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9 Ways to Get Rid of Muscle Soreness After a Hard Run

Running fast workouts and nailing long runs is a key part of the training process.

During the run we are feeling strong, pushing through that pain, and when we finish, we are greeted with one of the best feelings in the world; the runner’s high.

We go to bed that night with a smile on our faces, proud that we had a great run or race, and excited for what we can achieve in the future.

But then you get out of bed the next day.

Ouch.

Every step hurts,

We wonder if we can run if my legs are sore?

Surely, this cannot be good for my body to run again (if you even want to run again that is).

Will running with sore muscles help or make me feel worse?

In two previous posts I’ve discussed how the workout and recovery process works as well as the importance of keeping your recovery runs easy, but this post is going to outline what I call “the optimal recovery process”.

Unoriginal name, I know, but I’m not fan of making up strange words to impress.

I understand that not everyone will have the time necessary to perform this routine after every hard workout. You may only be able to fit this in after long runs or even as little as once per month.

While this is the ideal recovery plan, you’re free to pick and choose what you’re able to fit in after each workout. If it is sore calf muscles after a race that are bothering you, we have a separate post for preventing sore calves.

For example, the easiest elements, hydration and refueling, should be easy to get in after every run while the ice bath is a nice treat when you have the time.

On a side note, this is what separates professional runners from the rest of the pack; in addition to running, drills, and strength training each day, elite runners will often spend 1-4 hours per day on recovery!

Ready to get those sore muscles back to normal?

Let’s do it

How to Treat Sore Muscles After a Run

Hydrating

After a hard workout or a tough long run, you should begin by hydrating within the first 10-15 minutes after stopping.

Even if the temperature was cool, or downright cold, you still sweat a significant amount and you need to replace the fluid loss.

An electrolyte solution like Gatorade (or a spray that goes in any drink like EnduroPacks) works well and you should aim for 16-20oz of fluid.

When running in the summer, you can use our sweat loss calculator to determine the exact amount of fluid you need to replace.

For a more detailed look at hydration, see my article on how to hydrate after running.

What to eat after a run

After you’re hydrated, you can begin your stretching routine while also ingesting your post run snack or beverage.

This post run fuel could be something like chocolate milk, Endurox, yogurt and granola, banana and peanut butter bagel with orange juice. You want to aim for a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein.

I’ve also experimented with glucose tablets (made for diabetics) directly after running, especially when I travel. The tablet is pure glucose, which stimulates the insulin response in the body and ignites the recovery process.

It’s a quick and dirty trick if you’re crunched for time or have a sensitive stomach. For a more thorough look at post run nutrition, check out my article on post run recovery fuel.

Stretching is good after running only

The stretching and post run fueling should begin within 25-30 minutes of finishing your run.

The stretching should last 10-15 minutes, focusing on the major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, calves, and hips) as well as anything that is nagging or felt sore on the run.

While the merits of stretching are a hotly debated topic in running circles, I believe stretching after a run is beneficial.

If you have a foam roller and are experiencing any small injuries, it would also be beneficial to roll out on the foam roller to alleviate any knots and tightness.

Ice bath is miserable now, but worth it later

After stretching, it’s time to hit the ice bath.

Fill your bath tub with cold water and add ice until the temperature reaches a balmy 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t have a thermometer, the ice should still completely melt, but it should take about 3-5 minutes for a normal size ice cube to do so.

Next, grab a towel and your favorite magazine and submerse your entire lower body, up to your hips, in the water. Now, the trick to ice baths is surviving the first 3 minutes.

Bite the towel and dream about your biggest goals. This will help you get through the hardest part of the ordeal.

After 3 minutes or so, you’ll notice the temperature feels more temperate and you can actually relax a little. If you are a veteran ice bather, or just a sadistic human being, you can kick your legs a little to stir up the water.

This will help circulate the warm water surrounding your body and make things cold again.

Remain in the tub for 10-15 minutes.

Trust me, the more you ice bath, the more comfortable this process becomes.

After letting all the water drain from the tub, go ahead and take your shower. Your legs will feel cold for a few hours, but your muscles will thank you later.

Eat a well-balanced meal 1-2 hours after your run

After the ice bath, you’ll want to ensure that you get a well-balanced meal in your system.

So far, you’ve had Gatorade and some light snacks.

To completely refuel within your second optimal window, your muscles need something more substantial.

If you run in the morning, this could be breakfast – eggs with veggies and whole wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit and toast, I even think pancakes are a decent choice if you top with fruit and yogurt.

Lunch or dinner could be salad with a sandwich, pasta, or leftovers from the night before.

You just want to consume a high quality meal with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. This will provide your body with the final nutrients it needs to top off the recovery process.

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Take a nap or get a massage – what a luxury

After your meal, put your feet up, take a nap, and follow it up with a massage.

I know this is where things can get “ridiculous”, as massages and naps are a fantasy and extreme luxury; however, I thought it should be included since this is the “optimal” recovery guide afterall.

Warm bath with epsom salts

About 60-90 minutes before bed, you should take a warm/hot bath in Epsom salts.

Combine 4 cups Epsom salt with 1 cup baking soda and relax in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. After the bath, dry off and roll out your muscles with The Stick and get in a good stretching session.

Not only with this help remove excess toxins from the muscles, the stretching before bed will ensure that you wake up feeling ready to go for your next run. Furthermore, the relaxing bath and the Epsom salts will help you sleep.

To sum up this routine in one easy to visualize chart:

  1. Hydrate as soon after your run as possible with Gatorade or electrolyte drink
  2. Stretch major muscle groups and anything that is sore or tight. Roll out any nagging injuries or problem areas.
  3. Eat a small meal that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein
  4. Take an ice bath
  5. Eat a decent sized, healthy meal
  6. Nap, put your feet up, or get a massage
  7. Take an Epsom salt bath
  8. Roll out on the stick and stretch well
  9. Get plenty of sleep

As you can see, this routine is quite extensive. You won’t always have the time to get in all of these recovery protocols, but it does give you glimpse of the things you could do on those rare occasions. Do what you can, but at least now you have a plan.

If you are in marathon training, and looking for more advice, check out our marathon training schedule and accompanying 9 part video guide, and guess what, its totally free!

Most runners live in fear as race day approaches. The long months of distance have been logged. The painful ladder of easier to more intense intervals has been climbed. Hills have been crested, tempo runs endured, form sessions meticulously performed, and tune-up competitions completed.

All that’s left is for something to go wrong.

“I woke up one morning,” says Rod Dixon, the 1972 Olympic 1500-meter bronze medalist and 1983 New York Marathon champion, “and I said, ‘Whoa, where did that eight hours go? I feel as bad getting out of bed as I did getting into it!’”

It’s a runner’s nightmare. With race day in the headlights, we get zapped by injury, illness or the symptoms of overtraining: heavy legs, flat energy level, can’t sleep, won’t eat, don’t feel like running at all.

One thing is for certain: The training that got us into this mess won’t get us out of it.

RELATED: 10 Essential Strength Exercises for Runners

Luckily, strategies exist to combat many causes of prerace breakdown. It’s just that some of these strategies are a little out of the ordinary. But for runners willing to take a leap of faith, these counterintuitive approaches can make the difference between a wasted training cycle and a great race.

Glen Montgomery

DIAGNOSIS: HEAVY-LEGGED SYNDROME
PRESCRIPTION: LONG, EASY DISTANCE

Twenty years ago, I received a panicked call from Kevin, a high school athlete whom I’d coached to an 800-meter league championship the previous year. Now a senior, Kevin had been coached by another coach since I’d moved out of state six months earlier.

