The quadriceps muscles, or quads, on the fronts of your thighs are among the largest and strongest muscles in your body. Tight quads can interfere with your ability to deeply bend your knees or to fully extend your hips, which can affect the comfort of your lower back. There are multiple ways to stretch your quads. There are a myriad of static stretches, but those done while standing or lying on your sides are particularly effective.
There are four quadriceps muscles, hence the name. The rectus femoris attaches to the front of the pelvis, just above the hip joint. The other three -- the vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus lateralis -- arise from the thigh bone, or femur. All four muscles attach to the kneecap, or patella, which is joined to the front of the shin bone, or tibia, by the patellar ligament. The quadriceps muscles extend the knee, while the rectus femoris has the additional function of flexing the hip.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
To stretch your quads while standing, place one hand against a wall or other solid object to help maintain your balance. Bend the opposite knee and, holding your ankle or knee with your free hand, pull your heel toward your buttocks. To target the rectus femoris, extend your hip by moving your knee backward, but avoid arching your lower back. Keep it aligned below your hip and don't allow it to move out to the side.
Side-Lying Quadriceps Stretch
You can perform a similar stretch lying on your side on a mat. Bend your top knee and hold the ankle with your top hand. Pull your heel toward your buttocks until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. To increase the stretch of the rectus femoris, move your knee backward without arching your spine. Keep your thigh horizontal. Do not allow the knee to lift toward the ceiling.
Warm up thoroughly before stretching with light aerobic exercise, including dynamic movements of your hips and legs. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching at least two or three days per week, although day stretching is recommended for the greatest gains in flexibility. Hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds, and repeat each stretch two to four times. Only stretch to the point of mild discomfort, never to the point of pain.