Should You Do Cardio After Leg Day?

A balanced week of workouts includes cardio and weightlifting; these are the fundamentals of a solid gym routine, but why are they both necessary?

Since these forms of exercise work together to burn calories, strengthen the heart, and increase muscle size, combining them is the best way to meet your fitness goals in record time.

cardio after leg day

But how do you juggle leg day AND cardio without feeling overly sore and stiff the next day?

Here’s everything you need to know about incorporating cardio after leg day without suffering the consequences many gym-goers know as spaghetti legs!

DOMS After Leg Day

What to Expect After Leg Day

Delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) is normal and expected if you’re new to exercise. Even the most experienced lifters will encounter severe DOMS after skipping a few workouts. When you perform strenuous exercise, the body reacts accordingly. DOMS is a type 1 muscle strain. The fibres within the muscle stretch and tear, forming micro-abrasions that attribute to soreness.

This type of ‘injury’ results in minor to moderate muscle fibre damage. However, this strain is nothing too serious. The body recovers in a matter of days, and no long-term damage is done. In fact, the body grows stronger after it has repaired itself!

However, leg day DOMS can still be gruelling and painful to deal with.

You’ll feel leg DOMS one to three days after exercise, and the severity of it can vary. DOMS can slightly limit your range of motion, but it can also feel so severe that walking becomes downright agonising!

Why DOMS Is So Intense on Leg Day

Movements that utilise your legs are simply more difficult, as they require more strength and energy from more muscle groups. For instance, one uses sizeable muscle groups while squatting, such as the gluteus maximus, hip flexors, and quadriceps.

Furthermore, these muscles will need more time to recuperate, especially if you’ve spent a gym session lifting heavy weights.

Is It Ok to Do Cardio After Leg Day?

Understanding The Relationship Between Cardio And Weightlifting

Cardio and weightlifting both elicit different responses in the body. While they both aim to get your body healthier and stronger, weight-bearing exercise promotes strength. Cardio, on the other hand, improves the function of your respiratory and circulatory systems.

With this in mind, the following situations explain when cardio is beneficial and when it’s harmful to your fitness progress.

Moderate Cardio on Leg Day is Beneficial Under These Conditions

Intense cardio immediately after a brutal leg day can be dangerous, so give your body some time to heal before running. A total of 24 hours is typically enough between workouts. You’ll feel energised after this allotted break, allowing your body to reap the full benefits of your run. Lingering soreness directly after leg day can slow you down. The muscles also fatigue after weightlifting, which can affect your speed and endurance.

On the other hand, low to moderate exercise can be used to your benefit after a leg workout! To improve the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness, consider doing the following after a glute, hamstring, or quad focused day at the gym.

  • Walking at an incline on a treadmill
  • Light to moderate cycling
  • Light elliptical workout
  • Jogging at a steady pace on a flat road
  • Walking around your neighbourhood

These cardio workouts shouldn’t exceed 20 minutes. If your current workout routine centers on muscle building and strength, keep it under 15 minutes.

Cardio Warmups and Cool Downs Are Always ok!

Cardio-based warmups are also always ok on leg day. In fact, they are expected! The same goes for cooldowns. Five minutes on the treadmill can mentally prepare you for exercise beforehand and warm your body up for leg day. This step also increases blood flow and oxygen in the body.

Cooldowns immediately after exercise are also effective, so implement five minutes of cardio at the end of each leg day. Walk at a steady incline on a treadmill. Doing so returns your muscles to their resting lengths and eases your heart rate back down to a healthy level. 

Intense Prolonged Cardio Can Cancel Out Strength Gains

Doing heavy cardio minutes after a heavy leg routine runs the risk of burnout. Burning out can stall and even halt your progress. You’re also prone to sickness, fatigue, and prolonged soreness when burnt out.

Signs of physical burnout may include:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Diminished appetite
  • Delayed recovery time
  • Fat gain
  • Weakened immune system

Can Cardio Help with Muscle Soreness?

Cardio has several benefits. Aside from improving heart and lung function, it also improves the discomfort linked with muscle soreness.

Cardio loosens up the body and increases blood flow, which improves the short and long-term pain that stems from DOMS. Cardio also reduces inflammation around the muscle fibres affected by weightlifting.