“My legs are totally dead,” said Kevin. “My 800 time has gone from 1:59 to 2:11. And Coach has given up on me. He says I’m on my own. League finals are six weeks away, and I don’t know what to do!”

After calming Kevin down, I advised him to stop running entirely for 10 days. Complete rest was the only cure I knew for dead legs. “Then,” I said, “we start over.”

Though Kevin rebounded to run 2:01, good for second place in league, the down time robbed him of months of precious base work. I kicked myself at the time, certain there was a better cure for dead legs. I just didn’t know what it was.

Turns out I was right. More than two decades earlier, Arthur Lydiard, the legendary New Zealand coach, had devised the perfect remedy for heavy-legged syndrome: Go long.

“While I was training, always in the Lydiard way,” says Lorraine Moller, four-time Olympic marathoner and bronze medalist at the 1992 Barcelona Games, “if there was a training issue the remedy was always easy aerobic running until you ‘came right.’ Problems nearly always stemmed from overtraining, the remedy was to oxygenate the body with long-ish runs.”

Lydiard’s answer to dead legs was more running, not less—certainly not time off. It was just that the running had to be slow and aerobic.

“The long aerobic run is your home,” says Dixon, one of a long line of New Zealand distance stars to embrace Lydiard’s training methods. “Home is where you find comfort. It’s where you go to sleep, to rest. Your long aerobic run is your home base. It’s where you go to feel comfortable.”

When Dixon awakened to discover himself as fatigued as when he’d gone to sleep, he didn’t panic. Instead, he went for a run.

“A long, slow aerobic run would always correct me,” says Dixon. “And this was in the middle of my European track season. I’d go out for a 2-hour, maybe 2-hour, 20-minute run. Later, when I would go through the same symptoms, I’d do the same thing.”

If one long run doesn’t fix your dead legs, then try two. If not two, then three. Eventually, your legs will feel refreshed, and you won’t have sacrificed months of training.

OcusFocus/Getty Images

DIAGNOSIS: QUADRICEPS PAIN
PRESCRIPTION: BRISK DOWNHILL RUNNING

In June 2007, I developed severe quadriceps pain. In the space of three weeks, my 5K time slowed by 2 minutes. My long run dropped from 15 miles to 5. I couldn’t run intervals. Couldn’t run on cement. Couldn’t walk up or down stairs at all.

I tried changing running shoes. I iced my quads after every workout. I stretched more. When that didn’t work, I stretched less. I gobbled Advil. Chased it with aspirin. Choked down handfuls of vitamins A, C and E. And finally quit running for a month.

RELATED: A Runner’s Guide to Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

When I returned to training, nothing had changed. My quads still ached.

Desperate, I resorted to a “cure” I’d read about on the internet. But it sounded so preposterous, so incredibly counterintuitive, that I held little hope for success.

This is what I did: I jogged 2 miles up a fire trail in the nearby San Gabriel Mountains, and then I turned around and raced back down the trail at tempo effort. Before I’d gone half a mile, there were tears in my eyes. At a mile, I was mewling like a lost kitten. At the bottom, I hobbled to my car, certain that I’d done irreparable damage.

Three days later, my quads were as good as new. No, that’s a lie. They were better than new.

“Running downhill can cure quad pain once a runner’s legs adapt to the eccentric overload caused by the activity,” says Tom Schwartz, coach and coauthor of Build Your Running Body. “Initially, the soreness caused by downhill running can be quite harsh. A parallel is the soreness caused by starting a new weight training regimen. Soreness is caused by the lowering of weights, which is the eccentric loading. Lifting weights, which is concentric loading, doesn’t cause soreness.”

With concentric loading, our muscle shortens. When we perform dumbbell curls, a concentric contraction of our biceps bends our elbow, bringing our hand toward our shoulder.

Eccentric loading occurs when muscles lengthen and shorten at the same time. When we run, our quadriceps contracts when our foot touches the ground. This stabilizes our knee and stops us from collapsing. But even stabilized, our knee bends slightly, stretching our quadriceps as it shortens. This eccentric tug-of-war creates enormous tension in our quads.

Brisk downhill running increases the eccentric load on our quads, causing more muscle damage. The good news is that once our body repairs this damage, we’re left with quads that are pain-free, stronger and protected from further injury for up to six weeks.

Schwartz recommends running 20-to 30-second repetitions down a 3 percent grade at about 1500 meter–3K race speed. He suggests four repetitions for the first session, six reps a week later, and an additional two reps each week until reaching a maximum of 12. It’s important to note that easy downhill running will not provide the same effect.

When I suffered a new bout of severe quadriceps pain again, I went back to my fire trail and ran the same 2 miles of hard downhill. Two weeks later, I took first place in the national masters 10K cross country championships.

Mitch Mandel

DIAGNOSIS: CALF PAIN AND ACHILLES TENDINOSIS
PRESCRIPTION: HEEL DIPS

As race day nears, many runners insert sessions of shorter, intense intervals into their training. Not surprisingly, these same runners frequently experience a sudden onset of calf pain or Achilles tendinosis.

Once again, the treatment is eccentric loading.

“Typically, eccentric exercise produces quite a strong training stimulus,” says Jonathan Dugas, director of health and research at the Vitality Group and coauthor with Ross Tucker, Ph.D., of The Runner’s Body. “We know that during those contractions we activate less muscle, although moving the same amount of weight. This is thought to cause the muscle damage since fewer fibers are doing the same work and therefore fatigue more quickly.”

Dugas and Tucker recommend heel dips for treating Achilles tendinosis. This cure doubles as a strategy for strengthening our calves. With heel dips, we balance one foot on a sturdy platform or step, resting on the ball of our foot with our heel hanging over the back of the platform. Using our hands for support (e.g., fingertips against a wall), we lower our heel until we feel the stretch in our calf, and then we use both legs to return to our starting position. The authors suggest eight to 16 reps.

Related video: Exercises to help your lower legs.

Dugas and Tucker’s regimen is adapted from the “180 repetition” calf raise program of Swedish orthopedist Hakan Alfredson. Suffering from degenerative Achilles tendinosis, Alfredson attempted to rupture his Achilles tendons with high volume bouts of eccentric calf exercises. Instead, his condition improved.

Dugas proposes that heel dips—and other eccentric exercises—work by “stimulating neuromuscular changes as opposed to just muscular changes.”

UberImages/Getty Images

DIAGNOSIS: COLDS, ALLERGIES, AND RACE-DAY SLUGGISHNESS
PRESCRIPTION: A REDUCED TAPER

“I always got colds about a week to 10 days before the marathon,” says Peter Gilmore, the top American finisher at the 2006 New York City and 2007 Boston marathons. “Then, at the Houston Half in 2006, I was sitting there with Brian Sell, who was like Mr. Consistency. He’d won the half marathon that day, just crushed everyone. And he didn’t taper at all for that race.”

Gilmore isn’t alone. Many runners discover that a traditional taper of 40–60 percent leaves them susceptible to colds, allergy attacks, and a feeling of staleness when race day arrives. Whether this occurs because of an immune system letdown in response to the taper, a loss of normal training rhythm or some other reason, the result can be a poor performance on race day.

For these runners, a reduced taper to 75–80 percent of normal volume can provide better results. Depending on whether we’re running a marathon, 5K or some other distance, the taper should begin anywhere from a couple weeks out to a couple days.

