Stretching is not only for dancers or gymnasts but great for everyone. What we’re going to go through in this article are some simple and effective stretches that you can do to get a good stretch in your quadriceps muscles. These muscles run down the front of your thighs. They’re made up of a group of four heads hence the name quads.
The quadriceps muscles are an important part of the body to stretch out. Stretching this area can be quite difficult. So, we’ll go through the 10 best quad stretches that you can use for relieving tightness and knee pain. Let’s get started.
- 1 What Does Stretching Do To Your Body?
- 2 Quad Anatomy and Functions
- 3 Benefits of Stretching the Quads
- 4 Static and Dynamic Quad Muscle Stretches
- 5 How to Stretch Your Quads: 10 Best Quad Stretches
- 5.1 1. Quadricep Stretch in a Standing Position
- 5.2 2. Dynamic Quadricep Stretch
- 5.3 3. Quadricep Stretch in a Lying Position
- 5.4 4. Quad Stretch With Strap
- 5.5 5. Reverse Nordic Stretch
- 5.6 6. Couch/Wall Quad Stretch
- 5.7 7. Bretzel Stretch
- 5.8 8. Hip Flexor Stretch (Front Lunge)
- 5.9 9. Advanced Lunge
- 5.10 10. Vastus Muscle Stretch
- 6 Our Tips for Good Quad Stretches
- 7 Common Mistakes
- 8 Quad Muscle Stretches: FAQs
What Does Stretching Do To Your Body?
First of all, let’s have a look at the anatomy. Many people think when they stretch they only stretch the muscle but this is not completely the truth. The connective tissue, like the tendons, ligaments, and facia, which basically surround the muscle, plays a crucial role as well. And we can find the connective tissue not only around the muscle but also within.
Wikipedia, for example, defines stretching as a physical exercise in which a muscle or muscle group is flexed or stretched. And we would say this is not completely correct as the connective tissue is not mentioned at all. So what exactly happens?
Firstly, we aim to achieve the maximum lengthening of the muscle. While doing this, the overlap of myosin and actin which are responsible for muscle contraction and relaxation is minimized. Keep in mind that the engagement of the connective tissue is crucial for the benefits we will explain in the following.
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Quad Anatomy and Functions
Your quadricep muscles are in the front of your thigh. Quadriceps literally means four heads. You have four different heads that attach to the quadriceps tendon.
The quadriceps function is to extend your knee out or functionally to help you squat or go up and down stairs. Your quadriceps are important to the function of your knee.
There’s something important you should know about the four different heads of the quadriceps. You’ve got:
- the vastus medialis on the inside or medial side;
- vastus lateralis on the outside;
- the vastus intermedius deep inside your thigh;
- and over top of that, there’s the rectus femoris.
The rectus femoris is different from the other heads. Because it crosses both the knee as well as the hip and so it functions as a hip flexor as well as a knee extensor whereas the other three quad heads are just knee extensors. They just straighten the knee. So, you stretch them a little bit differently.
To stretch the knee extensors, you want to bend or flex your knee. And you need to both extend the hip as well as bend the knee at the same time to stretch the rectus femoris.
Benefits of Stretching the Quads
We have heard often enough about the benefits of stretching on overall fitness and that it’s recommended to almost everyone. Here are some benefits of stretching the quads.
1. Increased Muscle Growth and Strength
Stretching is maybe not the first thing that pops into your head when you think about muscle growth. Facia, which basically consists of collagen, water, different types of sugar, and proteins, encloses the muscle and therefore it can limit the potential growth. But how does stretching increase muscle growth?
When we stretch and stimulate our connective surrounding tissue, we loosen up this whole structure. Then the muscle cells can divide better as they, first of all, have more space and secondly, they have more access to essential micro- and macromolecules for growing.
There is also evidence that the stimulation of the tendons leads to the proliferation of the outer muscle fibers; and obviously, more muscle fibers are more muscle mass. And if our muscles are lengthened to the maximum, we obviously automatically have a greater force-production capability.
2. Increases Your Range of Motion
The muscle tone is dependent on signals from the motoneurons and these signals lead to contractions. When we stretch, we oppose those signals and inhibit motoneuronal signaling and therefore reduce the muscle tone. So the relaxation of the nerves reduces the muscle tone. And that has also an effect on flexibility.
