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November 02, 2022
Are your tight quads leading to pain, lower body discomfort, and movement limitations? The quad muscle group, located on the front of your thigh, is responsible for many essential lower body movements, and when they become tight, it can lead to issues far beyond soreness.
In fact, unstretched quads can lead to tight hip flexors, which results in pain in the lumbar spine. And as they grow tighter, they can make basic movements feel more uncomfortable, leading to you becoming more sedentary. Since the less you move, the more likely you may be to lose muscle mass and gain weight, we want to avoid this.
The good news is that by making an effort to move more throughout the day and incorporating quad stretches into your routine, you can eliminate the tightness and discomfort, becoming more mobile and feeling better overall.
Whether your lifestyle is active or sedentary (or somewhere in between), there are a variety of ways to stretch the quads to improve tightness and movement quality. We're about to discuss them, in addition to covering:
Incorporate these 10 best quad stretches into your routine and start moving better.
The quads, anatomically named the quadriceps femoris muscle, are located at the anterior (front) portion of the thigh. The quadriceps, translating to “four-headed muscle” include four muscles: rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius.
Although each individual muscle differs in its origin, they share one insertion of the quadriceps femoris tendon, which attaches to the patella (knee cap). The quadriceps femoris’ function is to extend the leg at the knee joint and flex the thigh at the hip joint.
The surrounding muscles of the quads, sartorius, adductors, and iliopsoas, share similar functions and are in the same region of the thigh. The sartorius flexes the hip and knee, serving as a stabilizer for the pelvis.
The adductor complex pulls the thighs together, flexes and rotates the thigh, and stabilizes the pelvis. The iliopsoas maintains the strength and integrity of the hip joint and flexes and rotates the thigh as well as flexes the trunk at the hip joint.
This muscle is important for your body’s posture and alignment. These muscles, in addition to the quadriceps, work together in quad-dominant movements and are notorious for developing stiffness and soreness as a unit.
A sedentary lifestyle that requires prolonged sitting or standing can increase tightness of the upper legs over time. You may start to notice recurring tightness when moving less in your day-to-day routine. Prolonged sitting may also lead to stiff hip flexors, causing low back discomfort.
It's important to note that if you do sit a lot, incorporating glute stretches into your routine is equally important. Otherwise, they can become inactive, which may lead to anterior pelvic tilt or posterior pelvic tilt.
Another cause of tight quads is delayed onset muscle soreness (also known as DOMS) from cardio or strength training. Strenuous exercise with limited time for muscle recovery can lead to tightness and soreness.
Allow 24-48 hours between intense strength training sessions to ensure proper recovery of the muscles. Proper hydration, nutrition, and moderate movement between sessions will increase your body’s ability to properly recover.
Recognize your quad tightness with the following bodily cues:
Stretching, whether it’s static or dynamic, is an optimal way to relieve quad tightness. Stretching tight muscles increases blood flow to the desired area, which supplies the muscle with oxygen and nutrients to aid in recovery and stimulate muscle repair. Movement really is the answer when relieving muscle tightness.
Other therapeutic techniques like foam rolling, cupping therapy, percussive therapy, and muscle scraping are shown to improve muscle repair. These techniques aren’t always accessible, but in the case that they are, they can help you feel less tight while improving your mobility.
Regardless of whether you choose to try these additional techniques, stretching is an essential baseline to keep incorporating into a daily routine. As an added incentive, it’s accessible and free.
The best way to alleviate quad tightness is to stretch them regularly, particularly when they’re feeling sore, during days of limited movement, and around your workout (pre and post). A regular stretching routine, like a daily morning stretching routine, is a great way to wake your body up and head into the day with primed muscles.
If you know your day will be more sedentary, plan to incorporate stretches. When warming up for your workout, use dynamic stretching techniques. After your workout, incorporate static stretches to help offset symptoms of DOMS. (More on static and dynamic stretching below).
With these quad stretching implementations, they’ll be dependent on how your quads feel. The sorer you feel, the more attention you’ll need to give them to reduce discomfort and stiffness. All in all, movement is medicine and stretching will help improve your mobility as a whole.
Let’s explore the best static and dynamic quad stretches.
We've separated these stretches for the quad muscles into static and dynamic stretches. Static stretching is best done after a workout as cool-down exercises, while dynamic stretching is great pre-workout to help loosen your legs.
Before digging into the static stretches, it's important you know how to long to stretch. The “sweet spot” for holding a static stretch is 20-60 seconds. Depending on your preference, hold each stretch for either 1 round of 60 seconds, 2 rounds of 30 seconds, or 3 rounds of 20 seconds.
If you choose to complete the stretch in one round, you’ll find that you can ease your way into the stretch and relax. If you favor multiple rounds of 2-3, try to stretch deeper into the stretch with every round.
This stretch is an accessible way to target the quads in a prone (lying face down) position. If you're more flexible and have been stretching for some time, a progression to this stretch is to lift your quad off of the ground during this exercise. Be mindful of your low back when you lift your leg off of the ground.
