Stretching - The Quads

Stability Stretching Series™: For Runners

The Stability Strategy to Improve Running Efficiency

The Quads

Lengthen the quadriceps while maintaining neutral alignment of the pelvis and low back

Common mistake:
Allowing the back to over-arch. Notice how I over-arch my back as I try and get a deeper stretch in my quadriceps (image 1). 

Why is this important?
Generally, the psoas and abdominal muscles (muscles that run from your rib cage and spine to your pelvis) tend to be more flexible than your quadriceps and hip flexors (muscles running from your pelvis to your thigh). Therefore when most runners attempt to stretch their hip flexors, which tend to be tighter or more taut than their psoas and abdominal muscles, they are usually over-stretching their psoas and/or abdominals. Over time this creates weakness in these muscles, which inhibits or weakens their ability to contribute to core stability.

To compensate for this weakness, the nervous system will try to protect itself from injury by reflexively tightening  the hip flexors. In essence, stretching in this manner contributes to and perpetuates the very problem it is trying to correct. 

Stability Stretching Strategy™:

  1. Place one hand on the wall so that your hips, knees, and ankle-feet are in a straight line. Align your trunk and pelvis so that your pelvis is tilted slightly anterior (forward) and there is a small, gentle arch in your low back (arrow in image 2).
  2. Grasp around one ankle and slowly pull your heel towards your buttocks without losing alignment of your trunk, spine, and/or pelvis (image 2). 
  3. Once you pull as far as you are able to while maintaining your alignment, gently push your rear ankle and foot into towards the floor and breathe in – hold for 5 seconds (you are performing an isometric contraction of the quadriceps). As you let your breath out, release your contraction and slowly pull your ankle/foot back – you should experience a gently stretch in the front of your rear leg. Repeat for 3-5 reps per side. 

Remember: *Don’t confuse sensation with effectiveness!*
Don’t try to force this stretch in order to ‘feel’ a stronger stretch in your hip quadriceps. Just because you ‘feel’ a deeper stretch by forcing it doesn't mean it is better for you.Your nervous system will lengthen your quadriceps as much as it needs to when you respect the proper alignment and control of your core. Remember that optimal stability will improve your posture and running more significantly than will having great flexibility without the requisite stability.