Obviously, contractions minimize your movements while relaxation maximizes them. Just imagine throwing a ball with a tensioned arm, a cramp, or a low range in general, and you will see that you will not throw it very far. And as already mentioned in point one, if you have a longer muscle, you’re also capable of much greater motions. And this, of course, has an effect on your susceptibility to injuries.
3. Less Soreness and Muscle Pain
A high-intensity workout can lead to muscle damage and therefore inflammations. Stretching leads to a higher blood flow within the muscle and therefore to a faster recovery as the inflammatory cytokines can be flushed out faster and the recovery process shortens.
Also, more oxygen can reach the muscle and reduce the acceleration of, for example, lactate, and prefer the aerobic energy production.
Static and Dynamic Quad Muscle Stretches
There are two basic types of stretching: static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching is when you hold a gentle stretch for 30 seconds or more. This elongates a muscle. The second type of stretching that we do is called dynamic stretching that increases blood flow to the extremities.
Do dynamic stretching before a workout but after the warm-up and static stretching after the workout. Keep in mind to do everything cautiously, clean and only if you’re warmed up. Stretching has many positive effects on your health and also on your athletic performance, so don’t underestimate it! Let’s get into the 10 quad muscle stretches.
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How to Stretch Your Quads: 10 Best Quad Stretches
1. Quadricep Stretch in a Standing Position
The most common quadricep stretch is where you stand up nice and tall. You hold on to a surface to make sure you’re steady. If you have a good balance, you don’t have to hold onto anything. And then you just bring your foot up to your buttocks, and as you’re doing that you’re reaching back and holding on to your foot.
Your knees are in line with each other. Make sure the top of your leg is not going forward and your knee is pointed downwards or even slightly back a little bit. That will give you that extra stretch there. Hold this stretch for 60 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Do it 3 times.
2. Dynamic Quadricep Stretch
Another way to stretch out the quadriceps is a dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretches are when you move your body part to get a deeper stretch in that area.
What you’re going to do is stand up nice and tall. And then you’re just going to do some bump kicks. By doing that you’re getting a deeper stretch in your quadriceps muscles.
You’re up nice and tall, shoulders back and down. And then you’re just doing bump kicks. Lift up as far as you can. You are going to feel that stretch in the quadriceps and the muscles working as well.
3. Quadricep Stretch in a Lying Position
You can do stretches in a lying position on your bed or on the floor. Stretching the quadriceps in a lying position is exactly the same as what you did in the standing position. It just makes it comfortable and easier as you don’t have to stand on one leg which means you’re not testing that balance.
Lying on the stomach you’re going to put your upper body in the most comfortable position. You can put your elbow underneath if you want to. Gently bring the arm back and pull your ankle to your buttocks. Hold on feeling the stretch in the front of those thighs.
You’re going to hold this stretch for 30 seconds and then you’re going to do the same on the other leg as well.
4. Quad Stretch With Strap
The next way you’re going to stretch out those quadriceps is even a little bit easier than the previous stretch is by doing it in a lying position again. You’re going to do it on your stomach. However, you can do it in a side-lying position as well.
You are going to use a resistance band or a belt. You’re going to place the end loop of the resistance band around your ankle. Once you’ve done that and it’s facing behind you, take a lie down on your stomach and get yourself comfortable.
Once you’re lying down, you’re going to lift your leg up and place the resistance band over your shoulder. And you just gently pull on the resistance band. Do that until you feel a good stretch in your quadriceps muscles. Hold that for 60 seconds and then you’re going to do the same thing on the other leg. Make sure your legs are not pointing inward or outward and it’s coming directly up.
The good thing about using the resistance band for that stretch is that you don’t need to reach behind you to grab onto your leg which can be an issue. If you’ve got any shoulder issues, you don’t have that range to reach behind.
You can also vary the stretch. As your arms are only a certain length, you have to lift the leg all the way up. But when you’re using the belt you can adjust it which means it’s a good thing if you’ve got issues with flexibility in your left knee and in those quadriceps.
