Why Are My Quads Sore After Doing Squats (Not My Glutes)? 

Some soreness after squatting is often a natural side-effect, indicating a beneficial muscle adaptation process rather than an injury. However, excessive or persistent pain may indicate issues with recovery or technique.

Knowing what level of soreness is normal helps determine appropriate next steps.

Dive into this blog for a detailed breakdown of squat mechanics, reasons, and tips to soothe post-squat quad soreness. 

The Mechanics of Squats

Before we jump into the reasons and solutions for sore quads, let’s talk about proper squatting mechanics and their impact on our quadriceps.

Correct squatting form:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward. 
  • On descending, bend the hips and knees while shifting your hips back and maintaining an upright torso. 
  • Continue to squat until your thighs parallel the floor or you reach 90-120 degree knee flexion. 
  • Keep your knees aligned over the ankles, preventing the knees from caving inward. 
  • Return to the starting position by extending the hips and knees (ascending).

This coordinated motion utilizes the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteal muscles in specific ways. 

The quadriceps, with four heads on the front of the thigh, play a crucial role in squats. They’re the main muscles that power the movement. 

When you lower into a squat, they work eccentrically to prevent your knees from buckling. Then, as you rise back up, they extend your knees. So, soreness of the quads can happen because of their role in performing the squat.

At the same time, the hamstrings and glutes team up to control your hip movement. The hamstrings provide stability on the way down, and the glutes take over to push you/ your hips back up. 

Of course, squat variations can also impact which muscles may work dominantly. Front, narrow stance, and belt squats emphasize quad engagement. Wide-stance, low-bar, and sumo squats target posterior chain activation more. 

Individual limb proportions, flexibility, and load distribution can also impact muscle activation. Differences in motor unit recruitment explain why the quads may often bear the brunt of a squat workout.

Why are the quads sore after squats?

Post-workout quadriceps soreness has several common physiological causes:

1. Microtears 

Microtears in muscle fibers from intense eccentric contractions break down tissue, sparking delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the next 14-72 hours. This stimulates adaptive repair and growth processes.

2. Accumulated metabolites, like lactic acid buildup

Lactic acid builds up during repetitive squat sets, increasing local muscle fatigue and soreness.

3. New exercises or increased weights/volumes 

Opting for a new workout, load, and more volume can overload your quads beyond the regular levels, triggering awareness from muscle groups not usually challenged.

4. Underlying muscle weakness or imbalances 

Muscle weakness and imbalances stress particular muscles, like the quads, especially if the synergists (primary muscle assistants) cannot pick up the load or do the work due to weakness.

5. Incorrect form

Improper form, like the knees caving in, puts force and load eccentrically on the quads, leading to soreness.

6. Fatigue 

Fatigue alters motor patterns (coordinated sequence of muscle movements), leading to uneven force distributions and localized quad soreness.

How to Fix or Prevent Quad Soreness

While quad soreness is uncomfortable and worrying, this response is mostly part of the muscle growth and adaptation process, and it’s harmless.

To avoid excessive soreness, consider:

  • Adjusting training variables
  • Allowing rest between squatting
  • Eating healthy, nutritious food
  • Foam rolling

These can all help control excessive quad soreness while optimizing gains. 

However, persistent pain indicates a need to examine technique, progressions, and rest periods.

While some muscle soreness indicates a productive training response, excessive or persistent discomfort may impede progress.

Implementing strategies before, during, and after squatting helps control quadriceps soreness while enabling further progress. To achieve these, here are some critical solutions:

1. Warm up properly 

An efficient warm-up prepares the muscles for the squatting ahead. Spend at least 10 minutes raising your body temperature and activating muscles through dynamic motions (dynamic stretches) before squatting. 

Focus on movements like:

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Lunges
  • Leg swings
  • Bridges
  • Light cardio

Dynamic warm-ups enhance mobility and prime the neuromuscular system, unlike static stretching, which can reduce muscle power when done before your squats. 

2. Listen to your body’s signs and reduce volume and intensity.

Reducing volume or load is crucial when your sleep, nutrition, or overtraining hinder your performance. Pushing through overload with poor form can overstress the quads and result in injuries!

Pay close attention to your body’s signals and take into account any environmental factors that could affect your squatting form.

3. Adjust stance width, bar placement, or squat style to target muscles more evenly.

If you feel your quads get sore all the time, opt for a deeper, wider stance squat with your toes out. This can take the load away from the quadriceps muscles and emphasize the glutes. 

4. Avoid drastic jumps in training variables.

Since quads bear heavy loads during squatting, take gradual steps when progressing with volume and weight. Prioritize technique at all times, especially early on, while your muscles adapt. 

Gradually adding 5-10 pounds or doing a few more reps each workout helps avoid overloading the quads too quickly.

