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Home > Stretches > Quadriceps Stretch

Quadriceps Stretch

Setup

Stand next to something that you can lean against to maintain your balance.  To stretch your right quadricepsquadriceps stretch standing

  1. place your left hand on the wall (or chair, or whatever you’re leaning on)
  2. reach behind you with your right hand
  3. contract your right hamstrings to bring your right ankle to your right hand. 

You should now be standing perfectly upright on your left leg, steadying yourself against a wall with your left hand, and grasping your right ankle with your right hand.

Execution

  1. Pull your right ankle closer to your butt by contracting your right bicep
  2. Hold for between 30-120 seconds, repeat for the opposite leg
  3. For maximum efficacy, do the quadriceps stretch 3 times per leg (a “set”).  Don’t do more than 2 sets per leg per day, with at least 8 hours between sets.

Tips

  1. To make this quadriceps stretch even better, turn it into a PNF quadriceps stretch.  To execute a PNF quadriceps stretch, do the above quadriceps stretch for 30-60 seconds and then while continuing to hold the same quadriceps stretch position, gently contract the quadriceps for 5-10 seconds (think of driving your ankle harder into your hand).  Once the contraction is over, immediately increase the quadriceps stretch by pulling harder on your ankle.  You’ll find you’re suddenly able to stretch the quadriceps a bit further.  This is because the muscle contraction relaxed your quadriceps, making your quadriceps temporarily more flexible. The standing quadriceps stretch is the best quadriceps stretch one can do because it gives you the most control over the stretch.
  2. Your right knee will naturally move to the outside slightly as you do this quadriceps stretch, away from your other leg as you pull on your ankle.  To increase the quadriceps stretch, counteract this tendency by pulling your right knee back to midline, such that your thighs are again parallel to one another.lying quad stretch
  3. If you can bring your heel all the way to your butt without feeling much of a quadriceps stretch, your quadriceps are not tighter-than-optimal and there’s really no need for you to be stretching your quadriceps.  Nonetheless, if you wish to stretch your quadriceps further, once your heel is touching your butt, tilt your pelvis back slowly and gently (the same motion you’d use if humping something – that’s right, I said it) without actually leaning forward or backward with your torso.
  4. People often lean forward when doing this stretch in an attempt to increase the quadriceps stretch.  What they’re actually doing without even realizing it is increasing the angle between the femur of the quadriceps stretching leg and the pelvis (i.e., moving the knee farther back relative to the ilium).  The forward-leaning itself makes it a bit easier to do this, but is, on its own, not increasing the quadriceps stretch and thus technically unnecessary.
  5. You can perform this same stretch lying face-down or lying on your side.  I cannot recommend the one yoga pose that requires you to sit on your ankles as some people lack the flexibility to prevent this pose from stretching the ligaments in and around the knee.Quadriceps Muscle Stretch Rectus Femoris

Background

The quadriceps is actually not a single muscle, but a muscle group composed of four muscles (hence the “quad”).  Contracting in unison, these four muscles straighten the knee joint with an internal force exceeding 1000 lbs in the average adult.  One of these four muscles, the rectus femoris, is unlike the others in an important way: it attaches to the pelvis which means in addition to extending the knee it also assists the psoas and TFL muscles in flexion of the hip (think of raising your knee to your chest, that’s the hip flexion motion).  What this means for someone looking to do a quadriceps stretch is that the classic quadriceps stretch described above is not stretching the whole quadriceps, but rather ¾ of it.  To stretch the rectus femoris you need to combine a quadriceps stretch with a hip stretch as, for example, is explained in the Floota.com article on psoas stretching.

Who should do a quadriceps stretch?  Notwithstanding the current debate over the benefits of stretching, and, more specifically, the benefits of “static” stretching, anyone without full range of motion in their quadriceps may benefit from a quadriceps stretch.  Full range of motion for the quadriceps is generally defined as being able to touch your heel to your butt.

When is the quadriceps muscle used?  All the time.  Walking, running, cycling, ascending and descending stairs, etc.  This constant use of the quadriceps is the reason why even people who spend most of their day sitting down in front of a computer have relatively strong quadriceps (but relatively weak hamstrings).  Use of the quadriceps is accentuated when ascending stairs if you lean forward at the same time, which most people do naturally.  Avoid this temptation, it can stress the knee joint and, besides, it makes the butt and hamstrings do less work, and most individuals in modern society have relatively weak and/or inhibited butt and hamstring muscles by virtue of their sedentary lifestyles.  Stand bolt upright when ascending stairs to get a proper balance of work between the gluteus, quadriceps, and hamstring muscle groups.

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Hamstring Stretch
  2. Plank Exercise

References

  1. Beeble’s Fitness Blog: The Quadriceps Stretch
  2. Wikipedia’s quadriceps article
  3. Brunnstrom’s Clinical Kinesiology 312-14, 318 (Smith et al., eds., F.A. Davis 5th ed. 1996).

Last Updated: 5/29/2011
Originally Posted: 8/14/2010