Building Strong Quadriceps: Exercises, Stretches + Ways to Avoid Injury
The quadriceps are considered to collectively be one of the most powerful muscles groups in the whole body. The primary role of the “quad” muscles is to bend and straighten (extend) the knees — exactly why quadriceps strength and flexibility is important for numerous movements and activities, such as walking (including brisk walking for exercise), squatting, jumping, climbing, cycling and running.
In fact, nearly every sport or movement involving the lower body, including knee strengthening exercises, relies at least partially on the health of your quads. Because of their significance, quad injuries can put you off your feet for days or even weeks.
Contusion of the quads as well as running injuries are two of the most common reasons someone might develop quad pain. Quadriceps contusions are common in younger people who play sports that involve a lot of fast movements, squatting and sometimes collisions or direct contact, such as in football and hockey. Meanwhile, older adults can experience loss of quad strength due to factors like poor posture or knee pain.
Below you’ll find recommendations for how to effectively strengthen and stretch your quads, most of which also add stability and lean muscle to other key parts of the legs as well.
What Are the Quads?
The quad muscles (quadriceps) are a group of four muscles located on the front and partially the side of the thighs. The four muscles of the quad region include the: vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis (one of the longest muscles in the body) and rectus femoris (one of the biggest and usually strongest muscles). (1)
If you were to look at an image of yourself standing straight upward, your quads would be located from about your knees up, connecting to the tibia bones in your shins/lower legs and to the femur bones in your thighs.
7 Benefits of Strong, Flexible Quadriceps
Some of the key benefits and roles that the quad muscles have include:
- Allowing the knees to extend/straighten: The knees’ stability depends on the strength of the surrounding ligaments and muscles. Quads help with knee extension, while other complimentary muscles in the upper legs help with opposing motions, such as bending. There are also certain joints and ligaments in the legs surrounding the knees that prevent too much rotation when the leg straightens, protecting from injury.
- Absorbing shock when you land on your feet: The quads are needed to stabilize the knees (patella) and keep it tracking in a straight line after impact.
- Taking pressure off of the knees, which are susceptible to injury, wear-and-tear and effects of osteoarthritis or aging
- Helping with “lift off”, or the ability to jump and push-away from the ground
- Playing a role in hip flexion and stabilization of the pelvis
- Helping with balance and coordination
- Giving you the ability to change direction quickly, such as when playing sports
Anatomy Lesson: The Quadriceps Region
According to Yoganatomy, the word quad means four, while ‘ceps’ refers to divisions or ‘heads’ of the muscle.
The quadriceps anatomy includes four muscles that originate near the hipbone or pelvis (at the ilium) in the upper thigh, connecting downward to the kneecaps and shins. The quads are connected to tendons made of strong connective tissue that surround the knee bones (the patellas). It’s the pull of the quads that allow for lifting and lowering of the kneecaps via the patella tendon. They also insert to the shinbone (the tibia) and additionally play a partial role in hip flexion.
All of the quadriceps connect to the tibia through the patellar ligament, a strong tendon that can sometimes be overly used. On the top of the thighs the vastus medialis and lateralis muscles of the quads connect to the back of the femur bone via the the linea aspera. Most of the quad muscles run mostly down the leg vertically, but the rectus femoris muscle is the only part of the quad that crosses both the hip and knees, allowing for both flexion of the hip joint and extension of the knee joint.
The muscles located in the thighs are split into three sections: anterior, medial and posterior. The quad muscles get their names due to where they are located on the thighs:
- Rectus femoris: a straight muscle that runs down the center of the thigh. The femoris is considered the main extensor of the knee.
- Lateralis: located on the lateral, or outside, of the thigh.
- Medialis: located on the medial, or inside, of the thigh.
- Intermedius: located between the medialis and lateralis muscles.