Why Do My Legs Hurt So Much After Squats – Introduction
“Why do my legs hurt so much after I do squats?!”
Is what you’re thinking?
Your legs are killing you.
So are mine!
Last Wednesday was my first day of doing squats for too long.
I could barely walk by Wednesday night and the entire next week!
That is a case of extreme soreness, but why does this happen?
This article reveals the primary reasons that your legs hurt so much after a squat day workout, what you can do to recover and how to help prevent such severe muscle pain in the future.
Let’s get into it!
Why Are My Legs Killing Me?
Your legs hurt after squats because of a phenomenon known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – DOMS.
When you experience DOMS, you will likely not be able to do squats again until the soreness subsides.
Either your aching legs are the result of progressing too rapidly in your squat program.
Or, you are an absolute beginner in squats, and because the squat is a new exercise, you are stressing muscles you may have rarely used in your life.
What is DOMS?
DOMS is a component of the ‘Alarm Reaction Stage’ of the General Adaptation Syndrome first described by Hans Selye, a Canadian Physician.
There are three stages in your body adapting to stress, in your case, to the stress of strength training using squats.
- Alarm reaction
- Resistance development
The description of these three stages is as follows:
#1. Alarm reaction
The initial reaction to the stress, in this case, doing squats, using your body weight only, or a standard or an Olympic barbell on your back.
Your body will increase the blood flow and oxygen to the appropriate areas of your body.
Because squats target so many muscle groups simultaneously, much of your body’s largest muscles will be affected by DOMS, especially your leg muscles, such as sore quads, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles.
#2. Resistance development
In this stage, your body adapts to the new stressor and builds the strength necessary to handle the new load you are placing on it.
Overtraining without sufficient recovery can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, increased risk of injury, and a depressed immune system.
To avoid exhaustion and overtraining, make sure that every good workout also has an appropriate rest day planned for the critical recovery process as well.
Why do your legs hurt so much after doing squats?
It is during the first stage, the Alarm reaction stage, that your body is forced to adapt to an increase in the amount of weight placed on your bones, muscles, connective tissue, tendons, joints, and nervous system.
If you have never done squats before, that’s a tall order!
As a result, because you are not accustomed to doing squats, it is a normal physiological reaction to experience sore muscles over the next 2 to 3 days or more.
Therefore, the best way to minimize leg pain after squats is by using the progressive overload principle, which means gradually progressing in your training.
Otherwise, you can end up barely walking for a week like me after jumping into a squat workout routine with too much intensity, too fast, and too soon.
An excellent progressive overload system for deadlifts or squats follows the principles of the 20-rep squat program.
See High Rep Deadlifts: Strength; Fat Loss Benefits + How to Program or the 20 Rep Squat Program: 3 Workouts a Week to Gain Size + Strength for more detailed information on these two fantastic workout plans.
How long will my legs hurt after squats?
The worst case of DOMS I have experienced was about a week.
How long will your legs be hurting from your squat workout?
According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, “delayed-onset muscle soreness typically lasts between 3 and 5 days.
The pain, which can range from mild to severe, usually occurs 1 or 2 days after the exercise.”¹
Another reason why my legs hurt so much after squats that week was that I had not been consistent enough in doing squats.
I am sure that this will apply to other forms of exercise, but squats, in particular, will really blast your legs, and the muscle soreness I experienced those seven days sure proved it.
This morning, I am still feeling the soreness but am going to take a shot at doing squats again today.
Before getting into the biological reasons like muscle tearing and the result of lactic acid buildup, I want to point out a training methodology aspect.
I believe the reason why my legs hurt so much after squats was a demonstration of how vital training consistency is.
The reason that my legs became so sore from doing squats for an entire week was that I had not been consistent enough with my workouts.
Don’t let that happen to you!
What to do when you have sore legs from squats?
There is no point in reinventing the wheel.
I see that Mehdi from stronglifts.com has an article addressing my question of why do your legs ache so much after squats and what to do about it: https://stronglifts.com/what-to-do-when-you-have-sore-legs-from-squats/
Why Do My Legs Ache So Much After Squats – Wrapping up
Respect the Squat!
Squats are arguably one of the best exercises you will ever do.
They are not called the “King of Free Weight Training Exercises” for nothing!
Two years ago, I had never done squats in my life.
I started with just an Olympic barbell and the lightest bumper plates, and gradually built up from there.
Within six to nine months, my bloated 50-inch waist transformed to 31″, nineteen inches less than it had been and I was down 75lbs from 250lbs to 175lbs.
The truth is that it is hard work to a degree to get into shape.
But, you still have to maintain it once you get there.
That is where I slipped.
There are no excuses, just awareness of what is going on and how to correct it.
Now you should know why your legs ache so much after squats and what to do about it.
If your legs are hurting so bad after squats, most likely you have either not squatted much, and this is your first birth pangs of a new form of exercise that is very demanding.
Or you have taken a big layoff from working out, and this is your payback for not being consistent.
Your muscles have to get accustomed to the weights.
And then, get headed back to your commercial or garage/home gym!
Your takeaway on how to prevent serious hurt after a squat workout:
- Make sure you do an adequate warmup
- Start with light weights
- Practice progressive overload by gradually increasing your squat weight
- Stay consistent in your workouts
- Either follow:
- A 4-day split routine like this Powerbuilding program, or a
- 3-day a week pattern like the 3×5 workout or the 20-rep squat program
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- Matt Dimel Deadlift; How to Dramatically Improve Your Squat and Deadlift
- Proper Way to Do Squats; 26 Secrets for the Perfect Squat
- Should You Do a Deadlift and Squat Workout on the Same Day?
- Top 10 Ways To Avoid Knee Pain After Squats
- 20 Greatest Benefits of Squats; The King of Free Weight Strength Training
¹ National Health Service of England (NHS) Pain After Exercise