Cardio After Leg Workout: Guide, Benefits & Tips

A man jogging after leg day

Leg day! Ah yes! The day that nobody looks forward to. A typical leg day should have your legs feeling the burn, and we’re talking excruciating pain for the next 3- 5 days. Then your back at it again, working on your resistance training, back to leg day, and then cardio. Let’s face it! Leg day has a bad rap, but it is a necessity if you are serious about building muscle mass and staying in shape.

What is Leg Day?

Leg day is the dreadful day that you’ll be doing high-intensity workouts on nothing but your leg muscles. Yes! We’re talking Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Hip Flexors, Gluteus Maximus, Calves, Adductors, and Gluteus Medius. Many different workout routines can fit into leg day. Your initial training usually consists of:

Leg day is a must if you are serious about strength development and building muscle mass. Here is why. Let’s say you were building a house. You certainly wouldn’t make a house on a weak foundation, would you? That house would fall apart and become damaged in no time. Your body is the same way. Your legs and your core muscles are the foundation of your body.

If you’re working hard on your more appealing muscles such as the biceps, chest muscles, shoulders, and less on your leg muscles, you’ll be setting yourself up for some painful injuries soon. Trust me! The last thing you want to be dealing with are weak hamstrings and muscle imbalance. This weakness will lead to serious risk of injury, including low back pain and ACL injuries. Don’t be that person. Play it safe and make leg day part of your weekly workout routine. You’ll be happy that you did.

Why Do People Hate Leg Day?

Most people don’t care to workout on their legs. It’s their least favorite exercise. After all, isn’t it more pleasing to show off your most appealing body parts? The ones that get you noticed? I mean the biceps, chest, and shoulders. Now, these are the attention grabbers. Nobody cares about legs as much as they should. Plus, the extreme, nagging pain that comes after high-intensity leg workouts is excruciating. DOMS delayed-onset muscle soreness can last up to 3-5 days, depending on how hard you worked out. Try walking around the next few days after a high-intensity leg day training. It’s no fun for anyone. This is another reason most people dread the leg day training.

Should I Do Cardio After Leg Day?

There is nothing wrong with doing cardio after leg day. However, keep in mind that if your leg workouts were high intensity and you really pushed yourself to the limit, you should do cardio the following day. The reason being is because leg workouts and cardio exercise both use the same fuel known as glycogen. Giving your leg muscles and your glycogen levels time to replenish before cardio will prevent you from depleting your fuel reserves1. Now, if your leg workouts were very light, then doing cardio the same day wouldn’t hurt because you’re likely to have still glycogen levels left to exercise with. It’s also best to stretch before doing cardio.

What Are The Benefits Of Doing Cardio After Leg Day?

Doing cardio after leg day is beneficial to your workout regime. Cardio workouts will get your circulation going, which helps send blood flow to your sore muscles. This flow will enable your muscles to heal faster, reducing the amount of time you have to deal with that painful DOMS-induced leg workout. It’s all a part of what’s known as active recovery. If your blood has enough of the proper nutrients in it, then your blood will help nourish your sore muscles, causing them to recover faster. Here are a few key benefits you get to enjoy when doing cardio after leg day:

  • Increase your endurance
  • Gain better strength and physical physique
  • Reduce recovery time also known as DOMS2
  • Help stretch and loosen those tight leg muscles

What Cardio Workouts Are The Best After Leg Day?

Most likely, when you’re doing leg day, you’re probably doing high-intensity training on your legs. If this is the case, and it should be, you’re better off doing low impact cardio exercises. The last thing your legs want to deal with is all that pounding on the joints after you’ve already suffered the hardcore leg workout you just did yesterday. Instead, low impact cardio will serve as energy flow to your leg muscles, letting your nutrient blood heal your sore, aching muscles much faster. The most common low impact cardio exercises to do after leg day are:

Swimming

Most people don’t think of swimming as doing cardio, but did you know that swimming is one of the best forms of cardio that you can do? It’s very efficient in that it not only gets your cardiovascular system going, it’s also one hell of a full-body strengthening form of exercise. Swimming increases your heart rate, strengthens muscles, and increases lung capacity. By swimming, your body is benefiting in so many ways while speeding up your painful recovery time.

