10 tips to help heavy legs when running

Earle Logan

26 July 2014

Prevent heavy legs while running

1. Warm up – we’ve all heard this advice before, but it is worth taking heed. Warming up your muscles before exercise can help you squeeze every remaining ounce of energy out of your legs, as this encourages more efficient blood flow to your muscles, allowing them to contract more efficiently. It will also encourage more efficient deliverance of nutrients to your muscles to prevent a quick build-up of lactic acid. Warm up and stretch your muscles for at least ten minutes before beginning your run.

2. Adjust your route – treat every run as a new run. Even though you may have managed to run 10km on Monday, that doesn’t mean you will be able to run the same distance or more on Tuesday.  In fact, it is important to allow yourself short runs, or rest days in between long runs, as fatigue in the legs can build up over several days. It will not be immediately cured as soon as your run has ended. What is more important than running long distances or for a long time, is making sure the time that you do spend running is good quality running. Even if you run three kilometres, make sure you put in a bit more effort and run faster to strengthen your muscles.

3. Adjust your stride – more effective than continuing to run at a moderate pace is sprinting in short bursts, and keeping the pace slower in between. This is a very effective way of building up muscle strength and fitness. As soon as you feel your legs getting tired, try to lengthen your stride, but not necessarily increase the pace, as this will stretch your muscles and disperse the build-up of lactic acid. Continue to shorten and lengthen your stride.

4. Adjust your focus – running along a long straight road with nothing to look at, or pounding it out on a treadmill can be pretty dull, and with nothing else to focus on, you will soon get absorbed in the tired feeling of your legs. Try to distract yourself from this by listening to music or running a route with lots of twists and turns. This way, you can keep your focus on the next corner, or the top of the next hill, instead of worrying too much about your legs. Ever noticed how a nurse will distract a child before giving it an injection? The same principle works for running too.

Relieve heavy legs after running

5. Stretch –just as warming up before a run is important, so too is stretching out your muscles afterwards. If you do not do this, your muscles are more likely to cramp and be painful the next day. Stretching your muscles helps to minimise the effects of lactic acid in the muscles, and also makes you less prone to developing injuries.

6. RICE – although the grains of carbohydrate may be just what you fancy after a run, this type of RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation – may help you out more in the long run (no pun intended). This is similar to the PRICE procedure which should be followed after a sprain. However, if you give your legs this five-star treatment, they will love you for it, and be ready for another run the next day.

7. Massage your legs – if your legs need that extra coaxing to get up and out again the next day, then a massage may be just the thing. This encourages blood flow to the deep tissues, removing waste products such as lactic acid from the muscles, and encourages good nutrients and water to enter, repairing and restoring the tissue. Massages are a particularly good idea if you are training hard and regularly, as this also helps to prevent injury to muscle.

8. Check for injuries – the worst thing you can do is run on injured joints or muscles. Not only will your legs feel very painful, but it is likely to cause lasting damage. Do not battle on regardless and ignore warning signs of pain and muscle fatigue, as developing strains, sprains or stress fractures is going to take you off the running scene for a long time.  It’s not worth running for an extra mile if it means you can’t put your running shoes on for the next couple of months.

Remedies for tired legs

9. Watch your diet – it is important to go out on your run with enough nutrients in your stomach, but also to be properly hydrated. While you are running, it is worth having some water with you to keep feeding your muscles, and if you are going for a particularly hard or long run, then possibly also an energy bar. You need to feed your muscles by giving them the correct balance of protein, carbohydrate, healthy fat and salt. Wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice are higher in fibre and energy than their white or refined counterparts. And treating yourself to a small piece of dark chocolate after each run will not do any harm.

10. Herbal gels – many people find there is little which is as effective as a herbal gel massaged into tired legs. Aesculus, or horse chestnut, is known for its beneficial effects on the venous system. It tightens blood vessels and relieves the feeling of heaviness in the legs. Fresh extracts of Aesculus can be found in A.Vogel’s Venagel.

If you are suffering from muscular aches and pains, then licensed herbal remedy Atrogel may be just the thing. It is made from freshly harvested Arnica, which has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties.

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  • Sushmitha's photo avatar
    Sushmitha — 27.06.2018 19:38
    Hi, I am Sushi and I am 28 years old. I have never worked out in my life before and I started running few months ago. During initial stages, I felt it difficult but later I got so used to intermittent running that I ran almost 5 times a week for 45 minutes. Its been 6 months I started running already and I dont experience any pain or breathing problem. However, I started noticing heaviness or drag or jerk in my right leg now since 2 weeks. And it is very annoying that I have to keep reminding myself to lift my right leg during run. As a result, I am losing coordination between my legs and its getting hard to keep up the pace. I gave rest from running for 2 weeks and concentrated on other weight/strength training. Yesterday I tried running again and I notice the problem still persists. Could you please suggest me how to get over this leg heaviness/numbness/drag/jerk so I can go back to my running days.


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 28.06.2018 09:54
      Hello Sushmitha Well done on your progress so far. The sort of symptom you describe can be caused by a mechanical or neurological issue, so I’d advise seeing a physiotherapist in the first instance and your doctor, if after a few weeks the physiotherapists advice doesn’t help you.


  • Zee's photo avatar
    Zee — 13.09.2017 06:51
    Hi, My name is Zee. I am based in Abu Dabi and are of South African origin. I am a regular runner and have run distances up to 21km. I find your column most insightfull and valuable. I just got back to running after a two month break due to a virus infection which affected my breathing while sleeping or couching. I have been on various meds including an inhaler to assist me with my breathing issue. Getting back to running now is dissapointing and most frustrating especially on my legs. 1 km into my run my upper legs has a feeling like needles and pins plus they feels so very tired. I am not sure what to make of it as prior to the virus my fitness level was at a peak. I feel within 2 month I have taken 10 steps back. I started decreasing my distance in running from 15km to 3km and I vary my distance to max 10km which has become my longest run now but its hard with the sensation in my upper legs and the fatigue I feel. I soak in a epsom salt bath after long runs and also put enough rest days but problems persists at the start of my run. I drink and hydrate well before, during and after runs. Eat healthy, warm up, strecth etc. I am looking at buying some compression socks in case its a blood circulation issue. I have registered for 2 half marathons a while ago which takes place with 2 to 3 months time and feel very de-motivated at this stage. I always loved running and it use to come effortlessly. Could you please HELP and advise me on what I could do to relieve myself from this problem. Much appreciated. Regards Zee


    • Earle's photo avatar
      Earle — 15.09.2017 13:03
      Hello Zee These post-viral fatigue symptoms are a bit of a mystery and so it's difficult to know what is going to decisively help the feelings in your legs. Since you have 2-3 months before your event, keep all running at low intensity. This will also benefit your immune system. You're unlikely to regain your best fitness in that space of time, so it might be wise to reconsider what you want out of the events. As suggested, you may find our Atrogel helpful if applied post-run. Other than that, the symptoms are hard to address with anything other than more rest and better sleep.


    • Yvonika 's photo avatar
      Yvonika — 06.04.2018 19:51
      Hello, I’ve been going through the same thing this track season, did the problem get resolved and if so how’d you do it?


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