The Importance of a Great Quad Stretch
Whether you’re getting ready for a long 26.2 mile run or you’re working in the gym specifically to build your quadricep muscles, the right stretching program is integral to any training regime and more often than not is left out. Additional to static
Additionally, dynamic stretching during a warm-up before a boxing match helps to improve versatility and movement in your muscles so that you can dance around your opponent, avoid blows, and deliver more power with your hits.
The primary function of the quadriceps is to help with knee motion. You have four separate muscles that make up the quadriceps: your rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the vastus lateralis. You use your quads whenever you straighten and bend your knee joint. Your quads are involved in almost every movement of your leg, working alongside other muscles like the hamstrings, and the glutes to promote efficient running, jumping, and balance. Some common quad exercises include squats, the leg press and lunges; basically, quadricep exercises are anything that gets the slow-twitch muscle fibers or fast-twitch fibers in your leg muscles moving.
Our quadricep muscles can easily become inflamed, painful, and tight with frequent use. You may even experience quadriceps tendinopathy, which is inflammation of the tendons connecting your quadricep muscles to your knee joint. Quadriceps tendinopathy can cause knee pain during exercises or daily living activities that incorporate knee extension and knee flexion, such as bending over and picking something up.
Overcompensation from a quadricep issue can cause knee pain, and even lead to a condition called Chondromalacia patellae, or “runner’s knee.” As all of your quadricep muscles, especially the rectus femoris, play a key role in knee flexion and knee extension, it’s essential to make time for quadricep stretches. And don’t even get us started on the importance of a good hamstring stretch. Stretching your hamstrings is a whole other conversation that we will have in a future blog post.
By ensuring you warm up before performing quadricep exercises, and incorporate quadriceps stretches and have the correct strengthening program, you reduce your risk of injury and encourage recovery. There are two main forms of stretching that we are going to talk about today, (there are other forms such as PNF and ballistic stretching that we will leave for another time) static stretching, which most people are familiar with, and dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching includes movement and is often paired with warm-up exercises like jogging on the spot, and skipping.
Static quadricep stretches
Standing Quad Stretch
This stretch is probably the most common quadriceps stretch going. When my clients are questioned at my Cardiff Massage Clinic about their current stretching routines this stretch is often on the list. While this is an effective stretch one of the biggest draws and benefits of this stretch is that it can easily be done in most situations, it is also one of the most poorly performed stretches going.
The most common mistake people make when performing a standing quad stretch is that they will arch their back and twist the spine as they perform this stretch. Usually this occurs as an attempt to reach the foot with their arm.
The better and I correct way to perform this stretch is to begin with the knee bent and the thigh positioned in front of the body. This places the foot under the hip making it easier to reach. From this position the key is to gently pull up on the foot to take the slack out of the quad. Then while maintaining this tension the client can bring the thigh into extension until they feel a comfortable stretch. To increase the stretch the hips can be slightly pushed forward. Holding on to a chair or wall is fine.
With the quad pre-tensioned the thigh will rarely get all the way behind the body. And it doesn’t need to. The goal is only to feel a stretch. This is an important point that athletes should take into consideration.
Kneeling Lunge with Quad Focus
The classic Kneeling Lunge Stretch can easily be modified to increase the intensity of the stretch and to shift the focus even more towards the quads. This can be done by elevating the back foot off of then floor. This stretch can be particularly effective where there is restriction between the rectus femoris and the vasti group of muscles. Please note this is an intense stretch. The additional knee flexion will further load the quads and create a deeper stretch. You can vary the height to which the foot is raised to match the capacity of the patient. Other than the raised foot, the execution of the stretch is the same as the Kneeling Lunge Stretch as described above.
As a side note, many patients will ask if they can simply reach around and hold the foot up with their arm. I advise against this as it complicates the stretch and usually causes the spine to rotate and extend.
Side Lying Quad Stretch
The Side Lying Quad Stretch is very similar to the Standing Quad Stretch, but is performed in a non-weight bearing posture. This is a great option for patients/clients who have difficulty standing on one leg. It can also be helpful for people who have trouble keeping their back and spine in the correct alignment while standing. Other than the side lying position the stretch is performed in the same manner. Start with the thigh in front, pre-tension the quad by pulling the foot towards the hip, then bring the thigh back.
Performing a posterior pelvic tilt and/or an abdominal brace can be a helpful addition for those patients with a tendency to hyper-extend the lower back.
Prone Quad AIS Stretch
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) utilizes the contraction of opposing muscles groups in combination with passive assistance to achieve a deeper stretch. I often used these stretches with muscle imbalances where there is a tight agonist along with a weak antagonist. To perform an AIS stretch for the quad begin in a prone position with a stiff strap around one foot. The other end of the strap is held in the hand. Now actively pull the foot towards the hip. At the top of the motion gently pull the foot further towards the hip. This does not need to be a hard pull. It should be just enough to increase the stretch in the quad.
Hold for 2 seconds then straighten the knee. Perform 10-15 repetitions.
Dynamic quadricep stretches.
Walking Lunges Stretch
Although not strictly a quad exercise/ warm up, the walking lung does use a lot of front of thigh muscles, along with glutes and hamstrings. The walking Lunge exercise takes any other version of a lunge to the next level.
Walking Lunges improves your overall strength not only in your legs, but also in your core. The additional walking motion added to the traditional lunge brings cardiovascular benefits also, making the list of benefits to this lower body workout grow. This is a perfect exercise to use in a pre workout situation.
Stand tall in front of a long and clear walkway, a track is ideal to perform this exercise. Your feet should be hip-width apart, your chest up, and your core and glutes engaged and tort. Take a big step forwards with your left foot, lowering until both your knees are bent at 90° and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Push off of your back (right) foot, bring it forwards and step straight into another forward lunge. You can come back to a standing position in between, and that’s a good place to start with the walking lunge. Make sure you keep your torso upright and core braced as you move. Either count each step as a rep or work by distance or time.
Front to Back Leg Swing – hamstrings, glutes, quads
Again this isn’t just a dynamic quad stretch, it also uses predominantly hamstring and gluteus, but certainly does target the big muscles at the from of the leg. Begin by supporting yourself with one arm while swinging your opposite leg forward then backward. Keep your leg straight as it moves forward and stretches the hamstrings then as it comes back try to kick yourself in the butt to stretch the quads. With each swing you should take the stretch a bit further. So start slow and build up the rhythm. This exercise isn’t about speed, so keep it controlled.
When to Use Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching is particularly useful during your pre-exercise warm-up because the stretches simulate the movements you will perform while exercising. I advise all my clients to dynamic stretch before training/workout, If engaging in sports that heavily involve your quads, such as running, jumping, kicking and squatting, smooth dynamic stretches will ease tightness in your quads through your full range of motion. In addition, dynamic stretches stimulate your quads’ stretch reflexes to prepare them for quick, explosive movements. On the other hand, static stretching is more suited to improving overall quad flexibility and should be performed in its own session.
Interested in receiving sports therapy treatment from me at my Cardiff sports massage clinic, where I perform deep tissue work, rehabilitation and injury prevention amongst other treatments? Then why not get in touch 07798564177 or you can book direct through my website.