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Stretch and hold a hurdler's or quad stretch after you're fully warmed up.
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The muscles on the front and sides of your thighs allow you to stand, walk, push off, run, lift and bend your knees. Athletes tend to have powerful quadriceps, the result of strength training workouts and the repetitive movements of their sport. Dancers and ice skaters work to build strong but not bulky quads. It's important to stretch the quads to counter tightness in the muscles and to protect your knee joints from injury.
Four-Headed Muscles Group
The quadriceps are four muscles -- quad - four; ceps - head -- that are usually treated as one. Three of the muscles sit on the femur, the thighbone. From inner to outer thigh, the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius and the vastus lateralis run down the femur to the kneecap. The rectus femoris goes from the front of your pelvis, at the hip bone, down the top of the vastus intermedius to the quadriceps tendon at the patella -- kneecap --where all four connect. The patellar ligament connects the knee to the shinbone. You can't straighten, bend or lift your knee without the quads, and you can't sit without the rectus femoris, which is a hip flexor. Lift weights, ride a bike, play soccer, practice yoga and you strengthen all four quads. But fail to stretch them and you will lose knee flexibility and risk disabling injury.
Stretching quads ensures that you will balance the strength and flexibility of both the quads and the hamstrings, the back thigh muscles that may be weak and loose, even as the quadriceps are short and tight. A thigh muscle imbalance is an invitation to injury. A sedentary lifestyle contributes to shortening the quad muscles. Sitting all day tightens hip flexors, including the rectus femoris, and those tense, taut muscles tip your pelvis out of alignment and overarch your lower back, leading to back pain. Stretching the quads isn't complicated and lowers your injury risk, improves performance in sports and daily activities, and supports healthy posture. One stretch that's easy to do while lying on an exercise mat is to bend your knees and use your arms to pull your thighs gently into your torso.
Classic Quad Stretch
One quad stretch that is safe for your knees when performed properly is the standing quadriceps stretch. Engage your core, stand tall, balance on one leg and grasp the ankle -- not the foot -- of the bent-knee, non-supporting leg. Use the right hand for the right ankle, left hand for left ankle, and slowly pull the ankle and foot into your buttocks. Keep your knees close together to maintain alignment. You should feel the stretch along the entire front of your thigh. Do this stretch after exercise, a run for instance, when muscles are warm. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, gently release your leg and switch to the other side. Using the same side hand and ankle prevents turnout at the hip, which negates the stretch and could injure your knee.
Asanas for Your Thighs
Yoga provides a number of useful quad stretches that can be incorporated into a daily or weekly routine. As a bonus, you get all the health benefits of quad lengthening and strengthening and you improve your ability to assume and hold the stretches in yoga poses -- more long and lean work for your quads. Reclining Hero pose is challenging to do with tight quads and hip flexors -- it really stretches the rectus femoris -- so modify the pose with bolsters and yoga blocks for support until you increase flexibility. Back-bending Bow and Camel poses also let you feel the stretch as you arch your back from a prone or kneeling position and grab your ankles to deepen the stretch. Add forward and side lunges to your yoga moves to strongly extend all four quad muscles.