Protecting your back: Stretching the Quads

If you have read my last couple of posts, you should know simple stretches for your low back, glutes and hamstrings by now.  You should also know the rules of stretching.  So I won’t go over them on this post.

Let me introduce you to the quads (short for quadriceps).  They are 4 muscles located in the front of your thighs.  All of them extend the knee (allow you to do a kicking motion). When tight, they can distort your knee tracking and your entire body posture.  One of them, the quadratus femoris, is a major hip flexor (brings your knee towards your torso).  This muscle and another hip flexor, the iliopsoas, when tight, pulls the pelvis forward putting pressure on the back of your spine.  If you sit for long periods of time; train doing squats, leg presses and leg extensions; or have had an injury dealing with your thighs and/or your knees, chances are you need to stretch your quads.

Tight low back muscles usually work with tight quadriceps muscles and hip flexors to tip

your pelvis forward in what is called an anterior pelvic tilt.  This puts a lot of pressure on your low back (posterior elements).  The classic image most experts use is that, if your hips were a bucket full of water, the water would spill to the front of the body.  Look at the picture on the right.

Who exhibit this kind of posture? Many weight lifters, football players, sprinters, dancers, people who sit for long periods of time, mothers, people who have suffered through abdominal surgery, chronic back pain sufferers and, finally, people who have deconditioned glutes, but want to make them look bigger.  Unless they are very thin, people with anterior pelvic tilts have a tendency to have a belly.

The following are basic stretches for your quadriceps with a tip on how to extend the stretch to the main hip flexors.

My favorite: Prone Quadriceps Stretch

  • Lie down on your stomach.
  • If you are flexible enough grab the front your left ankle with your left hand.
  • Pull your ankle towards your butt.
  • DO NOT allow your knee to move away from the midline of your body.
  • Keep your shoulder close to the floor and your torso straight. Do not bend to the side during the stretch for the sake of holding on to your ankle).
  • You may use a belt (yoga or regular belt), a towel, or resistance band to help you hold on to your ankle especially if your quads are too tight.  Notice how the rugby guy keeps his body in line and is able to keep his shoulders and head relaxed.  His knee might be flaring to the side a little, but it is hard to tell from this angle.

If you feel like targeting your main hip flexors (quadratus femoris and iliopsoas), you can stick a foam roll or thick rolled-up towel under your thigh close to (but NOT on) your knee. In the rare event that this hurts your low back, stop immediately.  I’ll post specific hip flexor stretches later.

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

This is the most common quad stretch.  You’ve seen it done everywhere.  It’s very practical. However, make sure you do it correctly.

  • Stand near a wall or near anything you can hold for support.
  • Grab the front of one of your ankles (not the foot)  and pull it towards your butt.
  • Make sure your knee points straight down to the floor and that it is even with the other knee.  If it is in front, your quads are either too tight or you just don’t want to put the effort.
  • Keep good posture throughout the stretch.  Do not allow your knee to drift to the side and don’t bend or twist your torso like David Beckham is doing on the right.  Well in his defense, he is trying to counter balance the weight of his teammate.  Talking about his teammate, watch the position of his hand on the foot. Not ideal.  However, he manages not too invert his foot so I’ll let it pass.
  • Again if you’d like to target your the main hip flexors, you just have pull a bit more on your ankle so that the knee on the side that you are stretching moves back behind your supporting let.  However, DO NOT allow your torso to lean forward because you would be neutralizing the stretch for the hip flexors.

Next up:  Your Hip Flexors.  They collude with your tight low back muscles and your quadriceps to mess up your back.

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About nuchiro

I graduated from National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL in 2005 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. I have also been a certified personal trainer since 1999. I believe that Total Wellness, of which physical fitness is only a part, can be achieved relatively easily when people focus on attaining a harmonious balance in the different aspects of their lives. For an appointment, feel free to contact me at dr.veaz@nuchiro.com .
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