RELATED: Try This Tactical Approach to Tapering

“Before my next race at Boston,” says Gilmore, “I cut back a lot less than I’d normally cut back and PRd by 2 minutes, running 2:12:45. I never looked back. I did the same thing at New York and ran 2:13. Not only did I not get sick, but my girlfriend at the time—now my wife—was really sick. So I had every opportunity to get sick.

“The biggest thing is that you feel better,” Gilmore adds. “If you taper less, you’re more in your normal mode. You let your body rest without letting it know that it’s resting.”

LAST COUNTERINTUITIVE WORD

When I told Kevin to take 10 days off running all those years ago, I was operating under the misconception that the cure for dead legs—and most running setbacks—was rest. I was wrong. The cure sometimes involves increased running and specific eccentric exercises. When the result of a training strategy is a healthier body and faster race times, it can no longer be called counterintuitive; it’s common sense.

10 tips to help heavy legs when running

How to prevent heavy legs while running

1. Warm up

We’ve all heard this advice before, but it is worth taking heed. Warming up before exercise encourages more efficient blood flow to the muscles thus allowing them to contract more efficiently. This should help you get the most out of your workout, whilst also preventing the onset of heavy legs.

An effective warm up will also deliver nutrients to the muscles more efficiently. This, in turn, can prevent a quick build-up of lactic acid – too much lactic acid is known to contribute to muscle aches and even a burning sensation in the limbs.

The ideal warm up should last for at least ten minutes and it should cover all muscles. Take a look at our blog ‘Stretches for runners’ for more information and easy to follow videos.

2. Adjust your route

Even though you may have managed to run 10km on Monday, that doesn’t mean you will be able to run the same distance or more on Tuesday. That’s because fatigue in the legs can build up over several days. Therefore, instead of doing the same run over and over, it is essential to allow yourself short runs, or rest days in between long runs. On the whole, it is more important to ensure your run is of a high quality, rather than trying to achieve a certain distance. This will strengthen your muscles and improve performance in the long run.

3. Adjust your stride

Sprinting in short bursts, and keeping the pace slower in between, is thought to be a more effective training regime than continuing to run at a moderate pace. That’s because this approach builds muscle strength and fitness.

As soon as you feel your legs getting tired, try to lengthen your stride, without increasing the pace. This will stretch your muscles and disperse the build-up of lactic acid. As I’ve already mentioned, too much lactic acid is a contributing factor in heavy, painful legs whilst running.

4. Adjust your focus

Running along a stretch of straight road with nothing to look at, or pounding it out on a treadmill in the gym, can be pretty dull. Therefore, with nothing else to focus on, it is likely you will soon become absorbed in the tired feeling of your legs.

To distract yourself from this, try listening to music or a podcast. Alternatively, running a new route, or a route with lots of twists and turns, should give you something else to turn your attention to.

How to relieve heavy legs after running

5. Stretch

Just as warming up before a run is important, so too is stretching out your muscles afterwards. If you do not do this, your muscles are more likely to cramp and become painful the next day. Stretching your muscles also helps to minimise the effects of lactic acid in the muscles, and also makes you less prone to developing injuries.

6. Rest

A small amount of rest will speed up the recovery process, and prevent further injury from occurring. Rest will also help ensure your legs are ready for their next run, should you decide to do one in the days ahead.

Our blog ‘How to recover from a workout’ will provide more information about what to do to help your body after a period of exercise.

7. Massage your legs

If your legs need that extra bit of help to get moving the next day, then a massage may be just the thing. This encourages blood flow to the deep tissues thus removing waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles. Not only that, a massage may encourage nutrients and water to enter the muscles, therefore, repairing and restoring the tissue.

Massages are a particularly good idea if you are training hard and regularly, as this also helps to prevent injury to muscle.

8. Check for injuries

As a runner, the worst thing you can do is run on injured joints or muscles. Not only will your legs feel very painful, but it is likely to cause lasting damage. Therefore, do not battle on regardless of aches and pains, and do not ignore warning signs of pain and muscle fatigue as developing strains, sprains or stress fractures will take you off the running scene for a long time. It’s definitely not worth running for an extra mile if it means you can’t put your running shoes on for the next couple of months!

Remedies for tired legs

9 – Watch your diet

Not only is it important to run whilst full of nutrients to sustain you, but it is also critical to stay properly hydrated. Just ensure you take small sips, however, rather than big gulps as, coupled with the movement of running, too much water has the potential to cause digestive upset. If you are going for a particularly hard or long run, you could consider taking an energy bar with you as well.

You need to feed your muscles by giving them the correct balance of protein, carbohydrate, healthy fats and salt. Wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice are higher in fibre and energy than their white or refined counterparts. Also, treating yourself to a small piece of dark chocolate after each run will not do any harm.

Our blog, ‘What to eat to recover from your run’ will give you more tips on what a runner’s diet should include.

10 – Herbal gels

Herbal remedies can be very beneficial for those experiencing heavy legs after running. Aesculus, or horse chestnut, for example, is known for its beneficial effects on the venous system. It tightens blood vessels and relieves the feeling of heaviness in the legs. Fresh extracts of Aesculus can be found in A.Vogel’s Venagel.

If you are suffering from muscular aches and pains, then licensed herbal remedy Atrogel may be just the thing to help you. It is made from freshly harvested Arnica, which has anti-inflammatory and contains pain-killing properties.

My Top Tip:

Made from extracts of freshly harvested Arnica, Atrogel helps to relieve muscle and joint pain, as well as any stiffness.

Apply 2-10 cm of Atrogel between 2 and 4 times daily.

“Very helpful for tired muscles and sore joints.”

Read what other people are saying about Atrogel.

Originally published on 26 July 2014 (updated on 28 May 2019).

Whether your postrun ritual involves jumping into the shower or meeting friends for a beer, it probably doesn’t often include stretching. Compared to running, holding your muscles in elongated positions can seem boring, and besides, there’s always next time.

But then a pull in your calf or pain in your hamstring sidelines you. If you’re like many of the runners I see as a physical therapist, you blame your injury on your lack of stretching. But is not stretching really at fault?

Related Story

Overwhelmingly, the evidence points to overuse as the leading cause of running injuries. Overuse injuries can be viewed as a mismatch between what you’ve done and what you can handle.

That nagging sensation in a muscle may be because of weakness rather than tightness, which is best defined as muscle shortening. Weaker muscles often masquerade as tight muscles, owing to neurological changes within the muscle. If the muscle isn’t strong enough to do everything it needs to do, it can seize up to protect itself, leading to a feeling of tightness.

When this is the case, you’ve probably tried stretching for weeks, but haven’t noticed any long-term relief. These muscles typically measure normal in length. Instead of being too tight, they are too weak to handle the loads to which they’ve been subjected.

So, is your tight feeling truly muscle shortening, or is it weakness? And how do you distinguish between them? Let’s take a look at three muscle groups that often feel tight, and how to tell the difference between muscle shortness and weakness, as well as treatments for both.

Hamstrings

While running, your hamstrings are responsible for slowing the forward motion of your hip as you bring your leg forward and pushing your hip back after you hit the ground. The hamstrings are also the most commonly injured two-joint muscle in running. Many athletes who enter my clinic with a leg injury report hamstring tightness; when tested, however, these muscles are typically normal in length. The discomfort can instead be chalked up to weakness.

How do you know if your hamstrings are inflexible?

Lie on your back on the floor with both legs out straight. Bend the leg you’re testing so that your thigh is perpendicular to the ground. Next, try to straighten your knee. If your lower leg comes within 30 degrees of forming a straight line with your thigh, flexibility isn’t a problem.

