush them and make them prone to injuries.
That’s why low-impact cardio is the best choice for the day after strength training for your legs. But even if your weight training exercises for legs weren’t too strenuous, you can practice low-impact cardio.
You should opt for light to moderate-intensity cardio workouts on a treadmill or elliptical machine to avoid burning out. Also, if your muscles feel too sore, you can go swimming or ride a stationary bike, as these activities relieve pressure from your joints.
Recovering from Cardio After Leg Day
When devoted to muscle healing, never perform cardio for more than 20 to 30 minutes. After that interval training, you will also need recovery, which is shown in these few simple steps:
- Foam rolling
- Ice bath
Take some time to stretch after a cardio session by focusing on every muscle group in your lower body for no more than 10 to 15 seconds. That way, you’ll decrease muscle soreness and keep the flexibility of different muscle groups in your legs.
Stretching movements aren’t aggressive but repetitive and dynamic. By performing them, you increase the range of motion of your sore muscles without hurting them.
The pain results from muscle fibers that are micro-damaged while working out. But that’s only temporary, as these will get back to their initial positions as soon as you start recovery. However, knots on muscle fibers can appear in that process, causing muscle stiffness and DOMS.
A great way to overcome delayed onset muscle soreness is a massage. You can do it at home by using a foam roller on body parts that hurt most after the leg day.
A foam roller application after cardio workouts will break knots in the muscle tissue. It promotes blood flow in tightened muscles, thus helping them relax and heal faster.
An ice bath is an excellent method for reducing soreness in leg muscles, especially if applied after foam rolling and combined with proper nutrient and fluid intake. If you can stand low temperatures, you can jump into an ice tub. But a cold shower right after a regular shower will also do the trick.
Tips on Easing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
Cardio after leg day might bring relief to your sore muscles if you let your body recover by following the before-mentioned steps. But you can also rely on these tips to experience relief faster:
- Warming up is a key to easing soreness, so never skip it. The pain should go away after a few minutes, but if that doesn’t happen, maybe a rest is what you need.
- Don’t stop your training program as long as the pain you feel is not severe. If you’re sure that DOMS is what you feel, try switching to another muscle group until sore muscles heal.
- Applying a heated pad or an ice pack can be a good first help.
- Use compression clothes, as they will improve blood flow and thus help sore muscles get enough nutrients and oxygen to heal faster.
- Drink water to keep optimal body temperature and make up for the electrolytes you sweat out; water intake should be about 0.5-1 oz for every pound of body weight.
- Don’t neglect the importance of good sleep, as six to eight hours of night rest can do wonders for complete body recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Better to Do Cardio Before or After Leg Workouts?
Fitness experts would agree that doing cardio after leg workouts brings more benefits. If you’d do aerobic exercises first, you’d use too much energy, so your performance in the following weight training would drop.
The only case when doing cardio before a leg workout is desirable is when you work on your endurance. Then you can include activities like jogging or cycling into warming up before weight training.
Can I Do Cardio After a Leg Workout on the Same Day?
It depends on how your leg workout was. If you did it with light weights with not many reps and sets, performing cardio on leg day wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it’ll boost your heart rate and help you burn extra calories, which is great if your goal is weight loss.
But if you had an intense leg session, same-day cardio isn’t a good idea, as it can lead to exhaustion and burning out. In that case, it’s better to leave aerobic exercises for tomorrow.
Is Cardio Workout After Leg Day Better Than Weight Training?
Weight training is an excellent way to build a strong, well-defined body. But doing it two days in a row for the same muscle group can bring more harm than good. Instead, devote the day after leg day to rest, or if you’re a passionate gym goer, weight train your upper body.
Should My Muscles Be Sore After Every Workout?
DOMS usually happens to new exercisers who are just getting in shape. Seasoned exercisers can also experience sore muscles when they implement new workout routines, increase training intensity, or don’t let muscles heal.
Doing a cardio day after a leg workout may seem like a nightmare, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Muscle soreness and exhaustion might call for rest, but you do a bigger favor to your body by doing cardio after leg day. You just have to find a proper level of this activity adapted to your fitness goals and do it the right way.