This explains why the effects of soreness vanish halfway through a workout, but reappear when you’re back at home relaxing.

What Are The Benefits Of Doing Cardio After Leg Day?

Don’t love the idea of adding a spare fifteen minutes of moderate cardio after leg day? Here are some benefits that come with going the extra mile.

Temporary Relief From DOMS

Running is a smart way to temporarily counteract and lessen the pain from delayed onset muscle soreness.

Staying active when you’re sore is entirely better than remaining sedentary all day. Keeping the body moving also distracts one from the DOMS discomfort.  

Cardio Can Lessen Soreness and Promote Better Form

Soreness is a hindrance, so find ways to speed up the recovery process. For example, add in moderate and post-lift cardio.

Pain from muscle soreness can discourage you from returning to the gym to keep a steady routine. Furthermore, having sore muscles can also harm your body during weightlifting, as the sensation can compromise your form and lead to serious injury.

Long-term Relief From DOMS

A study from 2012 found that moderate-level cardio workouts followed immediately after strength training made a difference in the aftereffects of exercise, namely — decreased muscle soreness days after training.    

Increased Endurance

Even after leg day, incorporating more cardio will promote endurance and a noticeable improvement in your athletic ability.

More Calories Burnt

The more calories you burn in a workout, the more weight you will lose. This is a simplistic way to look at weight loss, but it boils down to remaining in a negative energy balance. Cardio is an efficient way to burn fat and calories fast, as it’s a form of aerobic activity that accelerates your heart rate and breathing.

In conclusion, if you combine these forms of exercise, you’ll lose weight faster.

Maintains Consistent Gym Routine

Doing cardio after leg day maintains a stable routine. Lifting weights may sound like torture if you wake up sore in the morning, but cardio is a happy medium.

It’s doable even when you’re sore, therefore ensuring you don’t break your weekly gym routine.

Is DOMS A Good Thing After Leg Day?

You’ve likely heard the saying, “If you’re not sore the next day, you’re not working out hard enough.” Of course, this notion may push you to work even harder the next day. But muscle soreness is not a good indication of a good workout.

It’s simply a sign that you’ve done something new that your body doesn’t recognise! So don’t worry if you’re no longer feeling sore. And don’t push yourself until you’re limping out of your gym. Going to such extreme lengths can actually stunt muscle growth. 

When Should Cardio After Leg Day Be Avoided?

However, cardio after leg day isn’t always a great idea. According to the concurrent training effect, “high volume, moderate, continuous and frequent endurance training, are thought to negatively affect the resistance training.”

If your main goal in the gym is to increase muscle size and strength, limit cardio to one to two times a week. Avoid performing prolonged cardio on the same day as your leg workouts.

Should I Do LISS Or HIIT Cardio After Leg Day?

Wish to lose weight? Perform low steady-state cardio, or LISS, to burn calories and keep your heart in shape.

This cardio style is not as intense as HIIT, the popular exercise that stands for high-intensity interval training. However, since LISS is less intense, it won’t affect your sore muscles, making it easier to perform mentally. You won’t have to push yourself to your max, like with high-intensity interval training.

So, what is the deal with HIIT then? High-intensity interval training is appropriate for bodybuilders and individuals following a hypertrophy program. HIIT is an incredibly short workout (15-20 minutes), so weightlifters don’t have to worry about the body using muscle reserves for energy and wasting their gains.

What Else Can You Do to Speed up Recovery From Leg Day?

There are other ways to recover from leg day sans the cardio. First, foam rolling increases flexibility and decreases the painful sensation of DOMS. Second, foam rolling helps stretch tight muscle fibres, promoting flexibility in the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and calves.

Furthermore, rest properly, drink water and electrolytes, and massage the afflicted area one to two times daily. Use your hands or a massage ball. A warm bath filled with Epsom salt can also soothe the stressed muscles in your legs.

Conclusion

Exercise is complicated. There are dozens of ways to combine and pair workouts to stay active. However, cardio and weightlifting are two of the best exercises to promote muscle growth and fat loss. They work best together, therefore consider using them in tandem to boost results.

To avoid inevitable and intense DOMS, consider these two cardio factors: time and intensity. They will help you gauge the perfect sweet spot when adding cardio after leg day. After all, moderate cardio after leg day can be beneficial by helping you achieve your strength and weight loss goals.

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