Instead, you’re better off strengthening your hamstrings, such as with deadlifts or leg curls. Here are two moves you can do regularly to get your hamstrings stronger.

Deadlift With Flex Band

Hamstring Curl

If you fail the flexibility test, you can stretch your hamstrings by standing, putting the leg you’re stretching on a stool and leaning forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold this stretch for at least 60 seconds after your run.

Calves

The calf is one of the most important muscle groups in running, as the gastrocnemius and soleus propel you forward. Ankle mobility, especially the ability to adequately flex your foot when weight bearing, is crucial in running, and is often lacking after ankle sprains. Many people, however, report feelings of tightness in their calves even when their ankle mobility is adequate.

To test your calf flexibility, place the foot being tested four inches from a wall. Without lifting your heel or letting your lower leg or foot twist, lunge your knee towards the wall. Your knee should be able to easily reach it.

If so, strength may be the issue. A runner should be able to easily perform 25 calf raises on each leg, but even beyond this baseline, calf strengthening is important for all runners. One of the best ways to strengthen the calves may also help stretch them. To do this, perform a single leg heel raise off a step while letting your heel sink below the level of your toes.

If your flexibility is lacking, the calf can be stretched by facing the wall in a staggered stance, and leaning into the wall while keeping your back heel on the ground and without letting your foot cave in. This stretch can be done with the knee bent and straight. Maintain this stretch for at least three sets of 20 seconds or two sets of 30 seconds.

Hip Flexors

The hip flexor group is what drives your leg forward when it’s in the air. It’s yet another muscle group that often feels tight when it’s actually weak.

To test your hip flexor length, sit on the edge of a firm table, hug one leg into your chest, and let the leg you’re testing fall toward the table, as you lie back. Your thigh should hit the table.

Julie Hembree-Smith

Assuming you have adequate hip flexibility, you can strengthen your hip flexors by lying on the ground with a band around your feet, bending your knee, and pulling your leg into your chest against the resistance.

If your hip flexors are indeed short, perform the aptly named runner’s stretch by kneeling in a lunge without arching your back. Hold this stretch for at least 60 seconds.

If after taking these tests, flexibility and strength are both an issue, I recommend both stretching and strengthening, but focusing on strength training. While there is currently a lot of debate in the exercise science world about stretching, there is overwhelming evidence to support strength training as a means to reduce injury risk in runners.

Jasmine Marcus is a doctor of physical therapy, writer, and runner. Before becoming a physical therapist, she was a journalist. She works at an outpatient orthopedic clinic in upstate New York.

Managing Calf Pain and Shin Splints When Running

Caroline Jones Physiotherapist

If you’ve just started running, only to run into a nagging problem in your lower legs, you’re in good company. Shin splints and tight calves are some of the most common problems plaguing new runners. Even if you’ve been running for a while, you can still be at risk. Especially if you’ve recently returned from an injury.

Undeniably, running is loaded with benefits, like combatting stress, improving cardiovascular health and even shaping up your brain. You may want to read more about its incredible physiological benefits here or learn about its impact on your brain here. It’s definitely one of the most convenient and affordable ways to stay active, but what do you do with shin splints now standing in your way?

Help for pain and discomfort from shin splints is at hand. The good news is, it doesn’t have to follow you into your next run or workout. With some easy and simple preventative measures you can avoid pain and get back on the road in no time. Aftercare remedies for your sore shins and calves are also now within reach – just keep reading! But first, let’s take a closer look at what exactly shin splints are and what causes them. (If you can’t wait to get started with exercises, just go ahead and skip to the end or download Injurymap’s free 14 day trial here.

What Are Shin Splints?

The term shin splints, also called medial stress syndrome, refers to pain felt along the sides of the shin bones after physical activity. Inflammation of the tendons, bones and muscles around the shin bone area is at the core of the problem. Inflammation is a normal by-product of exercise. Only when there is a prolonged state of inflammation in your body, such as with shin splints, is this a problem. This can happen when you start a new workout routine or begin running for the first time.

Shin splints often feel like a dull soreness or ache. Occasionally, swelling may also appear. Calf pain also commonly accompanies shin splints. Why? Both of these issues occur from doing too much, too soon or from overtraining. The calf muscle works a lot when you run. It’s your brake and gas pedal. If your body hasn’t had time to adapt to your new exercise or running program, you may overwork these muscles to a point where your body can’t recover fully or quickly enough. This causes your pain or soreness.

Calf pain commonly accompanies shin splints.

When exactly you’ll hit this point depends on many factors: your base level of fitness, genetic factors, age and your training – and resting – routine. Varying your workout or taking rest days can significantly reduce your chances of shin splints. By doing so, you prevent overtraining which is the main problem causing shin and calf pain. Read on for some of the most common causes of shin splints.

Causes of Shin Splints

You are most at risk of shin splints, if you’re a new runner or if you have just returned to running from injury. As mentioned before, overtraining is often the cause of shin splints and sore calves. It’s easy to overdo it when you’re just starting out or have been longing to get back to your normal routine, say, after an injury. Increasing your distance, time or frequency may result in pain in the lower legs. Other factors at play also include:

  • Flat Feet or High Arches: If you have these structural variances, you may be more susceptible to shin splints and calf pain.

  • Wearing Improper Footwear: The wrong running shoes may increase your risk of developing shin splints and sore calves. Make sure you invest in a pair of shoes that is appropriate for the type of running you participate in.

  • Uneven Terrain: Uneven or hard surfaces may place additional stress on your calves and shins. Ultimately, this may lead to pain or injury.

Less common causes of shin splints further include:

  • Stress Fracture: The constant pounding of the pavement and the consistent stress placed on your bones may cause tiny fractures to occur. This may cause pain in your shins.

  • Weak Ankles, Core, or Hip Muscles: Muscle imbalances and weaknesses may create additional stress on your shins. In this case, diving headfirst into a new training program or starting exercise for the first time are frequently the culprits.

  • Not Performing a Proper Cooldown or Warm-Up: If you don’t prepare your body for exercise or perform proper stretches afterward, you may be setting yourself up for pain and injury, including shin splints.

Treating Shin Splints

Rest is highly recommended and is your primary way of winding down that pain and discomfort. If you want to continue exercising, low-impact activities, are your best bet. You could try swimming or cycling, for example. They are less likely to cause pain. This way you can keep up with your fitness level and avoid deconditioning.

Any activity causing pain or placing stress on already aggravated joints or affected areas must be discontinued. This is an important point, as your body cannot recover, if you keep stressing the already injured area. In addition, make sure the pain has fully subsided before you begin running again. Running through the pain may cause future discomfort and can really make your situation worse in the long run. If you take early preventative action, you are less likely to have a fall-out forcing you to take further time off down the track. Early, appropriate action is the best approach. Shift your focus to exercises you can do without any pain.

Ice is an effective method to treat sore shins. It can help reduce both swelling and discomfort of the affected muscles and tissues. Apply a cold device for 10 to 20 minutes at a time or as needed. Do not exceed 20 minutes and ensure you place a wet cloth between the ice and your skin.

Ice is an effective method to treat sore shins.

Foam rolling your calf may also alleviate tightness and pain. It increases blood flow to the tissue and can help smooth out muscle knots causing pain. Similarly, stretching the calf and the muscles and tissues around the shin may reduce soreness, tension and pain.

