Leg soreness after gym

I’m looking for advice on reducing soreness after strength training. I started doing leg exercises in the gym last September. They leave my legs very sore and tired for 2-3 days afterward. I completely expected this at first, but figured it would go away or be reduced when I went into maintenance mode. I haven’t added any weight, reps, or sets since early December, but I’m still sore after every workout. I used to do back squats, leg press, and lunges. I dropped leg press hoping to reduce my fatigue, and it helped a bit. I do legs once a week on Sunday after I’m done riding for the weekend, then I take Monday off. Tuesday is usually an easy day on the bike, but I still feel sore and tired from the gym. My typical squat routine is five sets: 95lbs x 8 reps, 95lbs x 8, 135 x 5, 135 x 5, 115 x 5. I find 135lbs to definitely be a challenge, but it has gotten easier. For lunges, I do 80 total multi-directional lunges with no weight (each leg is 10 lunges forward, 10 at an angle, 10 to the side, 10 backward). Will it eventually get easier, or should I scale back on reps, weight, or sets? I want strength for overall fitness, but I’m tired of being so sore. I’m male, 49-years-old, 6’-1”, 170lbs.

Based on what happened to me in July of last year, I would suggest cutting all of your reps by 40%-50%. I still have trouble with pain and soreness all these months later. The suggestion from my primary care provider and the physical therapist who treated me was that my activity volume and intensity were way too high.

That is a lot of reps hammering your legs and far beyond maintaining. It’s no wonder your legs are sore, mine are just reading that. If you only did the squats I would say it would still be be too much if your focus is cycling. 3 x 5 of one quad focused movement is plenty for maintenance. Squats, lunges and leg presses are all quad dominant. Mix in deadlifts as a replacement instead.

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Man that’s not after strength gains like that. That’s straight up endurance work taxing what are already probably quite tired legs from a week of riding. Up the weight, slash the reps by a lot. That is assuming you’re after strength not muscle endurance work.

FWIW I lift twice a week when the bike work starts picking up, squats one day, deadlifts another

Squat days are 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps and a variation usually focusing on quad work. So either high or low bar squats and then something like pin squats, or front squats etc

Deadlift days are about the same but focusing on the posterior chain and back strength. So conventional deadlifts and then pause work, or deficit work, etc.

Weight is irrelevant as a raw number but I’ll say for 5s I’m probably 70-75% of my 1rep max and 3s are probably 80% when I’ve been consistent with it. Currently doing about 65% of max for 5s as I was doing only bike work for about 2 months and just easing back into it

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I appreciate all the input! I will start by scaling back reps. I’m still surprised and a little confused about why my body hasn’t adapted to this load, given that I’ve been doing the same workout for several months. It really doesn’t feel like an terribly hard workout when I’m doing it.

@chriswitek I hadn’t thought specifically about whether my goal is muscle endurance or strength. Aside from having less skinny legs, my main objective is to round out my fitness and be more injury resistant. Getting faster on the bike would certainly be nice as well (my power on flat sections is pretty lackluster). I ride about 7 hours/week split between MTB and road, so I would assume I’m getting enough of an endurance workout? I do a mid-week gym workout as well. That one is deadlifts, core, upper body, etc. Deadlifts fatigue my quads a little, but nothing major.

I mean theres a million questions to ask to build a strength program. Generally, are you trying to get bigger or work with the muscle mass you already have? Are you trying to sprint better or just general bike work? Etc etc.

In general for people looking to lift without a super specific goal in mind I suggest reps of 5. 5s are a solid strength building with a little size change as well. It’s not a 1-3 rep range that’s focusing on how much force your muscles can exert at peak, and it’s not 12-15+ that bodybuilders working on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy as a main goal are doing. It’s a solid range to work your strength and build a little muscle size as well. You certainly won’t get bulky but you would likely see increases in muscle fiber size or total number of fibers as well as strength gains in terms of force production by those muscles at well. You dont need to go crazy heavy either. But without knowing 1 rep max numbers I cant give you a very basic guess. Think rpe 6.5 to 7.5 overall. Should feel like you’re working, maybe last rep or 2 is a bit difficult but not to where you’re dreading the next set. Ask any questions you got!

Doing the same thing in the gym for months at a time is never a great idea anyway, especially when you’re seeing no improvement. So I would change up the exercises, reps and/or weights. E.g. Cut the reps and number of repeats to 3x5 but add some weight (if you do some lunges before the squats to get things moving then you should be able to go straight to the heavier sets without needing to build up). Or switch to dead lift instead of squats for a while. Or throw in some plyometric jumps instead.

I find 30 minutes in the gym twice a week is about the right amount of time for strength training for cycling. That’s enough to maintain strength and make some modest improvement if I keep switching up the routine regularly. If it’s taking longer than that it’s likely more than I need and starts to impact my cycling. Always worth looking at sleep and nutrition as well if you’re struggling with tiredness.

Muscle soreness is in large part individual thing and you need to experiment a bit to find out what works for you.
First thing I’d recommend is splitting your weekly volume in 2 workouts instead of once a week. Don’t add extra volume because that would increase fatigue, but just keep high load and intensity but split sets in 2 workouts. Muscle soreness is often strongest when doing new exercises and for some people training certain muscles once a week basically resets that novelty effect each time.
So I’d recommend couple of minutes of brisk walk or light jog on a treadmill just to warm your body, then some lunges just to get into movement and then couple of sets of heavier squats. Try that 2 times a week instead of once and you might see a big difference. I would also incorporate deadlifts, you can try adding them on same days or some other days, depending on your fatigue and soreness. You don’t have to go hard on them, you can do even do some variations at home with a kettlebell or dumbells.

Based on what I learned about myself from last year I would say your body is not adapting because it is overstressed/fatigued. You need much more recovery time in my opinion. Some of the other respondents have given the same type of advice my physical therapist gave me once I got over the worst of my situation especially the comment about doing squats one day and deadlifts on another day.