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Quad Stretches and Foam Rolling Done Right


Stretching out the quadriceps is something that everyone thinks they know how to do, because when you do it, you feel it, and in that case, it must be working, right? Well, sort of. Traditionally we do our quad stretches standing on one leg, and grabbing the foot of the other leg with the hand on the same side, we think we’re pretty good when we can get our heel into, or pretty close to, our butt. The problem with this stretch is that the pelvis can be rotated forward to cheat the stretch, or you could bring your knee just a little in front of the other one and lose the stretch there. Without wasting too much time telling you about how this isn’t a perfect stretch, I want to show you one that just about is. The perfect quad stretch, that is.

This stretch is kind to the knees, and isolates the hips so that you can’t cheat. It is my “No Cheat Quad Stretch”, and unless you are super flexy to begin with, you are going to need a strap to do this.

Ideally you want to do this on a surface that is long enough to accommodate most of your body. The edge of your bed, the couch, a long coffee table, a bench – those will all work. For the purposes of this demonstration, I’m using my hydraulic massage table, because I can adjust the height on the fly for every client.

A yoga strap works well because you can make a loop in the end of it. I really like these “Stretch Out Straps” because they have multiple loops so you can hook them around various body parts to stretch. They also don’t take up much space, so there’s no excuse not to pack your strap when you travel. (We sell them at the office in case you’re looking for one).

You’re going to hook the strap around the foot that’s closest to the surface you’re stretching on, and position yourself on your surface with the leg closest to the surface outstretched behind you, and your other leg forward, like you are lunging. Move your body over so that your hips and torso are resting on the surface (I say “surface” because I don’t know what you’re going to use to stretch on). Relax your upper body (we don’t want your back in hyperextension here), use the rope to pull your foot up and closer to your glutes. Make sure it’s coming up straight and isn’t drifting in or out. If you’re doing this right, you might surprise yourself as to how little beyond 90 degrees you can actually stretch.

We can add a little help to this stretch by adding some PNF moves. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, and is a bunch of big words meaning we’re going to use the nervous system to trick the muscles into stretching a bit further. Using a good grip on the strap, you are going to try to engage your quad and straighten your leg against the strap’s resistance, for a count of 7 seconds. The second you have finished counting, you are going to relax your quad, and pull on that rope a bit more, taking that quad into more of a stretch. Do this 2 more times. Now, don’t overdo it. Make it a smooth transition from contraction to relaxation, and don’t stretch too far, or you could overstretch and do some damage. Once you’ve done that third PNF hold, then hold the stretch for another 10 to 15 seconds.

Stand up slowly and turn around to face the other way. Repeat on the other side.

Most of us own a foam roller, and I would venture to say that most of us (me included) don’t use them nearly enough, or as effectively as we could. The quads are big muscles and rolling them is super uncomfortable. My take on it is that if you’re going to roll them, you might as well do a decent job, otherwise all that pain is for no reason.

Sometimes we only start rolling out quads when we start to get some nagging knee pain or what we think is IT band pain. Most of the time, the culprit is the quad that lies to the outside, the Vastus Lateralis. Because it also attaches to the IT band, rolling it straight up and down isn’t that effective.

The following pictures are going to do a clearer job of describing how this is done, because otherwise this could get a little wordy.

In essence, this particular foam roll technique relies less upon the roller moving around, than you moving around the roller. I’ll show you what I mean.

Start by lying on your side on the roller, allowing your upper body to take most of the weight. You can do this on your elbow or on your hand, depending how strong you are. Now, make sure you aren’t lying on your IT band, but instead are rolled slightly forward onto your lateral quad. Bring the top leg forward to help distribute your body’s weight, and also hold the roller in place. The idea is to roll your body until you get to one of “those” spots. I know you know what I’m talking about. A trigger point, a band of tightness, a “spot”. One of those painful areas that we all have. Stop right there. Let your body weight sink into it.

Once it has stopped yelling, lift your foot off the floor. If it starts yelling again, be patient and just wait until it stops. When it just feels like pressure, you are going to (very slightly) bend and straighten your knee. This “flosses” the quad against the roller. Warning: this is not pleasant, but it’s VERY effective, and if you do it regularly, it will become less pleasant and even more effective.

When you feel like you’ve spent enough time on that spot, move your weight on the roller again to the next spot. Repeat the process. Work your way down to the knee. Be careful of rolling on the lateral knee – I would avoid rolling that area specifically – and roll as much as you can stand it. If you can’t take any more on that side, switch to the other side.

Smooth rollers are more effective for this particular protocol than knobbly rollers, and they are inexpensive to buy. As with all fitness equipment, there’s usually a better way to use the stuff you already have.

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