Why does leg day hurt so much?

Why does leg day hurt so much?When I walked down the stairs at my place this past weekend, I swore with every step.

Not under my breath. Out loud.

My quadriceps — the muscles along the front of my thighs — hurt like hell.

And I had no one to blame but myself, and even while I was incurring this damage during my workout on Friday, I knew it was going to hurt like this. But still: ouch.

Why do leg days hurt so much? Not necessarily during the workout, but after?

It happens to everyone

Basically, it’s like this: When you tackle a strength training workout, you are damaging your muscles, causing microscopic tears. The healing process makes them inflamed. But big muscles = big inflammation = big pain. Leg muscles are big. That’s why the DOMS — or delayed onset muscle soreness — hurts so much when it strikes them.

Mine hurt to touch and rolling over in bed at night woke me up.

But even though I complained, I knew that the DOMS was actually a sign of progress. That’s because when your body heals, the muscles will be stronger and maybe a little bigger. (Obviously, acute sharp pains are *not* DOMS and are signs of injury, requiring medical attention.)

The DOMS pain happens to workout newbies, to people returning to their workouts after a layoff, and even gym rats who mix up their routines by doing new exercises (which is what I did).

At my gym, I always feel kind of sorry for the people who try BodyPump class for the first time and end up shocked by the leg DOMS they get from the squat and lunge tracks. Sometimes they tell me they don’t dare to take class again, but that’s the worst thing they can do.

Why? Because generally you only have one first super-ouchy time. The next time it won’t hurt so bad, and the time after that it’ll be even better. You don’t want to through that first-time pain again, do you? You have to keep going.

And after a while, you will look forward to DOMS (as long as it’s not too bad) because it’s a sign of progress. Training clients always tell me they are happy when they feel it the day after their workouts.

What do you do to combat DOMS when it strikes?

First, depending on the level of severity, you could rest those muscles groups from more weight-training workouts until the DOMS subsides. You could ice the muscles to take down the inflammation or stretch them out.

What did I do? I went for some walks. It helped loosen my muscles up and get the blood flowing, and that made a big difference.

And today, four days later, I’m going to train them again, doing some different exercises, which likely will cause slightly less DOMS. I hope. But a little is OK, because that’s how I know I’m making #gains.

What do you do when your muscles are sore after a workout? Does it make you feel discouraged, encouraged, or something else?

Wendy Watkins

About Wendy Watkins

Wendy Watkins is a Bangor-based personal trainer, fitness coach, studio owner, and writer/editor. She is the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Losing 20 Pounds in 2 Months. Visit her website at thrivebangor.com.