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can help your pain and discomfort. You should be careful not to use these for longer than 10 – 14 days. Various side effects could occur, including gastrointestinal discomfort.

If your pain persists or becomes severe, book a consultation with your doctor. They can assess you and diagnose the problem. You’ll receive a more comprehensive treatment plan and underlying problems can be ruled out.

Preventing Shin Splints

Prevention is always the best medicine. If you can prevent an injury before it happens, you won’t have to worry about treatment or time away from your sport or activity. So, what are some preventative measures you can take to prevent aching shins and sore calves?

1. Invest in proper footwear

Ensuring you have proper footwear before taking on a run is a must to help save your calves and shins. In addition, the right footwear prevents various other injuries and pain that can arise from the repetitive movement involved in running.

2. Perform a warm-up and cooldown

Before your next run, warm up by performing dynamic stretches. Try lunges, air squats, leg swings and other movements. These will get the blood pumping to your joints and muscles, prepping your body for exercise. At Injurymap, we have unique exercise programs designed specifically for warming up. Try them out before your next run.

Stretch at the end of your run. Do a quad stretch, calf stretch, hamstring stretch, glute stretch, adductor stretch and IT band stretch. You can find many of these exercises on Injurymap, as well as a description and video demonstration on how to perform them. In addition, foam rolling may also help alleviate muscle soreness, particularly after a long or very tough run.

3. Cross-train

If you want to improve your overall endurance, mixing up your cardio activities can help. Cycling, swimming or other low impact activities can still improve your cardiovascular system’s performance. Cross-training also gives your joints a break – particularly your knees.

Mix it up. Instead of going for a run four times a week, try going twice with two cross-training sessions. At Injurymap, our programs are designed for what’s called periodisation. We give you appropriate breaks. Strength and range of motion training is introduced in phases. This allows for gradual progressions and gives your body time to adapt.

4. Gradually increase your distance, time or frequency

Go slow. You won’t be able to run 10 kilometers overnight. You have to slowly build. This will take time. Allow time for your body to adapt. Increase the parameters of your workout or run gradually over time. Use Injurymap to help guide you. Check out the different phases in each of our running and injury prevention programs, then base your workouts on them. We even offer guidance on running training programs, so you know when you should be increasing your running distance – without overloading your joints or muscles in the process.

5. Hydrate and fuel your body

Calf cramps and injuries are more common when you haven’t properly fuelled or hydrated your body. Your muscles need the correct balance of nutrients and minerals to function optimally. Make sure you fuel your body before and after your workout, as well as consume a reasonable amount of water before, during and after each workout.

6. Perform regular strength training

Strength training is an excellent choice to supplement a running program. It can help add power to your run, as well as prevent aches and pains. Target the calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other muscles in the lower legs to prevent future injury. By increasing strength, you give your joints and bones additional support that can help combat the stress associated with the running motion. At Injurymap, we have all the prehab and strengthening info you need, especially when it comes to preventing running injuries. Download the app today. Find out what you’re missing and prevent those injuries before they happen.

Exercising to Prevent Shin Splints

In the previous sections we mentioned exercise as a preventative and treatment measure. In order to help you better, we’ve listed suggested exercises below to aid you in shin splint relief and prevention. The stretches can be performed two to three times daily. Strengthening exercises should be performed two to three times per week.

The Calf Stretch: Stretching the calf after each run or workout can help you avoid tension and pain in the area, especially since the calf can easily become overworked through the running motion.

The Calf Stretch – Option 2: If you don’t feel a stretch in the above option, try this one instead. Gravity helps you perform this stretch.

Heel Lifts: Strengthening the calf is important for runners in order to build the necessary power to stop, as well as push off to run. Heel lifts, also commonly called calf raises, can help you begin to build that strength up.

Tibialis Anterior Stretch

This stretch helps alleviate tightness and aches in the front of your shin. The tibialis anterior muscle is located on the side of the shin bone. This muscle may become swollen from increasing your training too fast.

  • Stand tall.
  • Point your right toes down and extend your leg slightly back.
  • Rest the top of your toes and foot on the ground.
  • Bring your leg slightly forward. You should feel a stretch along the front of the shin.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds. Make sure to repeat this stretch on the opposite side.

Foam Rolling for the Calf

Foam rolling is an excellent recovery tool and it’s not just limited to the calves. For the sake of this article however, we’re going to narrow in on how exactly to use a foam roller on your calf muscles. A similar concept can be applied to other muscles in the body.

Lying face up on the ground, rest the back of your calf on the foam roller. Use your opposite leg and your arms to help you balance. Apply a moderate amount of pressure and roll the foam roller along your calf up and down. If you find a particularly tender spot, don’t hesitate to spend a little more time on it. Roll the muscles for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It should feel like a good pain – as if you’re releasing something. If you feel severe pain, stop the exercise immediately.

Don’t Let Shin Splints Stand in Your Way!

Shin splints are one of the most common ailments that may haunt you if you’re a beginner or post-injury runner. They pose a frustrating problem.Take proper precautions and you will be at a much lower risk in future. You may also return to running sooner, if you were sidelined. Prevent shin splints before they happen. Invest in proper footwear and gradually ease into a new running routine or exercise program.

If you suspect you have shin splints, you can use our tool to determine what exercises would be best for you. You can also try the above remedies and exercises. Again, if the pain is severe, consult with your doctor.

At Injurymap, we want you to lead your best life – pain-free. That’s why we’ve created an app to help you recover better and more quickly. Following a unique training program tailored to you is now at your fingertips. We want to help you get back to the activities you know and love. Feel better and stronger, starting today.

What’s Causing Heavy Legs on My Runs?

It’s not uncommon for runners to feel a bit slowed down from time to time. Whether it’s the weather, your personal life, or some other cosmic force, sometimes you trudge more than you glide. That lagging feeling typically comes in the form of heavy legs, which basically feels like you accidentally slipped on 50 pound weights instead of your sneakers.

We wish we could promise a running career free of heavy legs, but, sadly we can’t. But here at Aaptiv, we can help you understand what might be causing your pain and what you can do to keep it at bay.

Focus on form

A major potential cause of your heavy legs stems from poor form. Good form is always a key component to running—even when you’re tired, says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “When we get tired, we can compromise form, and legs can feel sore or we can even spark injury,” she explains.

To keep proper form, Daniel Giordano, DPT, CSCS Co-Founder of Bespoke Treatments in New York City says to remain light on your feet and keep your feet under your body when striking the ground. Failing to do so can result in overextending, which can throw off your form and potentially cause injury.

And seriously, don’t sacrifice form for pace! Although you might think you’re doing yourself a favor by taking larger strides, you might actually be causing more harm than good. “When you are running at a fast pace, you can also mess up your form easily, so pay attention and stick to a pace that is comfortable for your mind and body before amping it up.”

Think outside the run

It’s not all about what happens on the run. What you do before and after matters, too. You may need to try a few things to help properly warm up before you go out and run, says McFaden. Warm up your joints and muscles with a brisk walk and leg swings.

And don’t forget to stretch (these might help). The post-run stretch is as important as the workout itself, she explains.

“Our bodies were made to work, but we must treat them well by stretching after exercise,” she says. “When you don’t stretch, your muscles will become tight and sore which can lead to muscles feeling so heavy and pained.”

Aaptiv has the perfect stretching classes. Check them out in app today!

Fuel properly

This should come as a no-brainer: you have to fuel your body properly for any workout! “You must have enough nutrients in your body for long runs,” explains McFaden. “If you aren’t hydrated, your body will burn out quick—same goes for nutrition.”

