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I absolutely hate leg day, but you know the dudes you see in the gym with big upper body and stick legs? I don’t want to be that dude and I know you don’t either.
But there is a way that I have found to enjoy leg days and how to maximize your cardio and leg training on the same day without feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck at the end, which you will read here.
And by the way, there’s a simple 6 step strategy I use to recovery in 24 hours after a hard leg sesh that you can read below. (It allows me to actually walk the next day).
Sometimes I just want to get both out of the way, so why not do cardio on leg day. You might have some thoughts as to why you shouldn’t:
Can this affect my gains?
Could I be overtraining?
I’ll answer all those questions:
Simply put yes, you can do legs and cardio on the same day. The most effective way to do cardio and leg training would be to split up the workout (if you can).
You could do a jog in the morning and your weight training exercises in the afternoon.
If you don’t have the time to split up the workout and are doing one after the other, do your weight training first.
Whatever you do second, you won’t perform at optimal peak, so make sure to weight train first and cardio last.
Can or should you do cardio on leg day? The argument, pros and cons.
There are two sides to every story and ultimately, it is your decision if you do cardio on leg day or not. But, for you to make the best decision for yourself, here’s a few pros and cons of cardio on leg day:
|Reduces recovery time (DOMS)||Fewer reps/sets of weight training|
|Helps to stretch and loosen tight muscles||Uses up glycogen storage faster|
|Increases blood flow and helps to get rid of toxins in the body||Performance of one activity will be poor|
It’s all in the details
Cardio and leg workouts use the same fuel that is stored in your body, Glycogen. This is why you need to be careful when doing cardio and leg workouts on the same day.
There are a few things that determine if you should do cardio on leg day.
This comes down to your:
- Routine Style
- Workout Intensity
- Your Goals
Let’s dig a little deeper into each one so you understand a little clearer.
There are two styles, split and full body.
A split routine is the most common where you workout a particular area of your body each day, while full-body means you are working out every part of your body, every day.
No matter what routine style you have it is important to make sure your legs are well rested before doing any intense cardio or leg workout.
Ideally, if you are going to do cardio and legs on the same day you will want to spread the workouts over a few hours. This ensures your body has time to recover so you can get the most out of your two workouts.
For example, go for a jog in the morning and in the afternoon do your weight training. If you can’t do this due to scheduling issues, do your weight training before your cardio.
This is due to fatigue of the muscles and whatever you do second, you won’t perform as well in.
Don’t train too hard on your cardio as your legs won’t handle it well. You should opt for low impact cardio options such as:
- Elliptical Trainer
- Light Jog
Full Body Routine
If every day is leg day you are definitely going to overlap your cardio and leg workouts. You can put a few hours between your workouts as mentioned above, or you can do your leg workout and then your cardio.
Your best bet to ensure that your body will recover before your next workout is to keep your workout and cardio to light-moderate.
Keep the number of sets and reps for your exercises under control and stick to lighter cardio options such as:
- Elliptical Trainer
Depending on the intensity of your workout will also determine if you should be doing cardio the same day as your legs. Here are a few options that have various intensities:
Light-moderate leg workout, light-moderate cardio – This is a great option for those doing legs every day/ Keep your reps, sets and weights down and still to lighter cardio options such as swimming.
Light-moderate leg workout, intense cardio – This is great for those who are concentrating on fat loss. Sticking to fewer reps and sets for your leg exercises and then hit an intense cardio workout such as a run or a stair climber.
Intense leg workout, light-moderate cardio – If your main goal is to build muscle mass, this is the option for you. The high intensity leg exercises will ensure your muscles are feeling the burn, followed by a light cardio such as a jog.
If you are really pushing in your leg exercises, you probably shouldn’t do cardio to ensure you don’t go too far.
If your leg day routine includes the following exercises with a high number of reps and sets (eg. 5 sets of 10), you should avoid doing cardio on leg day.
- Leg Press
- Straight Leg Deadlifts
- Seated Leg Curls
- Lying Leg Curls
- Leg Extensions
- Standing Calf Raises
- One Legged Extensions
If your leg day routine includes the following exercises and only a few reps and sets (ie. 3 sets of 5), you could do cardio on leg day:
- Leg Press
- Leg Extension
- Leg Curl
- Calf Raises
The important thing is to listen to your body and let your muscles recover properly. This will prevent injuries and unnecessary strain.
Depending on your goals cardio may be more important for you than others. If your priority is muscle gain, why do cardio at all?
If your reason for including cardio in your workout is to maintain heart health and overall health, you only need to do 150 minutes a week.
This is roughly 2-3 sessions a week. So, you don’t have to do cardio on a leg day and just focus on weight training.
If fat loss is your main goal you will want to do a total of 225 – 420 minutes of cardio a week. This equates to approximately 5-6 cardio sessions a week. This means you are bound to cross over cardio and leg day.
Try to take the above points into consideration when you are planning out your workouts.
Can I workout my legs everyday to catch up?
If you have been neglecting your legs for years and have finally realized leg day is important, this is for you! Ultimately no, you can’t play catch up.