5. Reverse Nordic Stretch
The next stretch is called the reverse Nordic stretch. To get into starting position, what you are going to do is go kneeling on the ground and get your toes tucked underneath. You’re just going to lean back with your hands resting on your heels behind you. You might already feel a quad stretch there closer to the knee.
You’re going to start massaging your quadriceps. Use your thumbs, fingertips, and fists to rock your quads a little bit side to side. Start to notice exactly where there might be some tightness or perhaps some soreness.
If you want to advance this stretch, what you do is you’re going to push your hips upwards off the ground. Engage your glutes and lift your hips up towards the ceiling keeping a straight plank. For balance, some of the weight can be on your arms.
Hold this position for 5 seconds and then lower yourself back down to the floor. Repeat this exercise 10 times. You might feel that more in the hip flexor and upper quad like the rectus femoris.
If you just want to lean back, you might feel a good quad stretch in the bulk of the muscle belly, so play around with it and see what works for you. Some people can go all the way down to the floor without having to use their hands as support.
6. Couch/Wall Quad Stretch
The next stretch is a couch stretch. We call this a couch stretch because that’s going to be performed right on the edge of the couch. What you are going to do is pop your left leg onto a couch. Lean forward so you feel a nice good stretch in that quad muscle.
Keep your glute engaged and your torso nice and tall. You’re going to be stretching out your left quad and hip flexor. The closer your knee is to the wall/box/bench/couch, the more intense stretch is going to be.
If you want to stretch more of the three muscles that don’t cross the hip joint, you’re just going to lean back and feel that good quad stretch. If you want to stretch more of the rectus femoris, you’re going to lean the hips forward, so you get more of a hip flexor stretch and more of an upper quad stretch.
7. Bretzel Stretch
The next stretch is the bretzel stretch. This stretch is designed to release the tension in your quadricep muscles or your thighs. It’s a pretty advanced and active quad stretch.
You’re going to bring the feet apart the width of your mat. Drop both knees over towards the right. You’re going to bring up the left leg to lock out your lumbar spine and pelvis. You’re going to grab the right leg to rotate your spine. You should feel a light stretch through your leg muscles.
8. Hip Flexor Stretch (Front Lunge)
Start in a lunge position. The leg that you want to stretch is going to stay down. Bring the other leg forward so you look like you’re in the lunge. Keep your upper body straight. Don’t lean forward but keep it up. And then lean forward with your hips until you feel a gentle stretch through there. Hold that stretch for 60 seconds.
You can bring both hands up onto your knee. Also, you can have a chair or a wall close by to hold on to. You should feel a deep stretch in your lumbar region and your thigh muscles.
9. Advanced Lunge
Start in a lunge position. You are going to step your left foot forwards staying up on your fingertips and then tucking your back toes on the right foot. You’re going to lift the right knee and do the little pulses up and down with your hips.
For some extra stretches, you can squeeze it through that back glute. That will probably help you feel it a little bit more in the front of the right thigh and hip flexor.
Then you can set your right knee down gently pressing the hips down towards the floor. You can be down on your palms or up on the fingertips or on blocks. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re feeling the stretch.
You’re going to go even a little bit deeper. Reach your back foot with your right hand and just move it forwards and back. If that’s not available, another great option is to use a strap or a resistance band. If none of that works for today, you can just stay in that low lunge and leave the right foot where it is. You’re going to switch sides.
10. Vastus Muscle Stretch
Let’s get into the last variation to stretch the vastus muscles. You need to bend your left knee all the way and pull it towards the chest. A lot of people don’t think of this as a quad stretch. But if you try to bend your left knee just by sitting and pulling it, you will stretch those muscles and get an increased range of motion in your knee.
This is a good stretch for those three quadriceps heads because your hip is bent and flexed. But it doesn’t stretch the rectus femoris. However, if your goal is to stretch the vastus intermedius and to get more knee bending, then this is a good stretch for that.
Our Tips for Good Quad Stretches
1. Look at Your Body as a Whole
Usually, we can get caught in the trap of just thinking we have tight hamstrings or tight pecs. We actually need to make sure we’re looking at the body in a bigger picture.
Each part of the body is influenced by another part. It’s like a giant chain reaction. If you have tight hamstrings, they could actually be tight because you’ve got a tight lower back, tight arches in your feet, or even tight hip flexors.
