Tight quads are common amongst athletes. Many sports, including mountain biking, snowboarding, rowing and even running, are quad-dominant (relative to the glutes and hamstrings). And if you’re not totally diligent about stretching out your quads after exercise, over time you might find that they start to tighten up.
Additionally, there is the issue of muscular imbalance. When the hamstrings and glutes are weak, the quadriceps have to remain partially contracted (hypertonic) in order to stabilise the hips and knees. And unfortunately, this discrepancy in strength increases with repetition of movement. The quads get tighter, the glutes and hamstrings become weaker, and this, in due course, can lead to pain, injury and reduced performance.
WHAT ARE THE QUADS?
- The quadriceps femoris is a four-headed muscle that runs down the front of your thigh, from the top of the femur (thigh bone), to the patella (kneecap). It comprises the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris.
- The quadriceps extend or straighten the knee and assist the hip flexors in flexing the hip.
HOW DO TIGHT QUADS AFFECT YOUR ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE?
- Lower back and knee pain. Tight quads and weak glutes and hamstrings leads to a lack of mobility in the hips and knees that is often experienced as pain in the lower back and behind the knees.
- Reduced power and speed. When the quads do not return to their optimal length, they are unable to produce maximal force.
- Compromised movement patterns. Tight muscles restrict freedom of movement and this, unfortunately, is exacerbated with frequent repetition.
BALANCING THE BODY
But all is not lost! As we have seen, releasing tight quads is part of a larger picture. We need to:
- Strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.
- Stabilise the knees and lower back.
- Improve mobility in the hips.
- Release the hip flexors.
- Stretch the quads.
4-PHASE YOGA SEQUENCE TO RELEASE TIGHT QUADS
Here is your four-phase yoga sequence designed to release tension in tight quads. We start by activating the glutes and hamstrings, move on to strengthening the knees and opening up the hips, release tension in the hip flexors and end by stretching the quads. At this final stage, you can take the most appropriate pose for your level of flexibility.
1. STRENGTHEN THE GLUTES AND HAMSTRINGS
Start on your back in Bridge pose. Walk your feet back until your fingertips reach your heels. Inhale, press into your feet and lift your hips up. Exhale, relax into the pose. Check that your feet are hip-width apart, toes and knees point straight ahead. Engage your glutes and hold the pose for 3-5 slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, lower back down to the mat and hug your knees into your chest.
Rock and roll, forward and back, a few times—all the way up to Mountain pose. Inhale, sweep your arms out and up—look up. Exhale, swan dive down into Forward Fold. Inhale, come half way up. Exhale, step back to Plank, drop to your knees and lower all the way down to the mat for Locust pose. Bring your arms back by your sides, palms face down.
Inhale, lift your chest and feet off the mat. Exhale, relax into the pose. Draw your shoulders back, engage your glutes and lengthen back through the balls of your feet. Hold the pose for 3 slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, release the pose. Rest one cheek on the mat and rock your hips from side to side to release your lower back.
2. STABILISE THE KNEES AND OPEN UP THE HIPS
Bring your hands underneath your shoulders. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, press your hips back towards your heels, tuck your toes and lift up into Downward Facing Dog.
Inhale, sweep your right leg up. Exhale, step your right foot in between your hands in Runners Lunge. Inhale, sweep your arms forward and up into High Lunge. Exhale, relax into the pose. Check that your front knee does not come forward over your ankle, drop your hips and draw your ribs in. Hold the pose for 3 slow breaths, in and out through your nose. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, bring your hands back down to the mat. And step back to Downward Dog for the other side.
3. RELEASE THE HIP FLEXORS
Inhale, sweep your right leg up. Exhale, step your right foot outside your right hand, drop your back knee and and release your back foot in Lizard pose. Hold the pose for 3 slow breaths—sinking deeper into the stretch on every exhalation. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, tuck your back toes and step back to Downward Dog for the other side.
4. STRETCH THE QUADS
OPTION 1: THUNDERBOLT
Drop down onto all fours and come to kneeling in Thunderbolt. If this posture is uncomfortable, you can sit on a bolster and put a thin cushion under your feet. Find a modification that you can hold comfortably for a few minutes.
OPTION 2: HALF-TWISTED LIZARD
Inhale, sweep your left leg up. Exhale, step your left foot outside your left hand and drop your right knee. Pick up your back foot with your left hand, draw your left shoulder back and open your body to the left in Half-Twisted Lizard. Drop your hips and gently pull your right foot in towards you to deepen the stretch in your right quad. Hold the pose for 3 slow breaths—letting go of tension on every exhalation. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, release the pose, walk your left foot in and step back to Downward Dog for the other side.
OPTION 3: HALF FROG
Inhale, come forward into Plank. Exhale, drop to your knees, release your feet and lower all the way down to the mat for Half Frog. Come up onto your forearms—elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. Lift your left foot, cross your right arm in front of you—fingertips point to the left. Reach back with your left hand to take hold of the inside of your left foot, rotate your elbow up to the sky, slide your fingers over the top of your foot and curl them over your toes. Apply gentle pressure with the base of your left palm to the top of your foot. Stay here for 3 slow breaths, feeling the stretch in the front of your left quad. Last breath in. Exhale, carefully release your foot for the other side.
OPTION 4: HALF-RECLINING HERO
Drop down onto all fours and come to kneeling at the top of your mat for Half-Reclining Hero.
Bring your right foot flat to the mat and drop down inside your left foot, with your left heel next to your hip. Move your right foot out to the right as far as you need to to bring both sitting bones flat on the mat. Inhale, sit up tall. Exhale, place your hands behind you, fingertips facing forwards and start to lean back. Come down just as far as is comfortable—a few inches, to your elbows or all the way down. If you’re on the mat, you can bring your arms up overhead and hold onto opposite elbows. Draw your abs back towards you spine. Stay here for 3 slow breaths, feeling the stretch in the front of your left thigh. Take a deep breath in. Exhale, release your arms, press into your elbows and carefully lift yourself back up for the other side.
FINAL RESTING POSE
Release your arms and legs and lie back in Final Resting pose. Let your feet come as wide as the mat and fall open. Relax your hands, palms facing up—shoulder blades rest evenly on the ground. Close your eyes. Allow all the muscles in your body to soften and become heavy. Stay in Final Resting pose for a few minutes.
When you are ready, roll onto your right side, and gently bring yourself up to sitting. Now you can move back into your day.
I hope that these poses help you to let go of tension in your quads. If you have any questions about the poses or the mechanism of action behind the sequence, you can drop me a message in the COMMENTS below.