Proper fueling extends beyond race day. Keep it up day in and day out, not just for your audio workouts. According to Giordano, nutrient deficiency or dehydration can lead to a poor blood supply or fatigue, which can cause serious nerve (neuropathy) or circulation issues. This, of course, leads to heavy legs.

“A lack of iron can mean a lack of hemoglobin , which can lead to a lack of oxygen to your muscles,” he says. “When you’re dehydrated, your blood volume may deplete and lead to fatigue,” he further explains.

Add in strength training

Pair running with strength training to build stronger muscles. This can help support the joints and keep you injury free.

“I always include strengthening exercises to my workout routines,” says McFaden. “Even if you love running, I would advise you to include a few workouts that train the body as a whole.” Consider adding squats, lunges, and burpees to your routine.

Lace up

Your shoes matter. The wrong size, fit, or stability can throw everything off, lead to bad form, and again, may cause injury. “If your trainers are too heavy, your legs can feel heavy,” Giordano says. An uncomfortable shoe problem might also lead to a support problem. “If there is not enough support or cushion, it could lead to excess stress on the joints causing fatigue,” he says.

Thankfully, there are hundreds of different types of shoes on the market. A visit to your running store can have you outfitted for the proper pair. They should conduct a feet test via treadmill to examine your stride, how your feet hit the ground, etc. This will help them match you with the proper shoe for your arches, sole, and how you pronate.

Check your circulation

Circulation might also be to blame. “It’s quite possible that sitting at your desk all day then performing an activity may cause your legs to feel heavy because of circulation,” explains Giordano.

Of course, there are other more serious issues that could be making your legs feel uncomfortable. “Nerve issues, such as peripheral neuropathy can cause a heaviness feeling in the legs,” he explains. And even arthritis can give this effect. Giordano explains that although arthritis affects the joints and causes pain in the joints, the surrounding muscles may overcompensate. If you suspect circulation, nerve, or arthritis issues are the cause of pain, see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis.

For stretching workouts, yoga and more, check out Aaptiv for trainer led classes you’ll love.

Muscle soreness is a normal consequence of exercise. In most cases it is mild, emerging shortly after a workout is completed (if not during the workout) and lasting no longer than a day or two. But sometimes the pain is intense, and when it’s intense it is almost always delayed, emerging the morning after the workout and lasting as long as three or four days.

Known as delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this rarer type of pain occurs after workouts that are unusually long or intense. Naturally, what constitutes an unusually long or intense workout differs between individual runners, and may also differ for any single athlete over time. For beginners, and for those who are returning to training after time off, virtually any workout is unusually long and intense, and that’s why DOMS occurs most frequently and is most severe at the beginning of the training process.

A certain amount of DOMS is unavoidable at this time. However, there are ways to minimize it, and minimizing DOMS is a worthy goal, because that muscle pain is a sign of muscle injury. By ramping up your training in a way that limits morning-after pain you will not only spare yourself discomfort but you will also keep your muscle tissues healthier and get fit faster, because you won’t have to take days off to recuperate.

RELATED: 3 Reasons You’re Slower Than You Used to Be

The most obvious way to limit DOMS at the beginning of the training process is to ease into your training and ramp up your training workload slowly. Your first run after time off should be very short and moderate-intensity — no longer than 20 minutes and light enough so that you could hold a conversation throughout it. Even if you feel you could do much more, resist the temptation. The thing about delayed-onset muscle soreness is that it is delayed, so you can’t predict how much DOMS you will experience later based on how you feel during the workout.

You must also resist the temptation to increase your training workload aggressively after that first workout is under your belt. No matter how fit you are, a run that is significantly longer or more intense than those you are accustomed to will cause significant DOMS. So by all means, increase your training, but do it slowly, with no workout ever being more than slightly tougher than any of the preceding ones.

The Repeated Bout Effect

There’s another effective way to limit DOMS that is very nearly the opposite of the one I just described. You can actually increase your muscles’ resistance to the muscle damage that causes DOMS very quickly by causing a small amount of muscle damage with a few short bursts of maximum-intensity effort. This method is based on the observation in scientific research that exercise-induced muscle damage triggers rapid cellular adaptations that protect the muscles from similar damage in subsequent workouts. This phenomenon is known as the “repeated bout effect.”

What’s great about this is that you don’t have to stress your muscles to the point of inducing severe DOMS to take advantage of it. Stimulating just a little soreness now will spare you from experiencing a lot more later.

RELATED: Why Strength Work Isn’t Enough

To inoculate your muscles against future damage, insert a few short sprints (for example, 4 x 10 seconds with 1-minute passive recoveries between sprints) into your third or fourth workout after a layoff. I don’t recommend sprinting in your first workout because you need to give your body a chance to gain or regain some basic coordination in your activity before you go all-out. Otherwise the risk of acute injuries such as muscle strains is high. You can further reduce the risk of acute injuries by sprinting on a steep hill rather than flat ground.

Also take advantage of the repeated bout effect when you introduce speed training into your program. If you begin with a full-fledged speed workout, you may find it hard to get out of bed the next morning. Instead, start with a truncated session consisting of just a few fast intervals. This will inoculate your muscles against the strain of faster running so you can handle your first full-fledged speed workout much better.

Other Measures

Some of the most commonly practiced measures to limit post-exercise muscle soreness actually don’t work. Many runners believe that cooling down with easy jogging after a hard run prevents DOMS by flushing lactic acid out of the muscles. But lactic acid doesn’t cause post-exercise muscle soreness and cooling down at the end of workouts does not reduce muscle soreness the next day. Research has also shown that ice baths fail to prevent DOMS and massage is ineffective as a treatment for it.

RELATED: Swimming Workouts to Build Running Endurance

Pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen do provide temporary relief from muscle soreness; however, you should never train so hard that you must resort to it. Save the medication for after your races, when you really need it! Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs actually impede muscle tissue repair, so you wouldn’t want to rely on them daily, anyway. What’s more, exercise itself is analgesic, so on those days when you find your muscles sore from your last workout you will probably actually get some relief from a light recovery session.

While cooling down after a hard workout does not prevent DOMS, warming up before one does. A good warmup literally warms, lubricates, and increases the elasticity of the muscles, preparing them to handle high-intensity work with less strain. Think about what waking up in the middle of the night and being forced to sprint 100 yards would do to your body compared to a similar sprint performed mid-afternoon after a thorough warmup!

An effective nutritional means of limiting the muscle damage underlying DOMS is consuming carbohydrate with protein during workouts. A 2007 study by researchers at James Madison University found that a carbohydrate-protein sports drink consumed during an exhaustive cycling workout reduced muscle damage by 83 percent compared to a carbohydrate-only sports drink. As a result, performance in a second workout undertaken the following day was improved by 40 percent in the carb-protein group compared to the carb group.

Muscle soreness will always be a part of the running experience. As they say, no pain, no gain. But you can limit DOMS by increasing your training slowly, by doing a few all-out sprints early in the training process to trigger the repeated bout effect, by warming up thoroughly before hard runs, and by consuming carbohydrate with protein during runs.

Post run stiffness

Post run stiffness by Doctor Andrew Bosch

Lactic acid build-up is the cause of post hard-run stiffness ……. Wrong! Most runners believe that the stiffness and muscle pain felt after a marathon or hard run is caused by lactic acid. While this was believed correct some decades ago, we now know that lactic acid, or more correctly, lactate, is not the cause of stiffness.