5. Focus on adequate rest and recovery.

Proper rest and recovery enable muscle repair between sessions. Refrain from squat-focused leg training at least 2-3 times weekly to allow protein synthesis processes time and rebuild any microtears. 

Avoid overtraining by managing overall workload and life demands. Sleep at least 7-9 hours nightly.

6. Drink enough water

Hydration is also vital!

Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water daily and more on squat days to supply muscles and combat inflammation. 

7. Eat high-protein meals

Post-workout protein consumption can also aid recovery. To utilize the muscle protein synthesis window, aim for 20-40 grams of protein within 45 minutes post-squatting.

8. Cool-down after workout

Cooling down effectively after squatting reduces lingering quad muscle damage. Spend 10 minutes doing light cardio to flush lactic acid buildup from the tissues.

Follow it with gentle static stretching while your muscles are warm, including the quads, hip flexors, calves, adductors, and hamstrings. 

FURTHER READING: 9 Best Stretches To Do Before (& After) Squats

9. Post-workout icing and sports massage

These recovery methods can alleviate quad soreness, too. 

Apply ice on your quads for 10-15 minutes (avoid putting it directly on the skin) to reduce acute inflammation. Implements sports massages into your recovery to improve blood flow and repair damage while also relaxing your muscles. 

You can foam roll your tight quads to release myofascial trigger points that amplify pain. Target the IT band, adductors, and quads, focusing on areas of densest tissue.

Strategizing before, during, and after workouts makes managing quad soreness after squatting easier. Tracking soreness levels provides feedback on training effectiveness.

While discomfort may last several days, ongoing pain indicates a need to re-examine programming.

If none of the methods mentioned above work, and your quads remain painful or worse, consult your doctor or a specialist to close out any severe damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I feel squats in my quads?

Squats work the quads, hamstrings, and glutes at the same time. These muscles have different roles in performing a squat. So it’s normal to feel the squats on your quads

If you find they get too sore too often, you should take steps to identify why. This can include being quad dominant, having gluteal amnesia, or performing the squats incorrectly with a lousy form. 

All of these can be a reason for a quad-dominant squat.

Are my legs supposed to be sore after squats?

It is common to experience muscle soreness for 24-72 hours after strenuous squat training, thanks to a phenomenon called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS arises when microscopic tears in muscle fibers occur from the intense eccentric loading of lowering during a squat. 

This muscle fiber breakdown triggers inflammation and discomfort. However, it also initiates the adaptive process, where muscles repair and reinforce it to grow stronger and bigger.

This moderate muscle soreness is. 

Therefore, it is a sign of a productive workout stimulating optimal gains rather than injury as long as it remains acute and does not entirely debilitate you. 

Soreness peaking 1-2 days post-workout before subsiding is normal. Discomfort lasting beyond 3-4 days after your session may signal overdoing volume or load.

Should I stretch a sore quad?

You can stretch sore quads with gentle static and dynamic stretches. It can release tension and improve flexibility. It also facilitates blood flow—and speed recovery. Additionally, you can do sports massage, foam rolling, and kinesiology taping. 

Avoid any stretches causing sharp or radiating knee pain. Introduce stretches very gradually again once acute DOMS subsides. Pain means stop. Use discomfort levels as your guide.

Where should I feel sore after squats?

You should feel soreness in the glutes and quads. You may be getting sore on one of these muscles more than another. This can depend on imbalances, form, weight, depth, and stance. 

What helps sore thighs after squats?

While allowing an acute soreness response from quality training optimizes gains, implementing active recovery and lifestyle strategies helps control excessive discomfort:

  • Light cardio boosts blood flow to clear lactic acid without further taxing muscles.
  • Gentle massage flushes tissues while relaxing muscles. Use rollers or massage tools.
  • Slow static stretching held for 30 seconds alleviates stiffness without risking harm.
  • Ice baths or cold packs reduce inflammatory chemical buildup.
  • Capsaicin creams utilizing chili pepper compounds provide localized pain relief.
  • Stay hydrated to supply nutrients key to repair and avoid cramping.
  • Prioritize sleep to allow muscle protein synthesis time to work.
  • Nutrient-dense anti-inflammatory foods include fatty fish, tart cherry juice, sweet potatoes, and spinach.

Patience truly pays off by allowing soft tissue healing between challenging squat sessions. Recognize that some quad burn means you stimulated optimal strength and size adaptations.

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Alexandra Kovacsova
I'm Alexandra, a UK-based strength coach & rehab specialist. I help people prevent, treat, and resolve pain, improve their movement, and maximize their performance. I share my expertise through writing, offering relevant and scientifically supported content, and practical exercises. In my free time, I train for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and enjoy a honey oat latte at a local coffee shop.

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