It seems that every time I do a leg-intensive cardio workout, like stair climbing, intense elliptical machine, or running more than 3-4 miles, my legs take forever to bounce back. They don't hurt so much as they just feel heavy and lethargic. I try to do cardio every other day, but my legs seem to only allow intense cardio once or twice a week. What are some strategies for combating this, so that I can do intense cardio at least 3x a week?
This might be tough to hear, but you should also consider the fact that not everyone is gifted with a body that can handle pro-athlete levels of activity.
If your legs are constantly tired/heavy, and you see no improvement (and ESPECIALLY if you see backwards progress), I would say your body is telling you it's not ready for that level of activity (at least not yet).
Back it off a bit, let your legs recover, and try easing into things. I'm not saying you shouldn't push yourself, but at the same time, there is such thing as overtraining, and at that point all the time you put into your training is counterproductive and wasted. Stubbornness can be the enemy of progress sometimes.
I have a similar issue as I regularly play football so I try to run hard. I experience soreness especially in my thigh and calf muscles.
I suggest you do some warm down and stretching after the exercise, this will help you bounce back sooner.
I also have the benefit of a back yard swimming pool and after football I do a few laps and also some running in the shallow end. The combination of the cold water and the light exercise seems to be a big help. Maybe you can join a gym that also has a swimming pool.
Also be careful as your body might be telling you that it can only handle two sessions a week.
A cold whirlpool daily does wonders for recovery. I always experienced tired legs and aching knees during my entire football career. Only a dip in the cold pool would help refresh my legs. It forces increased bloodflow to the legs, which results in better recovery.
Without access to a cold whirlpool, a cold bath in which only your legs are immersed or perhaps a quick swim in a pool of any kind would be helpful.
A lot depends on what you mean by "intense" leg-based cardio, and what the rest of your fitness support is like. Consider the following options:
- Do you stretch carefully before and after? And warm up your legs before and cool down after?
- Reduce your per-workout intensity by 20-40% and see if that helps. Over time, ramp up. Using a treadmill's display is key for this.
- Are you eating a good diet to support recovery? Protein, vitamins, replacing glucose and electrolytes, drinking enough water, a varied diet, etc.
- Are you getting enough sleep and rest to support recovery? (say 7-8 hrs/night)
- Have you tried massage on your legs, significantly elevating your legs while resting, hot or cold water therapy (in shower or bath).
- How long have you been training? Sometimes the first few months things are quite clunky and after training one feels pretty low energy, either in body parts or all over. Maybe you are just not there yet, but will be.
As most people are saying, you need to make sure you warm up, stretch before, and stretch after. There are also a few other things you can try:
Is cardio the only type of exercise you get? I'm a runner, and it's very important to also do some leg strengthening exercises to build muscle (e.g. squats, lunges, etc). If you're not doing these, give it a try on your off days. If you are doing it - how often? Perhaps the reason why you can't handle cardio every other day is because you're also doing other types of exercises that work your legs on the days you're not doing cardio?
In addition to normal stretching, have you tried tennis ball stretching? (Scroll down for the video demo) This is especially important for your quads. Lay on the floor face down, put the tennis ball under your quad, and bend and straighten your knee. It gives you a deeper stretch, kind of like you're ironing the muscle. You can also get foam rollers or noodles (the kind that are used as floats in pools) and roll back and forth on those (this is really good for your IT band).
Make sure you're eating good recovery foods too - in my opinion low-fat chocolate milk is the best recovery drink to have after a hard workout, but you need to make sure you're eating a balanced diet as well.