Although the precise cause of delayed onset muscle soreness remains unknown, all runners are aware that the degree of pain depends on the intensity and duration of the run. For example, you have probably noticed that your muscles are more painful after a long or hard downhill run than after running over flat terrain. Comrades runners, particularly, will have noticed that the post-race stiffness is worse after a “down” run than an “up” run. In fact, it is this very phenomenon that begins to exclude a build-up of lactic acid as a cause of the pain. In downhill running the concentration of lactate in the blood and muscle is very low compared to running at the same speed on the flat. Thus, the most painful post-race stiffness occurs when the lactate concentration is lowest.

If we take a blood sample from a runner the day after a marathon, especially an ultra-marathon such as the Two-Oceans or Comrades, we find that the levels of an enzyme called creatine kinase are very high. This is a marker of muscle damage as this particular enzyme “leaks” from damaged muscle. The “damage” is in the form of minute tears or ruptures of the muscle fibres. We can see this trauma to the muscle if a sample of muscle is examined microscopically.

However, it is not just the muscle that is damaged. By measuring hydroxyproline, it is possible to show that the connective tissue in and around the muscles is also disrupted. What this shows is that stiffness results from muscle damage and breakdown of connective tissue.

Running fast or running downhill places greater strain on the muscle fibres and connective tissue compared with running over a flat route. Downhill running is particularly damaging because of the greater so-called eccentric muscle contractions that occur. When your foot contacts the ground after the air-borne phase of the gait cycle, the muscles in the thigh contract to support you. But the nature of the running action is such that although the muscle is contracting, it is forced to lengthen at the same time. It is this simultaneous contracting while lengthening that is called an eccentric contraction and is most damaging to muscle fibres.

What does this mean for the runner? Firstly, after the muscles have recovered from the damage that caused the stiffness and the adaptive process is complete, the muscle is more resistant to damage from subsequent exercise for up to six weeks. It may therefore be beneficial to include a short downhill race or training run 4 to 6 weeks prior to a race such as the Two-oceans or Comrades. Secondly, allowing adequate recovery after a marathon that has resulted in post-race soreness is important so as to allow complete healing to take place so that you can benefit by being “stronger” than before. Thirdly, a well-trained muscle is less prone to damage than a lesser trained one, so hard but scientific training is important.

It has been suggested that vitamin E may help to reduce muscle soreness, but there is little evidence to support this idea. Vitamin E is thought to act as an antioxidant that may blunt the damaging action of free radicals that attack the cell membrane of the muscle fibre. It has also been suggested that stretching the painful muscle or muscles may be beneficial, but this has not consistently been shown to alleviate delayed onset muscle soreness. Similarly, an easy “loosening up” run “to flush out the lactic acid” is unlikely to speed up recovery. To the contrary, running when the muscle is still damaged may delay full recovery. I often tell runners that while it is possible to run when there is still some post run stiffness, they will be running better some weeks later if they delay their return to full training until they no longer feel sore.

The real cause of muscle stiffness after a hard run is clearly not due to lactic acid in the muscle. Once this is well known, runners will be in a better position to manage their return to normal training after a marathon.

View the articles:

  • Lactic Acid and running: myths, legends and truths
  • The Great VO2 max Myth
  • Collapse in the heat

If you’ve ever pushed yourself on a run you’ll know the feeling of your legs aching the next day (or more often than not it’s the day after that). Many customers ask us if this is normal and also how they can stop it happening, a lot of customers also wonder if it’s sensible to train with achy legs, we’ll answer all of these questions here.

Why are my legs aching?

The feeling of your legs aching the day (or up to 72 hours) after running is something most of us are familiar with; however if you are new to running then you’ll probably be a lot more familiar with it. That stiff, painful aching is normally referred to as DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and it is the after effect of exercise that your body isn’t fully accustomed to. This can mean exercise that is either harder, longer, faster or biomechanically different to what your body is used to.

The exact biological reasons for this pain still isn’t fully understood; however it’s believed to be as a result of microtrauma to the muscle cells through greater than normal exertion. This explains why it’s worse when you’re new to running and also why it can occur when you introduce a new element to your training (new shoes, new route, hills, sprints, strength training etc.).

The thing to remember is that it is a perfectly normal symptom of your body adapting to exercise and it happens to anyone who pushes themselves hard enough, or tries something new. So whilst we don’t always agree with the old saying “no pain no gain”, this is one situation when this motto is true.

Can I train with achy legs?

The simple answer is yes. Whilst training with DOMS won’t seem appealing when you’re legs are aching you will feel better once you start exercising again and also afterwards. This pain relief is known as exercise-induced analgesia, and is known to occur in endurance training and may also occur in strength training.

How do I stop my legs aching?

Again there is no firm scientific evidence that anything will stop your legs aching, as the mechanisms still aren’t well known. That said there is a vast amount of anecdotal evidence that shows certain things can really help reduce both the intensity and duration of the DOMS.

  • Take it steady – Starting any new training program gradually is a good idea and will mean that you give your muscles the best chance of adapting, with less chance of pain.
  • Compression Gear – There has been a study on the effect of compression clothing that found that correctly fitted, medical grade compression clothing can help to reduce the damaging effects of muscle oscillation (vibrations).
  • Massage Sticks – These are a popular item with more and more athletes and compliment your post-exercise routine perfectly. Massage sticks (seen above) allow you to flush out bi-products of exercise such as lactic acid as well as helping to reduce muscular tension.
  • Foam Rollers – These are very similar to massage sticks, with the main difference being that foam rollers will cover a larger area and you can easily put your whole body weight onto the roller for a stronger effect.
  • Hydration – There are some suggestions that good hydration and correct electrolyte balance can help to reduce post exercise soreness. Working mainly through prevention, the idea is that by having better hydrated muscle cells they are better able to cope with the stress of exercise and therefore less likely to get damaged. Grab yourself a decent bottle and your favourite hydration tablets or powder and stay hydrated!

So whilst your legs aching is a normal part of being a runner, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the effects of a new training load. Do forget if you have any tips for your fellow runners to leave them in the comments section below.

Q Why is it that almost exactly 48 hours after a long training run, and particularly after completing a marathon, my leg muscles hurt most? If the race is on Sunday, then I always dread Tuesday because I cannot walk down the stairs without adopting an unusual gait, and my thighs absolutely kill me!

A It sounds like a classic case of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is commonly experienced after unaccustomed strenuous exercise. The muscle tenderness usually becomes apparent the day after activity and peaks at 24 to 48 hours, subsiding over the next few days.

Over the years several theories have been proposed to explain DOMS, including muscle lactate accumulation, muscle spasms and inadequate cool-downs. However, the generally accepted explanation is that moderate to high intensity exercise causes microtrauma (small tears) in the muscle tissue.

This microtrauma causes a normal inflammatory reaction in which fluid accumulates outside the muscle cells and a slow, gradual build-up of tissue pressure ensues. This pressure soon reaches a level that stimulates nerve endings and the pain becomes perceivable. It continues to rise until around 48 hours, by which time the damaged tissue regenerates and the pain eases.

DOMS is usually worse after an unaccustomed muscle activity. Typically, it occurs in the gluteals, quadriceps and shin muscles, especially after running downhill or sprinting. It’s always advisable to cool down with slow running and stretch after exercise, but this won’t necessarily prevent DOMS if there is sufficient muscle damage.

Some athletes use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) and ice packs or even ice baths to help reduce the inflammation.

The other important thing to remember is that while you have muscle soreness, and often for several days after it has gone, the muscles are weaker than they were, and therefore susceptible to further microtrauma.

