A better quad stretch

Posted on November 7, 2011


Look around any gym, athletic field, rec center, etc. and you are bound to see people stretching their quads like so:

quadriceps stretching

This is actually a pretty crappy quad stretch. The quadriceps are made of four muscles, hence “quad,” and the above stretch actually only hits 3 of the muscles. Vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis to be specific. The fourth, rectus femoris, isn’t adequately stretched.

Contrary to the other 3 muscles, rectus femoris connects from the hip to the knee. The other quadriceps only connect from the thigh to the knee. Thus, rectus femoris flexes the hip and extends the knee. In contrast to the other quads which only extend the knee.

stretch for knee pain

Notice how much higher rectus femoris starts compared to the other muscles

Ok, so picture holding a long band with your hands. One hand holding one side of the band, the other hand holding the other side. If you wanted stretch that band you would pull it from both sides as opposed to only one, right?

Therein lies the issue with your conventional quad stretch. It is only stretching the rectus femoris from the bottom part of the muscle and not from the top and bottom. The stretch is flexing the knee a great deal, stretching the knee extensors, but it’s not extending the hip at all. It’s akin to pulling the band only with one hand.

We need to stretch it from both ends i.e. we need to flex the knee and extend the hip at the same time.

Now this stretch gets absolutely butchered all over the internet. It often looks something like this:

Notice how the lower back is arching and how far I’m able to push my hip forward. This is not what we want. This is actually stretching the front portion of the hip capsule, a huge no-no. Also, a lot of the range of motion is being achieved by the lower back rather than just the knee and hip.

And for those who say you are doing this stretch to stretch out the psoas, keep in mind when the lower back arches the psoas is actually shortened. So while you may be stretching the psoas from the bottom portion -the hip extension- you are actually tightening the muscle from the upper portion.

This is what we’re shooting for:

Notice the differences: The glute of the leg being stretched (right leg in the above video) is forcefully contracted (watch close, you’ll see it) and the abdominals are pulled forcefully inward to insure the lower back doesn’t arch. This insures all of the range of motion is from the lower body.

This is a great stretch for those with lower back pain, knee pain -you’ll likely notice it helps alleviate a lot of knee pain around the knee cap as soon as you stand up- and actually for those suffering from chronic hamstring strains.

This isn’t a great stretch for those with hip pain. Form becomes absolutely crucial and you’re honestly just playing with fire if you have hip issues and you do this stretch.

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