When it comes to stretching, we want to make sure we’re stretching as many muscle groups as we can and not just focusing all of our energy on one muscle group because we think that area is tight.
A great way to tackle this when you’re doing your stretching routine is to try to work from the bottom of the body up or from the top of the body down. If you just work your way down the chain, you know that you’re going to be targeting every area that you need to.
2. Use Equipment
Equipment will help to take your stretching and flexibility to the next level. We are only going to focus on a few pieces that are a great addition to your stretching routine.
1. A foam roller
It is super popular. You’ve probably seen them at a lot of studios or gyms or maybe even on Youtube. They are a great way to improve the elasticity of muscles.
If we think about a muscle belly, there’s something called fascia around that muscle. Fascia is almost like a glad wrap or a cling wrap that is wrapped around the muscle to keep everything together. This fascia can actually become tight. This can inhibit or prevent our muscles from stretching further.
Using a foam roller helps to massage and release the fascia so it’s able to stretch even further. Just a little side note, fascia can actually become dehydrated if we’re not drinking enough water. When this happens, this can cause it to tighten up and become quite stiff. So, make sure you are drinking enough water as well and hydrating those muscles and fascia.
2. A trigger ball
This is great for releasing muscle knots and any tension we might feel in the muscle belly. When our muscles contract, we have muscle fibers that run parallel to each other. Sometimes these fibers can get a little bit stuck and knotted up creating muscle knots. And sometimes these knots can be quite painful to touch and they can stop the flexibility of our muscles.
A trigger ball is a great way to massage that knot and help those fibers to run parallel with each other again. So, we use the trigger ball by firstly finding our muscle knot, placing the ball on the knot, and then gently massaging either in circular or up and down motions to release that tension.
It can be a little bit painful to start off with. So you can start with a softer ball like a tennis ball and then slowly work your way up to a firmer ball something like a hockey ball or even a professional trigger ball.
3. A cushion
If you don’t have a firm cushion, you can also use something like a couple of folded-up towels. You can use this as a support or a prop for your stretching. Especially if you’re a little less flexible, a cushion can be a great prop to use to make stretches more comfortable to hold.
4. A strap
Our final piece of equipment is a strap or you can also use something like a skipping rope or a long towel. This is a great addition especially if you feel like some stretches are hard to hold and you need a little extra pull.
1. Tilting the Pelvis
The biggest mistake that people make when they’re stretching hip flexors and quads is they allow their pelvis to anteriorly tilt forward. This means they allow their lower back to arch when they’re doing that stretch.
In essence, what that does is it takes the stretch off of the hip flexors which is the very muscle group that you’re trying to stretch with this static stretch. If you’re dumping your pelvis forward arching your back, you’re not even going to feel a hip flexor stretch at all.
The way that you want to do it correctly is to maintain a neutral pelvis or even a posterior tilted pelvis. Squeeze your abs and make sure that your lower back is almost flat.
2. Stretching Before Warm-up
The next common mistake is to do the majority of your passive stretching before a workout. It’s common knowledge that a cold muscle does not release and stretch well.
The aim of your warm-up should be to slowly increase your heart rate which will raise your body temperature and increase the blood flow to your muscles. Increasing the blood flow to your muscles will help to oxygenate and prepare them for the workout.
A warmer muscle improves its elasticity without even stretching which will reduce the risk of strain and tears. A warmed-up muscle will contract more easily and relax more quickly so your speed and strength will be improved. You need to do an active warming-up process to help release excessive tension in key areas.
After a workout is when you should focus your stretching efforts. The body is warm and as you’re cooling down you’re asking the muscles to maintain that quad flexibility that you gain during the workout.
We recommend you focus on one muscle group at a time and commit to stretching it daily after a workout. Stretching a warm muscle will produce better results.
Quad Muscle Stretches: FAQs
How do you stretch tight quads?
All quadricep heads do knee extension, so you stretch them out by bending the knee. However, the rectus femoris does the extension and some of that hip flexion as well. So in order to stretch it, we have to bend the knee and go into hip extension as well.
Does stretching quads help?
The quadriceps are a very important part of the body to stretch out. Try to do our 10 basic quad stretches each week and you will feel much better.