Another progression to the lying quad stretch is stretching both quads at the same time. Reach back and pull both of your feet toward your glutes. No matter which version you choose, rest your forehead or the side of your face on the mat, keeping your neck neutral.
Finally, you can also change the angle of this stretch by performing the lying side quad stretch. Perform the same movements, just on your side instead of your stomach.
How to do the Lying Quad Stretch:
Similar to the lying quad stretch, the standing quad stretch can be done almost anywhere and anytime. This pose in yoga is called dancer pose. It's a good stretch that will help offset DOMS after you finish a squats packed workout.
How to do the Standing Quad Stretch With Balance Assistance:
The standing quad stretch without assistance can be a balance challenge. If you're struggling with balance, it could be a sign that your stabilizer muscles need to be strengthened.
A progression to standing quad stretch is dancers pose with no assistance. Complete dancers pose while reaching your other arm in front of you to keep balance.
How to do the Standing Quad Stretch:
To perform the supported one leg quad deep stretch, find a box or a bench that is a little lower than hip height. Take your time to sink into this stretch, and we promise your quadricep muscles will thank you, particularly after using heavy weights during goblet squats.
How to do the Supported One Leg Quad Deep Stretch:
For comfort and to alleviate knee pain, you may want to consider using a mat and additional padding for your knees when performing the kneeling quad stretch. This move will help relieve muscle tension and tightness, making it one of our favorite quadriceps stretches.
How to do the Kneeling Quad Stretch:
Common in yoga practice, the seated quad stretch targets both quads at the same time. If you'd like a progression to deepen the stretch, once you're in the seated quad stretch pose, walk your hands back and slightly lean your torso backward.
This exercise would be great to include in a decompression flow post-workout.
How to do the Seated Quad Stretch:
Once your flexibility has improved and you'd like to progress with this exercise, you can send your hips up and create an arch in your back, similar to a bridge position. Make sure to squeeze your glutes to protect your lower back through the arched pose.
How to do the Lean Back Seated Quadricep Stretch:
Dynamic stretches differ from static stretches due to their increased repetitions and faster pace. Dynamic stretches are typically performed in 10-20 repetitions or in 60-90 second bouts.
It is recommended to dedicate 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to exercise. The below stretches can all be done as static stretches as long as the static stretching guidelines are met.
The kneeling quad stretch can be both static and dynamic. We like it as a dynamic exercise to warm the lower body before targeting our quads with the split squat.
For proper form, it's important to maintain a neutral lower back and focus on aligning your hips by squeezing your glutes. Consider adding padding underneath the knee that is in contact with the floor for additional comfort.
How to do the Kneeling Quad and Hip Flexor Stretch:
You can use this movement to get a deep adductor stretch, which will help loosen your inner thighs prior to performing inner thigh exercises.
To do this, position your arms on the inside of your legs and slightly push your legs outward at the bottom of the deep squat stretch. Practice proper squatting mechanics with each repetition.
How to do the Deep Squat Stretch:
The side lunge stretch is great, but if you're looking for some variation, start with your feet together and step into an alternating lateral lunge stretch. This is a great way to target the inner thighs, quads, and glutes.
A progression to stepping into the lunge is adding a balance component. After rotating and reaching toward the lunging leg, come back to center and hover your leg in high knee. The hover will help you tap into balance and activate the hip flexors.
How to do the Side Lunge Stretch:
When you stretch and how often you stretch depends on your lifestyle, workout routine, and how your quads feel. If you have a sedentary job and experience quad tightness, perform 1-2 quad stretches 1-2 times throughout your work day.
If you find that you’re having trouble staying consistent with stretching throughout your work day, stretch in the morning or right before bed. Depending on your workout routine, priming the quads pre workout and stretching post workout is recommended for leg workouts and cardio workouts.
Incorporating 2-3 quad dominant dynamic stretches pre-workout and 2-3 static quad stretches post workout can decrease quad stiffness after your workout. The amount of time spent warming up and cooling down will be dependent on how your quads feel and the degree of soreness you’re experiencing.
Trust us, your quads will appreciate the extra attention after performing a gym session packed with quad exercises.
When completing your dynamic stretches, choose your designated repetitions per movement or a total time cap. The most important part of dynamic stretching is to keep moving and to feel “warmed up” once completed. About 5-10 minutes of ongoing dynamic stretching is plenty to get your muscles primed for some dumbbell quad exercises.
As for static stretches, the goal is to hold one quad stretch for one full minute to get into a deeper stretch. This can either be completed in one round for a full minute or 20-30 seconds or repeated for 2-3 rounds. Allow yourself to stretch deeper as your stretch time progresses.
Remember, dynamic stretching should be done to loosen your muscles before you work out. Static stretches should be performed post workout to help alleviate tight muscles and soreness.
Let's put any lingering quad stretch questions you may have to rest by answering these frequently asked questions.
There are a number of stretches to choose from when you are experiencing quad tightness. The best quad stretches are the ones you’ll stay consistent with. Incorporate these stretches into your daily routine and you'll begin moving optimally with less discomfort and stiffness.
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