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My Leg Feels Heavy When Running

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
My Leg Feels Heavy When Running
Heavy legs make you hit a wall before you even start. Photo Credit Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

Running provides super cardio and calorie-burning benefits, but it's no fun when you feel like you're dragging yourself, particularly your legs, through the workout. Heavy legs plague many a runner, but it's not always clear where the problem stems from.

To get a little spring back in your step, consider your training and recovery strategies. Tweaking a few key aspects of your run may just make you lose the lead in your legs and pick up your pace.

Warm Up Right

An improper warm up can negatively influence your whole run. This is especially true if you're running first thing in the morning when your body temperature is naturally lower, or if you've been relatively inactive all day. You just need to give your legs a little coaxing to get going.

A warm up increases blood flow and body temperature gradually. This gives all your body systems time to get used to the fact that they're going to be working, and hard. Instead of shocking them by heading out at a fast pace, take a few minutes to progress from a walk to a slow jog.

Read More: The 8 Best Stretches to Do Before Running

Dynamic stretches also help you warm up properly. Think of these as active movements that get your muscles ready for the action of running. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that male runners ran faster after a sequence of dynamic stretches. Examples include:

  • walking lunges
  • squats
  • walking leg swings (Frankenstein kicks) 
  • side leg swings 

Start Hydrated

You know you need to stay hydrated when running, but how about when you start? If you begin your run even slightly dehydrated, it can make your muscles feel heavy and the run like a chore.

Hydrate before and during your run.
Hydrate before and during your run. Photo Credit petrunjela/iStock/Getty Images

A dehydration level of just 1 to 2 percent compromises performance and can make you feel like your legs are made of lead. Drink about 20 ounces of water or another hydrating beverage 2 to 3 hours before you run to make sure you're ready to go.

Choose Your Shoes Wisely

If you haven't updated your shoe selection in years, or you aren't sure if you're running with shoes that are right for your particularly gait, it's time to go shopping. The wrong shoes can make runs sluggish and even painful.

Runners should change their shoes every 400 to 600 miles. When you start to notice minor aches, pains and heavy legs, considering getting a new pair of kicks. Ask your local running store to give you a free gait analysis when you go for the purchase. The staff should be trained to observe how your foot lands and what type of support you need from your shoes.

Read More: How to Choose the Perfect Running Shoe

Vary Your Training

Running too often, or including too many hard run workouts, can fatigue your legs so that they feel heavy when you set out for what should feel like an easy run. If you're training for a race, make sure your plan includes a mix of easy days, interval runs, tempo runs and long runs.

Run with a slower group sometimes to make sure you're not overtraining.
Run with a slower group sometimes to make sure you're not overtraining. Photo Credit jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images

Honor rest days, too. If you don't give your legs adequate time away from the track, they'll end up feeling tired and heavy every time you head out.

If you run for fitness, and it's the only workout you do, consider cross training with different cardio activity to give the muscles that help you run a little variation. Cycle, swim or take a dance class two or three times per week in lieu of running.

Recover Smartly

Static stretching and light walking following a long run can ease the amount of soreness and fatigue you feel at your next outing. A regular massage, epsom salt baths and myofacial release with foam rolling are other strategies that improve recovery time.

Don't forget to adequately replace lost electrolytes with a sports drink post run . You also benefit when you refill your glycogen stores. A run longer than 45 minutes uses up a lot of the energy stored in your muscles. Replace that energy, or glycogen, with a quality source of carbs, such as a banana or milk, right when you finish.

Failing to replace your glycogen stores doesn't mean you won't ever recover, it'll just take longer and you'll likely experience a few runs that feel heavy and sluggish.

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