The Elliptical Cycle

The elliptical cycle is an excellent form of cardio. It’s also one heck of a good aerobic workout. By training on the elliptical cycle, you strengthen your lungs, heart, and muscles. This training will quickly build your stamina and endurance, all while you’re sending nutrient-rich blood to your sore legs.

Stationary Bike

The stationary bike is probably one of the easiest low impact cardio exercises you can do. It doesn’t burn calories as much as the treadmill would, but it still does the job. Riding a bike for 30 minutes a day lowers high blood pressure, strengthens your heart, and regulates blood sugar. If you need to recover from leg day fast, but afraid you’re going to overdo it, try the stationary bike.

Is Running After Leg Day ok?

If you’re going to be running after leg day, light running is recommended. In other words, skip the marathon race. Running after leg day will promote more muscle mass and help you gain that overall strength you’re going to need for your next workout. Running will also speed up your metabolism, which in turn, supplies your muscles with nutrients and oxygen. This speeds up your recovery time as well. If your routine involves cardio the same day you do leg day, you can enjoy the benefits of having more energy and lessening muscle fatigue. Combining leg day with cardio is not a good idea without a strategy in place. If you’re not sure about this, it’s best to consult with an experienced physical fitness trainer.

What Cardio Machines Are Good To Use After Leg Day?

A man using nautilus 616 recumbent bike

The great thing about doing cardio after leg day is that you have many options to choose from. Everybody is different. The elliptical cycle may do wonders for one person, but for someone else, their best machine could be the stair climber. A few examples of cardio machines you can use are:

  • Elliptical cycle
  • Stair climber
  • Treadmill
  • Indoor cycling machine (Recumbent or Spinning)
  • Rowing machines

How Can I Speed Up My Leg Day Recovery?

Muscle soreness is the result of too much stress being put on your muscles when you are working out. This is called DOMS Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. If you’ve ever done a hardcore workout on your legs, then you know how painful it can be to walk around the next few days. You can’t eliminate the pain after leg day, but there are ways to speed up your recovery time. So let’s take a look at how to minimize the pain and recover faster from leg day.

Stretching

Stretching is a must when it comes to any form of exercise, and I’m sure you all know this. Stretching increases blood flow and prevents muscles from stiffening up too much.

Foam Roll

This is almost like another form of massage, except that it’s much cheaper and doesn’t do deep tissue. Foam rolling helps clean out the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during a hardcore workout. You’re also releasing tension, knots, and toxins that can build up in your fascia.

Eat Healthy Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins

What you eat after a good leg workout can really mean the difference between a fast recovery and a week of super sore, aching muscles. Protein can be a good start. It gives your muscles a good shot of amino acids, which will help jump-start your recovery. Don’t forget carbs to replenish muscle glycogen levels. Include fresh vegetables and fruit for antioxidants. Also, foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids can aid in decreasing inflammation. Overall, eating a balanced diet after leg day is definitely going to help those muscles repair faster so you can get back to your workout routine with plenty of energy and less soreness.

Get Plenty of Rest

It’s no secret that your body does most of its healing while you’re sleeping. Sleeping can undoubtedly speed up the healing process because relaxed muscles and slow breathing can reduce inflammation.

Drink Lots of Water

This one’s a no-brainer. We all know how vital drinking water is before, during, and after a good leg workout. But water alone won’t do the trick. You’ll need the electrolytes to regulate your fluid levels, keep your pH levels balanced, and help build new tissue.

Massage

Massage is like the foam roller, only more intense and more effective. Massage will help blood flow reach your sore areas, and in turn, will help flush away out all that lactic acid in your muscles. Massage will get all those toxins moving so they can be flushed out when you drink plenty of water. One of the most significant benefits of massage, however, is that it will loosen up all those stiff muscles in your legs. Massage is probably one of the best things you can do after leg day or any high-intensity workout.

  1. Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687103/
  2. What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and What Can You Do About It?, https://www.healthline.com/health/doms
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