If something gets its own day, you know it’s a big deal. Whether you do it once or twice a week (or once a month — who’s counting?), leg day leaves its mark. And in some cases it is a very big mark.
“I was hosting the Miami Beach Fitness Festival for Weider Nutrition and had the opportunity to work out with [celebrity trainer] Mike Ryan,” says fitness expert and comedian Tim Wilkins.
“During the workout I asked what he does to stay so shredded, and he said just 15 minutes of StairMaster at the end of his workouts. After killing legs we jumped on the StairMaster in a gym crowded with the hottest people in South Beach, and I proceeded to fall off of the machine.”
Maybe you haven’t fallen off an expensive piece of exercise equipment in front of Miami’s finest, but if you train hard enough, you’re likely familiar with a few of these universal “day after leg day” experiences.
1. Your Legs Are Hungover
Lots of people have had the unfortunate experience of waking after a night of revelry with a pounding headache and dry mouth as reminders of the damage done the previous evening.
The morning after leg day isn’t much different. You open your eyes and feel pretty good, but as soon as you try to get up, your whole body starts to ache and your legs feel like two hippos attached to your pelvis.
You haven’t suddenly woken up in “The Jungle Book.” The eight sets of deadlifts you did yesterday caused microscopic tears in your muscle fibers that your body is now trying to heal. In the meantime, you’ll experience soreness for up to four days, depending on how hard you hit it. Stiffness, swelling and decreased strength are other joyful things you have to look forward to.
But, hey, at least this morning after doesn’t include an embarrassing Facebook post and a late-night text to your ex.
2. You Walk Funny
Best-case scenario, you have a slight limp. Worst-case scenario, you look like you’ve risen from the dead and are on the prowl for fresh braaaaaaaaaaains. While you won’t appear normal by any stretch of the imagination, you can make yourself look a little less Frankenstein-ish by warming up your legs by doing butt kicks or high knees.
You can also do some gentle stretches to relieve the stiffness. That should at least allow you to bend your knees without intense pain shooting through your quads. And you might want to think about taking it down a notch or 10 next time you do legs, because walking like an actual human is not overrated.
3. You’re Prone to Exaggeration
If you’re like many gym enthusiasts, you get pretty dramatic after leg day. Everything hurts, even your skin. You might have a fever. You’re not sure if you should call in sick. It’s probably a good idea just to save your co-workers from having to listen to your whining.
“The biggest leg-day exaggeration I’ve ever heard was a guy say his legs were so ‘swole’ afterwards he couldn’t get his pants on,” says Atlanta-based strength and conditioning coach and improv comic Mike Morrison. “Like, how tight were these pants to begin with?”
4. Stairs Are Your Worst Enemy
Trying to walk up or down stairs after leg day is a nightmare. With its single flight of stairs, your home might as well be an M.C. Escher drawing. God forbid you finally make it downstairs in the morning only to realize you forgot to put on socks. It’s in these moments that having one of those as-seen-on-TV home stair lifts installed seems like a really good use of your money.
5. The Couch Is Extra Inviting
“Netflix and Chill takes on a whole new meaning after a solid leg day,” Morrison says. “I always make sure I have an entire season locked and loaded before leg day, because I know I won’t be getting off the couch.” Sounds great if you can work from your couch. Otherwise, you might want to schedule leg day for Friday or Saturday.
On the other hand, if your legs are so sore that you are unable to function without being horizontal with your blankey and the remote, you have likely overdone it. All jokes aside, this does more harm than good.
“You can’t redline your car 24/7 and expect quality output and longevity from your engine. Your body is no different,” says Morrison. “Apply a stimulus that will make you feel as though you worked, but doesn’t leave you debilitated the next day. Over time your legs will respond.”
6. You’d Rather Stand
Any other day of the week, you take sitting down for granted. But after a tough leg workout, nothing ever seemed so hard.
“The most difficult thing to do after a hardcore leg day has got to be going to the bathroom,” says Wilkins, who appears in the movie “BIGGER: The Joe Weider Story.” “If you have to use the toilet paper roll like a rappelling rope to ease onto the seat, you succeeded in crushing your legs.”
7. You’re Not the Same Person You Were Yesterday
Just 24 hours ago you were spry and light-footed, skipping along and whistling without a care in the world. Then leg day happened. Now you don’t know who you are or if you can even get out of bed.
“Before leg day I feel like Mel Gibson when he gives his rousing speech before the battle in ‘Braveheart,’” says Morrison. “After leg day I feel like Mel Gibson at the end of ‘Braveheart.’”
8. You Find Yourself Apologizing a Lot
“Sorry, I did legs yesterday,” is an often-uttered phrase after an especially tough lower-body workout. This usually follows the weird looks you get when you’re moving too slowly, groaning with every step or unable to stand up from your chair.
Even brain fog and “senior moments” are not unheard of in the hours after intense exercise because you’ve depleted your brain food — glycogen. You probably shouldn’t operate heavy machinery.
All of this leads to a lot of apologizing for your seemingly strange behavior. “Any true gym-goer will understand if you have trouble with even the most basic of tasks after leg day, but you may get a few dirty looks from old ladies when you simply can’t give up your seat on the train,” says Morrison.
9. You Feel Like You’re 90
You thought you were putting in time at the gym to stay young and sexy. But after leg day, you feel like you’ve aged several decades and you haven’t even fallen in love, had kids, seen Machu Picchu or watched the series finale of “New Girl” yet!
The good news is that you’re not actually dying, you just feel like you are. There’s still plenty of time to make all your dreams come true — until next week when you’ll go through the same emotional roller coaster.
10. You Secretly Love it
Along with the pain, there’s also the exhilarating feeling of accomplishment and the satisfaction that you’re going to look amazing in those new jeans you just bought.
Sure, you may not be able to walk, but who cares when you have thighs of steel? “I’m actually sad if there isn’t discomfort after leg day,” says Wilkins. “As sick as it might sound, I don’t want it to go away too soon.”
11. You Haven’t Got Time for the Pain
The post-leg day muscle soreness is enough to make you never want to do legs again. But you know you will, so you’ve got to find a way to make it through. “The best advice I can give people after a grueling leg day is to get up and move the next day, no matter how unappealing it sounds,” says Morrison.
“Take a walk. Go through a yoga sequence. Do 20 body-weight squats. It will absolutely suck for the first few minutes, but your legs will feel a ton better afterwards.”
Morrison says it’ll also minimize the second day of delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, which for many people is worse than the day after.
And the sooner your legs feel better, the sooner you can do it all again!
- Mike Morrison; Strength and Conditioning Coach
- Tim Wilkins; Fitness Expert and Comedian
- The Journal of Physiology: Brain glycogen decreases during prolonged exercise
- ACE: Don’t Be a Sore Loser - Dealing with Muscle Soreness
- Journal of Athletic Training: Dehydration and Symptoms of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness in Normothermic Men