Have you ever heard that you need to keep your legs elevated after a hard training session to maximize recovery? And have you been doing it? Let’s take a closer look at how this is supposed to work and whether it really works or is just another cycling myth.

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What leg elevation supposedly does

Elevation of the legs as a concept was created to solve several issues. It was thought that after a hard training session the blood would pool in your leg muscles unless you elevated them. This would cause all the built-up lactic acid and metabolic waste to stay in your legs and slow down recovery. Raising legs above the heart was supposed to facilitate better circulation that would bring freshly oxygenated blood along with nutrients back to leg muscles instead of all that bad stuff.

The heart of a healthy person can circulate blood against gravity with no problems. © Profimedia

Myth busted

Unfortunately, this is not exactly what happens inside your legs. This myth was probably started because ultradistance cyclists sometimes develop swelling on their ankles due to lymph and the fluid outside of cells pooling there as a result of the constant pull of gravity. Elevating legs in this scenario will indeed help reduce the swelling. Blood, on the other hand, is not affected by gravity in this way, the heart of a healthy person can circulate blood against gravity with no problems. If someone needed help to transfer blood out of extremities, it would be due to a medical problem, not as a result of a hard training session.

How it actually works

The lactate that’s produced in your legs during exercise is automatically and constantly circulated throughout the whole body to be broken down and used for energy in muscle cells. So, you don’t need to worry about lactate after exercise, normal aerobic metabolism will sort it out without any effort required on your part.

If someone needed help to transfer blood out of extremities, it would be due to a medical problem, not as a result of a hard training session. © Profimedia

Should you ever elevate your legs?

Elevating can help as a preventative measure against swelling as mentioned above. It can be especially effective in combination with compression clothing. But if you do choose to elevate your legs, then make sure to sit up or walk around for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so. But your normal training sessions should not result in swelling, that might be a warning sign that something is wrong. Additionally, even though elevating your legs won’t have any magical recovery effects, it can make you rest more. There are certain athletes that find it hard to slow down and get enough rest so, if you’re one of them, keep elevating your legs after training, or better yet, take a nap and your recovery will get a real boost.

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