Tight quads and their partner in crime, tight hip flexors, can be a real pain. It can seem like we have more poses in our arsenal to target the opposing muscle group, the hamstrings, but when it comes to releasing the front of the thigh, inspiration is often required. Quads can feel tight and sore from activities like biking, running, hiking, or weight lifting, but another cause of shortening in the front body is more ubiquitous—sitting. So whether you are seeking a good quad stretch to counter the effects of physical pursuits, sitting for long periods of time, or merely to balance all that releasing of the back of the legs we do in yoga (i.e., all those down dogs and forward folds!), your quads will thank you for the attention.
Here’s a sequence of five poses that provides a deep front-of-thigh stretch. Flow through the first four poses on one side, then on the other, and finish with the final pose to stretch and restore both legs at the same time.
Dancer () From mountain pose, bend your right knee so your foot reaches toward your right glute. Clasp the inside (arch) of your right foot with your right hand. You can also loop a strap around your arch, with the tail end of the strap held in your right hand. Press your right foot into your hand or the strap to create resistance. Then lift up through your lower belly to engage your core and to keep from overarching the lower back. Pause, breathe, and pay attention to any sensations in your body. Have you found a stretch that provides sensation but not pain? Can you go deeper, or do you need to ease off? If you’ve found your edge, stay here for five breaths.
To increase the intensity, start to lift your right foot toward the ceiling, which will bring that thigh pretty much parallel to the floor, still pressing the top of your foot into your hand or the strap. Provide a counterbalance by lengthening through your spine, extending your left arm out in front of you or up alongside your ear, and leaning forward slightly so that your torso is on a diagonal to the floor. Imagine that your body is a set of scales and play with the amount of weight distributed between the front half of you and the back half. Establish a drishti (gaze) beyond the tip of your nose, softly focusing on something that isn’t moving. Stay for five breaths.
Overstepping Dragon Release your right foot and come into a low lunge with your right knee on the floor behind you, toes pointed, your hands on either side of your front (left) foot. Your weight should be just above, not directly on, the right kneecap—you can pad that knee with a blanket or by folding your mat over if you like. Bend your left knee so that it is beyond the ankle—it’s okay to do so in this pose because the distribution of weight is shared between many different points. Let your left knee come forward until your left heel is about to lift off the ground, although if that bothers your knee, back off to a point where there is no pain. You will probably feel compression in the front of your left ankle and a stretch through the front of the right thigh. If you don’t feel a stretch in your quads, move your right knee back and move the torso and hips forward and down (increasing the flexion in the front knee) until you do feel a stretch. Stay for five breaths.
Half Saddle Walk your hands toward your hips as you extend your left leg, flexing your left foot and pressing your heel into the mat. Bend your right knee and come to sit just inside your right heel; the top of your right foot will be pressing into the mat. (If your right knee isn’t happy placing a rolled-up blanket behind it may help.) Rest your hands on the floor behind you, fingers pointing forward, and lean back, seeking a sensation of stretch in the front of the right thigh. You can bend your elbows and come down onto your forearms or fully recline if that’s appropriate for you.
You can also place a bolster under your back for support.
Other options include sitting on a block or folded blanket, placing a block lengthwise at its lowest setting under the thoracic spine to decrease the degree of backbending but still open up the front body (the block can go on top of a bolster, if need be), and resting hands or forearms on blocks. To increase the intensity, hug the left knee into the chest. Stay for five breaths.
King Arthur Use your core, hands, and forearms to gently lift up and out of half saddle. Walk your hands forward until you’re standing on your right knee, bend your left knee, and place the sole of your foot on the ground. Stack your hands on your left thigh, bringing your spine to vertical. Both knees should be flexed to a 90-degree angle at this point, but you’re welcome to slide your right knee back a little bit if that feels more comfortable for your knee. If it is in your toolkit, reach your right hand back for your right foot and draw your heel toward your right glute to deepen the stretch.
This pose can also be done facing away from a wall, with your right knee planted on the mat against the wall and your right shin and top of foot pressing into the wall.
Direct your focus to lengthen the spine so your shoulders are stacked over your hips. Tilt your pelvis backward (posteriorly) slightly, lifting your pubic bone toward your navel. Resist the temptation to lean forward. Stay for five breaths.
To come out of the pose, walk your hands forward (if you are against the wall move the whole body forward) and make your way into child’s pose for three breaths. Lift up onto hands and knees, then into uttanasana (standing forward fold), and finally come up to mountain pose. Repeat the sequence on the other side, finishing in child’s pose.
Pontoon From child’s pose, make your way onto your back and have a block nearby. Bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the floor, heels close to your glutes but not so close that you can reach them with your hands. Let your feet feel supported by the mat, as they would be if they were sinking into wet sand. Lift your hips up and place a block under your sacrum, not lumbar spine, on the medium setting with the long edge parallel to the short edge of the mat and settle down onto it. Walk your feet away from you until both legs are fully extended and let them go heavy, not holding any muscle tension, even letting the legs roll open a little if that feels optimal for your body. Check for the sensation of a stretch in your hip flexors.
If you don’t feel anything, consider increasing the height of the prop by stacking two blocks on the lowest setting. You could add a folded blanket on top of the block or blocks to further increase the height. A strap around the middle of the thighs or shins might also feel great here, as it will supply some support so that the leg muscles can fully release. Stay for up to three minutes. To come out of the pose, bend your knees (remove the strap, if using), place the soles of your feet on the mat, lift your hips to remove the props, and release your buttocks to the floor.
Consider ending with savasana with a bolster under the knees, which will support your legs and back and allow the stretched tissues to rebound.