Soreness is a normal part of working out, both for beginners and more seasoned bodybuilders. Whether or not you can work out with sore leg muscles depends on the severity of your pain. In some cases, a light workout can help relieve the soreness, although only on a temporary basis. If your muscles are extremely sore, working out may damage them even more.
If the soreness sets in 24 to 48 hours after performing your squats, delayed-onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is usually the cause. DOMS disappears after three to seven days, but can linger up to 10. If you start to feel soreness immediately after working out, you may have an injury or simply overexerted yourself. The difference is that pain from an injury will get worse and pain from overexertion will dissipate in a day or two.
Your muscles need rest to repair themselves, which is how they get bigger and stronger. While your individual threshold may vary, muscles can take up to seven days before they are ready to be worked out again, according to Dr. John Berardi, adjunct professor of Exercise Science at the University of Texas at Austin. The minimum recommended time between workouts is 48 to 72 hours. According to Julia Valentour of the American Council on Exercise, larger muscles such as the quadriceps and hamstrings need at least 72 hours to recover. If you work through soreness too often, your muscles don't have time to repair, and you can actually end up getting weaker. As Valentour points out, overtraining also will increase your risk of injury because of the increased strain on your muscles, tendons and ligaments.
If you have an injury, avoid working out until it is healed. If your soreness is caused by DOMS and is mild, a light workout with less weight or fewer repetitions can be performed and may offer relief from your soreness, although only temporarily. Instead of doing squats, you may consider doing some mild cardio on the treadmill or a stationary bike. Perform your next workout when the muscle soreness is gone and your range of motion has returned. You also should ensure your muscle strength is superior to what it was during your previous workout. Massaging your leg muscles as well as soaking them in cold water for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day might help speed the recovery process.
To prevent soreness from occurring, perform a warm-up before you do your squats. Include a general warm-up and a specific warm-up. A general warm-up is meant to increase both your body temperature and blood flow to your muscles. Examples include calisthenics or jogging on a treadmill for 10 to 15 minutes. A specific warm-up means moving your muscles through the range of motion you will be performing when working out, but without resistance added. If you are just starting to work out or are starting a new routine, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of weight and duration of your workout. Increasing your threshold in increments will give your body time to adjust and can limit the amount of soreness you experience.