One thing that tightens up the quadriceps (more than just about anything) in many people is spending lots of time at the computer, as well as other sedentary activities. Sitting puts your hip joints in flexion, a position in which your quadriceps contract. So if you spend a lot of hours sitting every day, it’s highly likely your quads spend a lot of time in a static contraction. This may limit your hip range of motion, a known precursor to problems such as hip arthritis.
It also affects your back by pulling your pelvis forward, which in turn increases the lumbar lordosis (arch) in the small of your back. This can lead to tight back muscles, pain and it may affect your overall postural alignment.
In most cases, the fix for tight quadriceps is simple enough: Stretch them!
How to Do A Quadriceps Stretch
The following stretch can be used at the office for a work break and at home as part of your regular back maintenance program. It may also be really helpful after a workout, because working out without stretching out after often results in excessively tight muscles.
If you are deconditioned or balance challenged consider using a chair to hold onto for this stretch. If you are super tight in your quads consider using a strap or a belt to help you reach your foot. Don't worry, I'll provide instructions for these variations. Otherwise, no equipment is needed for the standing quadriceps stretch.
Start Position for the Quadriceps Stretch
Stand. If you are using a chair, then stand facing the back, and place your right hand on top of the seat back.
Bend both knees to lower your body a bit. (You can lean forward a little, if you need.) Bring your left hand behind you and grasp the area between the left ankle and the top of your left foot. If you can’t reach that far down, that is okay – just bend your left knee and grasp your left leg where you can. But here is a tip for that: When you bend down to get a hold of your ankle, bring the knee of the leg you’ll be grasping forward, in front of your body. This should also bring your foot and ankle forward, to the point where you may be able to reach down and wrap your hand around that area.
Note: by practicing the standing quadriceps stretch regularly, you’ll likely develop the flexibility that will enable you to reach your hand to the top of your foot with ease.
If your quads are super tight (i.e. it is difficult for you to reach your foot, the stretch is painful and/or you feel like you are going to lose your balance), one thing you might do is place a strap or belt around your foot and hold the strap where you can reach. If you use this variation, hold the straps by bringing one or both arms over head, bend your elbows and grasp the strap behind your shoulder.
Slowly straighten your standing leg. Gently pull your foot toward your buttock. Try to keep you knee directly underneath your hip. If this makes the stretch too intense, go as far as you can. Stay there and breathe for a few moments. Again, if you practice this regularly, you should be able to get your knee directly under your hip over time.
If you can easily position your knee under your hip, intensify the stretch by:
- Pulling your foot toward your buttock.
- Gently pressing your buttock forward, taking care to keep the knee under the hip, and the foot close to your buttock.
How Many Should You Do and How Often?
When you do this quadriceps stretch, try to hold it for up to 30 seconds. (Hold it for at least 5 seconds, and built the time up as you move along in your practice.) Put your foot back on the floor and rest for a couple of seconds. Repeat this sequence 2-5 times and then do the whole thing on the other leg.
Another tip that may be helpful is to vary the types of quadriceps stretches you do in a week. For example, you may try the yoga camel pose or a Pilates move such as side lying quadriceps stretch. Mixing it up may keep you motivated to stretch, especially if this one is painful for you. The main thing about stretching is to make sure you get all the major muscle groups, and the quadriceps is certainly an important group to include.