The large muscle mass in front of your thigh is made up of four distinct muscles. This powerful quartet, your quadriceps, plays a key role when you bend at the hip and straighten the knee. Sometimes, the quads shorten and tighten as a result of too little or too much use. That can leave you with nagging pain in your back or knees. If you're looking to loosen things up, you've got a variety of stretch techniques to choose from.
Dynamic stretching involves smooth, repetitive, and controlled movements. The purpose of dynamic stretching is to increase blood flow to your muscles and increase flexibility in preparation for a particular athletic activity, so it makes good sense to include dynamic stretching in your overall warmup. After walking or jogging lightly for five to seven minutes, stretch your quads with a running butt kick. Begin running -- either in place or traveling -- and use an exaggerated motion when bending the knees, drawing your heels briskly up to your buttocks. Do one to three sets of 10 to 20 reps, aiming for a nice and easy rhythm.
Unlike dynamic stretches, which emphasize continuous motion, static stretches involve stretching a muscle to its max and then holding the position. Since static stretching before a workout might have a negative impact on performance, save them for after a vigorous workout. For a static quad stretch, stand up straight with your core engaged. Keeping your knees together, reach behind you with your left hand, bend your right knee and gently pull your right instep toward your left buttock. If necessary, hold onto a nearby surface with your free hand to steady yourself. As a general guideline, hold static stretches for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat one to four times on each leg.
If you've got a buddy to help you, try PNF stretching. PNF, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, generally involves a passive pre-stretch, followed by an isometric contraction and then a longer, passive stretch. For a PNF quad stretch, lie on the floor, face down. Your buddy should kneel beside your right leg and raise your right foot toward your buttocks. After placing her left hand under your right thigh and her right hand on your right ankle, she should gently raise your right thigh off the floor while pushing your ankle toward your buttock. Instruct her to maintain the position for 10 seconds. For the next phase, contract the front of your right thigh and push against your partner's hand for 10 seconds. Finally, relax and allow your partner to repeat the stretch. She should hold for up to 30 seconds, trying to deepen the stretch. Repeat up to four times on each leg.
Active Isolated Stretch
Stretching too far, too fast, or for too long can trigger the stretch reflex, causing your muscles to tighten. The goal of active isolated stretching is to pull back from a stretch before you trigger that reflex. Stretches of this type, which often involve use of a stretch strap and require contraction of the opposing muscle, are held for only one or two seconds. To stretch your quads using this AIS technique, lie on your left side with your knees pulled into your chest. Loop a stretch strap around the sole of your left foot and grasp the ends of the strap in your left hand. Take hold of your right shin with your right hand, tighten your right buttock and hamstrings and move the right thigh as far back as you comfortably can. Use your right hand to gently coax the leg a bit farther. Hold for one or two counts. Relax briefly and repeat 10 times, increasing your range of motion slightly with every rep. Repeat the stretch with your left leg.
- Yoga Journal: Hero's Journey
- American Council on Exercise: What Are the Different Types of Stretching Techniques?
- Runner's World: A Dynamic Routine
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research; Effects of Differential Stretching Protocols During Warm-Ups on High-Speed Motor Capacities in Professional Soccer Players
- ExRx.net: PNF Lying (Prone) Quadriceps Stretch
- Running Times: Active Isolated Stretching Exercises
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.