Your quadriceps — the four muscles on the front of your thigh — do a whole lot of work for us. Due to their size (they're one of the largest muscle groups in the body), they bear the heavy lifting (sometimes literally) for so many movements.
We rely on these powerful muscles constantly: whenever we get up from a chair, scale some steps or squat to pick up something from the floor. Not to mention they're extraordinarily important in sports like running and cycling.
That's what also makes these major muscles so susceptible to stress and injury, especially as we grow older. Though healthy quads are crucial at any age, they're particularly paramount for preventing problems in our knees and back (read: hot spots for most older adults).
In other words, strong, flexible quads protect us from pain and help us maintain our ability to perform daily activities into our golden years.
To keep them limber and loose, stretching is essential. And one of the best thigh stretches you can do is the standing quad stretch. This classic quad drill can help you age more gracefully by lengthening stiff leg and hip muscles, building balance and keeping lower back pain at bay.
But you don't need to be going gray to give this quad stretch a shot. The benefits are big no matter how many birthday candles graze your cake.
How to Do the Standing Quad Stretch
While you can sneak in the standing quad stretch whenever or wherever (literally, the options are endless since all you need is you and 30 seconds), it's ideal to do it as part of a post-workout stretch session, says Pete McCall, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, host of the All About Fitness podcast and author of Ageless Intensity: High-Intensity Workouts to Slow the Aging Process.
"The quadriceps can perform a lot of work during exercise, so holding a static stretch sends a signal telling the muscle fibers to relax, which is an essential component of the cooldown," McCall says. That means the stretch is especially stellar to help your muscles recover after quad-heavy routines like a long run or leg day.
Standing Quad Stretch
- Stand on your right leg. Place your right hand on a solid, sturdy object like a chair or the wall for support.
- Bend your left knee and grab your ankle with your left hand. Gently bring your heel toward your butt, feeling a slight pull along the front of your thigh and hip.
- Hold this stretch for 30 to 45 seconds, taking deep breaths. Release your leg and switch to the opposite side. Repeat twice with each leg.
Still, having trouble standing on one leg even with support? Make the stretch less challenging by taking it to the floor. This will help you focus on stretching your quad without worrying about wobbling on your feet. Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on your side with your body in a straight line.
- Bend your bottom arm and rest your head on it for support.
- Bend the knee of your top leg, and using your free hand, gently pull your heel up toward your butt.
Why the Standing Quad Stretch Is the Best Stretch You Can Do for Healthy Aging
1. It Elongates Your Quads
You need your quads for so many movements — from walking, climbing stairs, standing from a seated position and countless other activities of daily living.
"But if your quadriceps become tight from overuse (or lack of use), it could change their ability to properly stabilize the knee and help control the legs for walking (or running)," McCall says.
As we get older, we tend to move less, so it's common for our quads to grow less flexible and limber. Luckily, you can help offset these stiff muscles through targeted stretching.
"The standing quad stretch applies a consistent tension — a lengthening force that can help elongate the muscles and reduce overall tightness — both of which help to promote circulation and overall function," McCall says.
2. It Lengthens Your Hip Flexors
"The standing quad stretch not only stretches the quadriceps muscles responsible for controlling the movement of the knee, but it also lengthens the primary hip flexor muscles that can become tight from excessive periods of sitting," McCall says.
Since we tend to become more sedentary with age, tight hips tend to be a troublesome area for older adults. But stiff, inflexible hip flexors can trigger a domino effect, leading to knee and back problems.
3. It Can Help With Back Pain
"The standing quad stretch not only helps your legs work better, but it also helps to reduce overall back soreness," McCall says.
Here's why: "When the hip flexors become overly tight (the rectus femoris of the quadriceps also functions as a hip flexor muscle), it can change the position of the pelvis and cause low-back pain," he explains.
And back problems are particularly prevalent among aging adults. Indeed, low back pain is one of the most debilitating health issues in adults aged 60 years or older, according to an April 2017 narrative review in Scoliosis and Spinal Disorders.
4. It Improves Balance
Since this quad stretch requires standing on one leg, it can help build better single-leg balance, McCall says.
And we need good balance for just about every movement we do, including walking. Think about it: "Walking is the process of transitioning from one leg to the next, so improving balance could help improve overall walking performance," McCall says.
While balance is important at any age, it's especially essential for older people who are at greater risk for falls. Case in point: Every year, one in four older Americans will take a tumble, and one in five falls results in a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head trauma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.