Do you have strong and flexible quadriceps and hamstrings? If so, consider yourself fortunate, because when this muscle group becomes weakened or too tight, posture can suffer and you can experience lower back pain. Because these muscles help propel us through life by playing a role in nearly every step we take, they deserve some tender loving care.
The “quads” and “hams,” as they are often called, are two major muscle groups in the upper leg that work together as a team to move the leg. When the hamstring muscles contract, the quadriceps muscles relax, and when the quads contract, the hamstring muscles relax.
Getting to know them
The four muscles that run from the hip joint to the knee joint in front of the thigh make up the quadriceps, and their primary function is to bend and straighten your knee. The hamstrings, their partner, consist of three muscle groups in the back of the thigh that cross both the hip and knee joint, enabling you to bend your knees and move your leg backward. Together the quads and hams help to rotate the lower leg. The quads are a larger muscle group than the hamstrings, so it’s normal for them to be a little stronger. The hamstrings, however, are often much tighter than the quads, and of the two muscle groups, the hamstrings tend to be on the receiving end of more injuries.
There are a number of reasons to keep those quads and hams in tip-top shape. Among them:
- Knees depend on the strength of quads and hams for stability to the knee joint.
- Stronger legs will increase your endurance.
- Hams and quads are key muscles in running, making your runs more effective.
One thing worth noting: It’s important to stretch. If you continue to strengthen your quads and hams without stretching, those muscles will become shorter and tighter, making it difficult to get up from a chair. Tight quads can contribute to weak hamstring muscles, and a lack of strengthening or stretching can lead to potential injuries.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can’t respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at email@example.com.
YOUR MOVE | DEMONSTRATED BY DON GREEN
Stability ball wall squat: Targets the quadriceps, glutes, calves and hamstrings. (You may perform this exercise with or without the ball.)
Place a stability ball between your lower back and the wall with feet shoulder-width apart and about 2 feet in front of you.
Without arching, lean into the ball, placing your hands on the front of your thighs.
Contracting your abdominals and keeping your weight on your heels, inhale and, slowly, with bent knees, lower your body until your thighs are near parallel to the floor.
Beginners do not need to go that low and should build up gradually.
Hold for a count of five.
Exhale while straightening your legs and slowly slide up the wall to the original position.
Repeat the pattern eight to 10 times.
Tips: Avoid allowing your knees to move beyond your toes. This puts too much pressure on your kneecaps. Holding weights by your sides will increase the intensity of the movement.
Side lunge with knee lift: Strengthens the quads, glutes, hamstrings and inner and outer thighs. The knee lift will add balance.
Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart, arms by your sides.
Keeping your abdominals contracted and with a slight bend in your knee, step your right foot out into a side lunge position as you bend your elbows, bringing your arms together in front of your chest.
Drop your arms to the sides as you push off your right heel, bringing your right knee up into a standing position with a knee lift.
Repeat the pattern eight to 10 times, then change legs and repeat.
Standing quad stretch
Stand tall on one leg, holding onto a sturdy support if needed.
Contracting your abdominals, hold your right foot with your right hand.
With your back straight, chest lifted and knees next to each other, bring your foot in toward the buttocks.
Hold the pose for 20 to 30 seconds. Perform the stretch several times, then change legs and repeat the pattern.
Tip: To modify the move, wrap a towel around your foot and, holding the towel, bring the towel up toward the back of your hips.
Hamstring stretch on floor
Lying on your back, bend one knee and extend the opposite leg on the floor.
Wrap a long bath towel, strap or belt around the foot of the extended leg.
Keeping your leg straight, without locking your knee, slowly bring it upward.
Stop when you feel a stretch behind your thigh and hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds.
Lower your leg slowly toward the floor.
Perform the stretch several times, then change legs and repeat the pattern.
Tip: Aim for mild tension. It is better to understretch than to overstretch.