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How to Get Rid of Leg Heaviness on a Run

By Britta Kallevang

New and seasoned runners alike may experience heavy legs at some point during their training. So if it happens to you, don't worry. By following a few steps, you can recover from what is often referred to in running circles as "dead legs" or "heavy leg syndrome." The condition varies in intensity from general fatigue of the legs, to extreme heaviness that may force you to stop. Runners can experience heavy legs on short jogs, long training runs or during races of any distance. Underlying issues that cause leg fatigue include lack of endurance or strength, overtraining, mineral deficiency, dehydration or lactic acid buildup.

Step 1

Learn to rest before you train seriously. Scheduled rest days are key to any runner’s performance. Running is challenging physically and mentally, aspects that attract many fitness enthusiasts. It’s also adaptable to varying fitness levels and training goals, incredibly accessible and rewarding. Unfortunately, not every runner knows how to train, fuel or to recognize the body’s signals that recovery is in order. Rest helps you to avoid problems of overtraining such as injury, loss of motivation and insomnia. This step applies whether you are a new or seasoned athlete; all runners need time to recover from their hard work.

Step 2

Train consistently and increase mileage slowly. Beginners need time and consistent training to gain adequate muscle, and are therefore prone to heavy leg syndrome when first starting out. To avoid heavy legs, try following the 10-percent rule: Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent from the week before. If you follow this rule of thumb, your legs will have time to adapt to this high-impact sport. In fact, you can increase less than 10 percent each week and still have positive results. Pay attention to your body’s cues and rest when needed. Even competitors returning from the off-season need to get back to running slowly to avoid heavy legs and injury.

Step 3

Stretch after running and apply ice to reduce inflammation. There is lot of disagreement among medical professionals about whether stretching before exercise is beneficial. Stretching afterward, however, is wholly encouraged. Apply ice for about seven minutes to sore, heavy legs. You can do this both directly after training and on rest days to help fight inflammation and increase recovery. Elevating the legs against a wall is also beneficial.

Step 4

Hydrate and eat right to prevent heavy leg syndrome. Low blood sugar, dehydration and electrolyte depletion are probably the most common causes of heavy leg syndrome. If your legs begin to feel heavy during a run, try the run-walk-run method, or even walk the rest of your route. Afterward, take in lots of fluids, including electrolytes.

Long-distance runners, in particular, may experience low glycogen if they are not properly fueled. When this occurs, the body’s blood sugar plummets, and the runner’s legs begin to feel heavy. Also, any time a runner reaches anaerobic capacity, lactic acid in the muscle builds up, causing heavy legs.

Mineral deficiency is often a contributing factor to heavy legs during running, as well as muscle spasms. Electrolytes that aid in muscle recovery include calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium. Check nutritional labels on electrolyte-containing products, as many are loaded with sugar.

Step 5

Find a running group or personal trainer to stay motivated. You can’t beat a great running group if you need a reason to keep running. And when runners get together, they tend to have a lot of fun. They also like to support each other; it’s as if they’re ultimately bonded by shared experience, one that is oftentimes painful. So, go online or contact your local running store and get to know your fellow runners.

Another option is to get a certified trainer who can help you meet your goal safely, whether it’s your first 5K, an ultramarathon, or a simple plan to stay in shape. Check online for training plans as well, but do so with caution. There are a lot of “get in shape fast” plans out there that may put you at risk for heavy leg syndrome and injury.

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