—Nick Critchley, chartered physiotherapist with Medifit medical and fitness centres

I’m already dreading my New Years resolution, and it’s still weeks away. Like millions of other Americans, I’m going to start working out—specifically, running. I love the way running makes me feel, but only when I’m not running. This is because even when I’m racking up modest mileage, my legs burn, my chest itches, and my lungs feel like they’re filled with a thousand burning matches.

I want to be a runner, but even Bruce Springsteen’s exercise anthem “Born to Run” can’t get me excited. (What’s that? The song is actually about teenage angst? Oh, maybe that’s why.) I don’t want these factors to derail my resolution. To find out why running feels so sucky (and hopefully make it suck less), I called Steven Magness, coach to several Olympians and the University of Houston cross country team, and author of the book The Science of Running.

The seven-step itch ——————-

I don’t want to totally shock my system once January 1st comes around, so I’m going to prepare myself with short jogs before New Year’s. I had my first this weekend, and as expected complaints flooded in from every part of my body. The first came from my skin. I hadn’t made it to the end of my block before my chest started itching. It was like someone had stuffed my shirt full of wood chips. What’s actually happening, says Magness, is blood flowing into tiny unused capillaries in my skin. In non-runners like me, these capillaries are dormant. When they get flooded with blood irregularly, they swell. This irritates nearby nerve endings, which sends itchy sensations to the brain.

Burning muscles —————

Not long after this, a familiar fire started burning inside my leg muscles. Magness assured me that even top runners feel the burn. It’s caused by a buildup of lactic acid, but is really a signal your muscle is using to let your brain know it’s running out of energy. “Pain is feedback for your brain to let you know how hard you’re working,” Magness said. Thing is, this pain signal typically comes well before your body is actually tired. Push through, and eventually the burn will simmer down, says Magness. Eventually, you’ll build up enough endurance that your muscles won’t freak out so soon.

Side stitches ————-

Not long after I pushed through the burning in my legs, I was assaulted by side cramps. Like a big, invisible hand had grabbed the side of my belly, I doubled over and immediately started walking with my hands on top of my head. The pain subsided, but left me wondering where it came from to begin with. For a while, says Magness, researchers thought was that side stitches would come from the body getting low on electrolytes like sodium and potassium. But, studies showed that electrolyte-depleted athletes are no more prone to side cramps as those drinking healthy amounts of Gatorade.

Currently, says Magness, there are two prevailing hypotheses. The first is that running causes you to strain a ligament connecting your diaphragm to the abdominal muscles. “When you’re running, your diaphragm is working harder than you expect,” Magness said. The second hypothesis is also tied to the abdominal muscles, but has to do with a decrease in calcium, which can prevent muscles from relaxing.

Gasping for air —————

Not long after my legs started burning, the fire spread to my lungs and I began gasping for air. This happens, says Magness, because our bodies aren’t perfect at cycling CO2 out of our lungs. “You are breathing so intensely that you can’t get all of the bad air out,” Magness said. Even when you’re breathing normally, there’s never a perfect exchange of oxygen to carbon. With running, your muscles get so starved for air that they don’t leave you time to exhale completely. Eventually you build up such a huge deficit that you get a burning sensation similar to holding your breath. “At this point, you stop, and bend over, and suck in, and you can finally catch up,” Magness said.

“Bubbleguts” ————

I had planned a two-mile run, to the top of a hilltop park. There, I’d catch my breath while looking at beautiful San Francisco, then return. I didn’t make it so far because my tummy started burbling before I was close to the first sloping street. I ended up speed walking the last few blocks home. “This is pretty common,” Magness graciously told me. Many runners also get gassy because their bodies are breaking down energy (in the form of sugary carbohydrates, solid proteins, or rich fats), causing muscles cells to release gas. A lot of this gas ends up not making it to the lungs, where it can be expired without embarrassment. As Magness tactfully put it: “Gas gets stuck in places where it shouldn’t be, and you gotta get it out some way.” Also, he says, the mechanical jarring of running helps along the digestion process.

Magness says these problems are most common with beginning runners, but even the Olympians he coaches admit to suffering. So maybe I wasn’t born to run, but at least I know I’m not alone in my misery. Maybe one day I can catch up to the pros, and take my complaining to a whole new level.

Running Through Fatigue: Should You Run After a Hard Workout?

In the normal training cycle, there will be workouts that are longer and more intense than others. Your long run or interval workout are examples that may cause more soreness than a standard distance or tempo run. Soreness is part of running and not something that you should try to completely avoid.

Running after a Hard Workout

As Steve Magness points out, muscle soreness from a particularly tough workout should be expected and a desired part of the training process. He notes that damage is a good thing because the body “responds by increasing our ability to deal with the stressors, thereby improving our running.” Sounds good to me.

Welcoming muscle damage and being able to run the next day is a balancing act. You need both to improve as a runner – the soreness that makes you adapt to hard workouts and the ability to run every day and put in a high volume of work.

Running when you’re sore is important for mental and physical reasons. You may not want to, but running during times of fatigue is beneficial for several reasons.

Embracing Soreness From Hard Workouts or Races

Physiologically, more running can prevent additional soreness in the delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) cycle. The day after a hard workout an easy run will actually make you feel better. Running Times sums this up perfectly: “Exercise itself is analgesic, so on those days when you find your muscles sore from your last workout you will probably actually get some relief from a light recovery session.”

The post-hard workout run promotes blood flow to the legs which will aid your recovery. When you couple an easy recovery run with 15-20 minutes of dynamic flexibility exercises or a core routine, you’re increasing recovery even further. More blood flow, no impact forces, and increased mobility help your body get back to neutral.

Easy running when your muscles are sore can also help you psychologically by increasing mental toughness. When I first started running, I often skipped runs when I was sore or if the weather was bad. I learned that wasn’t helping me become a better runner, so I started getting out the door when conditions weren’t perfect. It’s helped me get faster.

Learning to run after a hard workout can help you make running an integral part of your daily routine (even when you feel like crap). Once it’s become a standard behavior, you’ll have difficulty not running.

Exceptions to the Rule

This issue isn’t completely black and white – there are going to be times when you shouldn’t run after a particularly grueling session. Let’s look at three examples:

1) After a very long race. I wouldn’t recommend running after a marathon, half-marathon, or other long race (especially for new runners). The best strategy is to use a zero impact cross training exercise like pool running or cycling to promote blood flow and recovery without the impact. Spend 15-30 minutes at an easy effort to prevent additional soreness.

2) If you made a training mistake. This often happens because you ran longer or went harder than what you your body was ready for. You could risk an injury if you head out for a run when your body needs rest. Since your aerobic system (heart, lungs, and cells) gets in shape faster than your structural system (bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles), you have to be very careful.

You can address this by doing a lot of core and strength exercises.

3) If you have trouble walking because something is that tight. If a particular muscle or tendon is very tight, your goal should be to loosen that area without further aggravating it. I don’t recommend static stretching, but instead do a mobility routine (like Cannonball) plus a strength routine (like the ITB Rehab Routine). Spend a few minutes on a foam roller and cross-train on the bike or in the pool for best results.

Most of the time, a short run is the best type of recovery. If you have time, take a nap and then use your foam roller to work out any kinks. Save the ice bath for after your recovery run (not right after your hard workout) and you’ll be well recovered in a few days.

Who takes the day off after a hard workout? Have I convinced you to run instead?

Photo Credit

Tight legs after running

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