Quadriceps stretches typically involve bending the working leg and drawing the working foot toward the buttocks. While standard quad stretches are highly effective, bending the leg in such an extreme manner can lead to significant discomfort in the knee. If you have limited range of motion in your knees or experience knee pain with standard bent-knee stretches, use an alternate exercise to lengthen and loosen your quads.
The quadriceps -- a group of four muscles located in front of your thigh – control knee extension. One of those muscles, the rectus femoris, connects at the hip and assists with hip flexion. The quads can tighten and shorten from overuse or as a result of sitting for long periods of time. If you’re an athlete, tight quads can hinder your performance and leave you susceptible to various sports-related injuries, including quadriceps strain and patellofemoral pain, or runner's knee.
Stretching when your quads are already warm helps prevent injury and can lead to a deeper, more effective stretch. Ideally, you should stretch after a general physical workout when your thigh muscles are already warm and supple. Alternatively, walk briskly for 10 minutes to raise your core body temperature and increase blood flow to your leg muscles. Complete a series of 10 to 15 low-intensity dynamic leg swings to the front and back to further warm up your quads and loosen up your hips.
Bob Anderson, author of “Stretching,” recommends a quad stretch that requires no bending of the knees. Extend your right leg behind you and place the foot on an elevated surface, such as a bed, desk or table. Keep your torso upright and align your left hip over your left heel. Direct your hips and the toes of your left foot forward. Tighten your gluteal muscles and imagine extending the top of your right leg forward through the front of your hip. You should feel light tension along your right hip and quads. You're stretching the rectus femoris specifically, so the stretch might feel different than a bent-knee stretch that targets the entire quad group. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds, and then repeat on the left.
Tips and Warning
If you have trouble balancing, grasp a nearby chair or wall for light support. Stretch slowly, gradually moving into and out of the stretch position. Breathing throughout the exercise can help you achieve a deeper, more effective stretch, so inhale and exhale deeply and at regular intervals. Avoid bouncing or jerking, which can lead to further tightening of muscles, and minimize movement elsewhere in your body. If you can bend your standing knee slightly, do so if you wish to increase the intensity of the stretch.
- American Council on Exercise: Side-Lying Quadriceps Stretch
- Stretching: 30th Anniversary Edition; Bob Anderson
- ExRx.net: Quadriceps
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Muscle Strains in the Thigh
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Runner's Knee (Patellofemoral Pain)
- Mayo Clinic: Stretching -- Focus on Flexibility
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.