Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) at Shift Wellness in NYC, so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.
If you’ve been spending more time sitting on your couch and working from home than hitting the gym the last several months, you’re not alone.
However, all that sitting can lead to tight quads. Thankfully, a few simple stretches can help reduce stiffness and improve mobility—so it’s not difficult to add stretching from home to your to-do list.
Why You Need to Stretch Your Quads
Why stretch? Tight muscles can impede proper body mechanics but take down your standing and sitting posture, contributing to poor alignment that makes you more prone to injury. (And who wants to add an injury to their list of problems?) Stretching has been proven to improve mobility, posture, and optimal body alignment while reducing muscle tension. A good stretch session can also provide a much needed moment of zen on any day.
Your quads could use a stretch because they are probably tighter than you realize. The quads (or quadriceps) consist of four muscles—the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. Together, these muscles make up most of the muscle bulk at the front of your thigh.
While you may feel your quads working most during physical activity (going up or down stairs, squatting or lifting your leg straight out in front of you), simply sitting for a long time with your hips flexed can lead to tightness of these muscles. Tightness at the front of the hips can alter the alignment of the pelvis, which connects to the lumbar spine, which connects to the rest of your spine and your neck, and on and on—yes, it’s all connected—so don’t think quad stretching will only benefit your legs. By regularly incorporating some specific quad-targeting stretches into your day, you can help maintain good mobility in the hips and potentially offset other aches and pains up and down the body that are caused by poor alignment.
The quads are considered a two-joint muscle, meaning they cross two different joints: the hip and the knee. This means that in order to stretch or elongate the muscles properly, you’re going to have to make sure both ends of the muscle are being lengthened.
How do you make a stretch count? As a general rule, there are three ways:
- Stretch regularly
- Hold each stretch at least 30 seconds
- Do it right
Even if the first round of stretches doesn’t feel great, keep doing it. When you make a habit out of stretching, you will feel better—not just when you stretch, but when you move.
The Best Quad Stretches
Below are several versions of a quad stretch that can be performed in different positions depending on your goals and which position is most comfortable. For each stretch:
- Hold each stretch for 2 to 3 sets of at least 30 seconds.
- Breathe. Inhale deeply, then as you exhale, see if you can achieve a slightly deeper stretch.
- Stretches should be slightly uncomfortable at first, but they shouldn’t be painful. Ease into them slowly and do not force yourself to go farther if your body won’t allow it.
Kneeling quad stretch: Begin kneeling on the floor, with right leg in front, left knee on the ground. Hold onto something stable with your right hand to stabilize. Take the arch out of your low back by tucking your pelvis or performing a neutral pelvis or small posterior pelvic tilt (move pubic bone underneath belly button instead of behind it). Grab your left foot with your left hand and gently lift it off the floor, bending the knee until you feel a good stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold. Repeat on the other side.
Prone quad stretch: Begin lying on your stomach. Slowly bend your right knee so that foot moves towards your butt. Using your right hand, grab the ankle of your right leg and slowly draw it closer to your butt without letting your lower back arch. You should feel the stretch at the front of the right hip/thigh/knee. Hold. Repeat on the other side.
Supine quad stretch: Begin lying on your back on an elevated surface (examination table, bench, or even bed/couch). Scoot so your right hip is slightly off the edge of the surface. Allow your right leg to hang off the edge, with knee bent. Perform small posterior pelvic tilt to prevent pelvis from tilting anteriorly and lower back from arching. Hold. Repeat on the other side.
Standing quad stretch: Begin standing, with left hand holding onto a stable object for support. Grab your right ankle with your right hand and draw the foot towards your butt without arching the low back. Perform small posterior pelvic tilt to intensify the stretch. Hold. Repeat on the other side.
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