Muscles take time to build but your legs are probably one of the easiest to gain mass.
Here are a few things that can help you get results faster and get you to that balanced body sooner.
Firstly, you need to work out your lower body more than your upper body. The most common way to do this is by decreasing your upper body workout and focusing on your lower body.
Ideally, you want to work out your legs twice as much as your upper body.
Doing this will maximize gains on your legs while maintaining your upper body, so you can achieve that balanced look sooner.
Keep it moderate!
By sitting in the middle field of your reps, sets and weights you reduce the time it takes for recovery.
This means that you can increase the frequency (hit is every day if you want too!) of your leg workouts which leads to more muscle growth
It will usually only take a couple of weeks to see results and within a few months, you will definitely see a difference!
How often can you workout your legs?
This ultimately comes down to what your training consists of.
If you’re training hard, lots of sets, reps and weight you should only work out your legs once a week.
This ensures that you give your body the appropriate time to recover. If your training is lighter, fewer sets, reps and weights than you can train multiple times a week.
How can I speed up recovery time? 6 step strategy I use to recover in 24 hours
Recovery is an important aspect to any workout routine. When you are working out you are putting stress on your muscles which results in soreness and aches.
This is known as DOMS, delayed onset muscle soreness.
If you want to train every day and minimize the time it takes to recover, here are some tips and tricks to get you hitting those weights as much as possible.
Stretching – Stretching before and after your workout encourages blood flow. This is important to prevent your muscles from stiffening and being taught prior to exercise to prevent injury.
It is also important to stretch after your workout as increased blood flow helps to give your muscles the nutrients they need to recover faster and remove lactic acid build up.
Foam Roll – This is a form of a massage. It doesn’t hit your deep tissues but it does help to clean out the toxins in your muscles after a workout while also releasing tension and knots.
Replenish Energy – What you consume can assist in your recovery and gains. Your muscles need amino acids to recover and protein is a great option.
Complex carbs help to replenish the glycogen levels in your muscles and fresh fruits and veggies are full of antioxidants.
Omega 3 rich foods provide your body with fatty acids that decrease inflammation.
Rest – You need to make sure you are getting a proper night’s sleep. Your body does the most healing when you are sleeping as your muscles are relaxed.
You are also breathing slowly while you’re sleeping which helps to reduce inflammation.
Hydration – Drinking enough water prevents the build up of toxins in your system, keeps your pH levels balanced and helps to regulate your fluid levels.
Massage – You can get a variety of devices such as a massage gun or massage roller. This is more intense and effective than the foam roller as it hits your deep tissue.
This increases blood flow which carries away toxins and brings nutrients to the muscle.
Does cardio count as leg day?
Unfortunately, cardio does not count as leg day. When you are doing cardio you are working on your cardiovascular system.
If you want to work your legs out properly, ideally you need to be training them specifically by doing weights, squats, lunges etc.
Can you train your legs with only bodyweight movements?
Ultimately yes you can. You need to incorporate movements that put a strain on your muscles so you push yourself to that breaking point.
A few examples you should include are: squatting movements, lunges, explosive jumps etc.
Example of a good leg workout and cardio training
Here are a few good cardio exercises that you might want to consider adding into your routine!
Swimming – One of the best forms of cardio as it increases recovery, heart rate and lung capacity while strengthening your full body.
Elliptical – Tackles your cardio as well as your aerobic workout. This builds stamina and endurance while strengthening your heart, lungs and muscles.
Stationary Bike – Probably the easiest and low impact cardio machines. Just 30 minutes a day will reduce blood pressure and help to regulate blood sugar.
Jogging/Running – You are able to speed up your metabolism which supplies your muscles with nutrients to reduce your recovery time while gaining overall speed and strength.
Stair Climber – This is probably one of your best options as it gives you a leg workout and tackles your cardio. It gets your blood pumping and is great for increasing endurance.
Science-based leg workout from Jeff Nippard
Max out your leg growth potential by following the below workout by Jeff Nippards science-based leg exercise routine.
|Elliptical Trainer Warm-Up 5-10 Minutes|
|Dynamic Stretching & Light Foaming Rolling Routine|
|Deep Squats||3 sets x 4-6 reps|
|Romanian Deadlifts||3 sets x 8 reps|
|Dumbbell Walking Lunges||2-3 sets x 20 strides|
|Single-Leg Extensions||3 sets x 10 reps|
|Single-Leg Lying Leg Curl||3 sets x 8+4 reps|
|Single-Leg Press Calf Raises||3 sets x 10-12 reps|
|Seated Calf Raise||3 sets x 20 reps|
No one looks forward to leg day but it is a necessity if you are serious about weight training.
Now, you know all the benefits and details to determine if you should be doing cardio on leg day or not.
Remember intensity, goals and recovery are all important aspects of this decision. Keep up the hard work, no matter how much your legs are burning!
Founder of EWS. Research writer and test performance hacker, avid intermittent faster, and weight loss specialist. Improve your health and torch fat by downloading the 31 Day Fasting Method.