Many runners are bothered by sore quads when they start running again. At best, the pain is annoying. At worst, it can sideline you from your renewed commitment.
If your quads are sore after every run, chances are it’s for one (or more) of the following reasons.
Running downhill may feel easy — especially after climbing the incline portion — but many runners are surprised at how sore their quads are the next day. This is because, although gravity helps move your body forward when traveling downhill, your quads end up absorbing more impact than they do while traveling on flat surfaces. “The impact [of flat running] is about two-and-a-half times your body weight with each step, but when you’re running downhill it’s significantly more than that because the ground is moving away from you, so you’re falling further down,” says Jenni Nettik, a running coach in Denver, Colorado.
Thanks to these magnified effects from gravity, your quads develop micro-tears — and excessive soreness. So, if your quads are screaming the day after a downhill-heavy run, don’t feel bad: “It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, it just means your body wasn’t prepared for that, and now it’s going to be stronger the next time you do it,” Nettik says.
The solution to quad soreness isn’t to avoid downhills altogether; just steer clear of them for a couple of days to give your body time to heal.
Another common reason many runners complain of sore quads is that, instead of sharing the load between the front (quads) and back (glutes) of their body, they run in a quad-dominant position.
A common culprit for this quad-dominant position is limited hip mobility — a side effect of a sedentary lifestyle that causes your hip flexors (a group of muscles in the front of our hips that help us bring our knees toward our chest, and are passively engaged while seated) to work overtime and tighten up.
“When you’re running, you want your legs to swing an equal distance in front of and behind you,” Nettik says, but when your hip flexors are tight, your legs are able to travel further out front than behind. “So that would make your quads pretty sore,” Nettik says.
To undo all that sitting, Nettik recommends performing a kneeling hip flexor stretch for 3–5 minutes per side to really wake up and loosen those tight hip flexors before every run. “That’s honestly the longest piece of the warmup, but I have the most success in getting people to do that, because if you do it, you notice a difference immediately,” Nettik says.
Foam rolling your hip flexors after stretching can also help ease any tightness before you run.
In an ideal world, your glutes would provide most of the power and stability you need to run safely and efficiently.
Unfortunately, too many of us spend the bulk of our days sitting, which, in addition to tightening your hip flexors (see reason number 2), causes our glutes to turn off. Later, when you go out for a run, your quads kick in to do the work your glutes are supposed to be doing, Nettik explains.
To counteract any time you spend sitting during the day — and ease the strain on your quads — Nettik recommends performing a quick glute-focused routine before every run.
PRE-RUN GLUTE ROUTINE
Perform this glute routine after you’ve finished stretching and rolling out your hip flexors:
Glute bridge, hold 3 sets for 30 seconds
Monster walks, perform 3 sets of 10 steps to each side and 10 steps to the back
Side-leg lifts, do 3 sets of 5–10 reps per side