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why do my leg muscles get sore, but not my core and upper body muscles?

I have noticed over the years that when I concentrate on strength training my legs that my muscles end up being very sore for 1-3 days afterward, especially my hamstrings. However, when I work my upper body, my muscles are rarely ever sore. I work my arms until they feel like jello and it's a challenge to wash my hair. I believe I have a well balanced training cycle that targets all muscle groups and cardio and I feel that I work my back, core, shoulders, chest, and arms just as hard as I work my legs. So, why do my legs feel like they get so much more sore?

Note: I've noticed this pattern over the past 15 years... I was a competitive snowboarder for 4 years and have always enjoyed running and hiking. I've been a regular gym goer for the past 10 years and have worked with PTs every couple of years.

5 answers

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Nick & Seth,

Thanks for the feedback. This question actually came up during a conversation with a PT at my local AF a few weeks ago when he was talking about how sore his legs were. He actually noticed the same thing, which has had me thinking ever since.

I try to change my routines and physical activities every few months. I enjoy feeling the SORENESS too (sometimes) and I don't feel SORE all the time. I do feel like my legs are much stronger than my upper body (thanks to genetics) and I tend to stretch my lower body more than my upper body. Considering I run 3-5 days a week, I do wonder if the muscles continue to develop so as to push me forward and when I strength train them I am shocking them? If that makes sense. Instead of pushing me forward or jogging up hills, I am strengthening them with weights and resistance.

As I think about it more and more I do realize that my back muscles get pretty sore if I have neglected them or simply not focused on them. I guess I never realized that before since we use our back muscles very differently from our leg muscles. Maybe it is because our quads and hamstrings are bigger muscles that they seem more sore.

Jennifer Bendewish 1.1k
5 years ago

Hi bendewish,

That's a tough question to answer. A lot of variables to consider before making an educated guess as to why your legs get more sore than other muscle groups. Depending on what your goals are, the soreness factor might not matter. You don't have to get sore to improve and progress. The soreness is always a nice reminder that we got a good workout, but it shouldn't be the only way to judge a good workout. Think about it, if you can barely wash your hair after an arm workout, I would say you got a good workout, maybe even too good.

If you're really concerned compare your other workouts to your leg workouts. Are you doing something different? This is where the variables come into play, (warm ups, sets, reps and weight ranges, intensity, exercise variety, rest periods, stretching, nutrition, water intake). Its hard to know why, without knowing exactly what you are doing. Make sure you are challenging your body and not doing the same exercises all the time. Be sure to utilize periodization in your training program. Try some different training techniques or styles. If you need a fresh take on a workout program, talk to a trainer at your club. Otherwise, one thing that always works for me is time off. Sometimes a vacation from the gym is really what your body needs. A good workout after a little time off always gets me sore.

Hope this helps!

5 years ago


It seems as if you’ve got a solid lock on your question, I would just support Nick’s post that soreness is not always the best indicator of progress. Certain things like measuring your muscle mass, change in bf%, gaining strength, size, endurance, increased repetitions, etc, are all key indicators for success.

Ensuring you have proper form & even hitting different parts of the muscle may lead to the soreness effect you’re after, but sometimes, certain areas just don’t get as sore as others….again, not an issue.

Keep training & making progress.


Tony Nicholson 141k
5 years ago

Tony - Thanks for the input. It does make me think about strength training and repetitions that I do during my workouts. I think that I have historically lifted slightly lighter weights for my upper body in an effort to minimize size while seeking definition and have used heavier resistance (though mostly just my regular body weight) when strength trainin my legs. Hope that makes sense.

I will definitely be montioring this over the coming months.

Thanks for the feedback!

Jennifer Bendewish 1.1k
5 years ago


I notice the same thing,...often I'll alternate the way i work out because I LIKE to FEEL that SORENESS. It tells me I've torn the muscle down well.

Like say I'm bench pressing,....

Right now i'm working with around 150lbs. Well if I'm not sore the next day,....on the next time I do chest/benchpress,...I'll either do more reps lighter weight(like 140lbs for higher reps and more sets) ,...or i'll add 10 lbs and do less reps.

This usually tricks my body and lets me get sore. Then I'm back on schedule the next couple workouts.

I find I constantly have to modify almost ALL of my bodypart/exercises if I want to get maximum muscle growth via muscle teardown.

Seth Juneau 3.7k
5 years ago

add your answer!

Jennifer Bendewish member since Feb '12


5/4/2012 at 8:02 AM
Strength Training