The rectus femoris muscle is one of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps at the front of your leg. The best rectus femoris exercises are those that work the knee and the hip, as this muscle moves both joints. Strengthening the quadriceps may also help prevent injury, especially in athletes.
Anatomy of the Rectus Femoris
The quadriceps is located at the front of your thigh and consists of four muscles: the rectus femoris, the vastus medialis, the vastus lateralis and the vastus intermedius. These four muscles work together to extend your knee or straighten your leg.
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The rectus femoris has an additional role, as it attaches at the hip at the anterior inferior iliac spine, while the other three quad muscles attach lower down on the femur. Even though its main role is knee extension, the rectus femoris also flexes the hip due to its attachment point. All of these muscles form the quadriceps tendon, which inserts at the knee at the tibial tuberosity.
The rectus femoris muscle can be injured in sports that require repetitive kicking, such as soccer and rugby, states a June 2018 report in Science Performance & Science Reports (SPSR). Sports that require high-speed running with quick stops, like football or basketball, may also result in quadriceps injuries.
Rectus Femoris Exercises
Because the rectus femoris straightens the leg and flexes the hip, the exercise that best activates this muscle is the straight leg raise, reports a small study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science in March 2015. Perform two sets of 10 of each exercise.
Move 1: Straight Leg Raise
- To perform the straight leg raise, lie on your back with one leg bent and the other leg straight.
- Raise the straightened leg off the floor, but no higher than the opposite bent leg.
- Hold for a few seconds and then slowly lower it down.
- Add ankle weights to make this exercise more challenging.
Another good choice for your rectus femoris workout is the knee extension exercise with elastic bands, according to a small study featured in the Journal of Experimental Orthopaedics in July 2019_._
Move 2: Knee Extension Exercise With Elastic Bands
- Sit in a chair and put a resistance band around the leg of the chair and then around the ankle on the same side.
- Straighten your leg until it is almost all the way straight.
- Hold and then return to the initial position.
- You may also perform this exercise using a knee extension machine at the gym.
Read more: Stretches for Tight Quadriceps
Closed-Chain Rectus Femoris Workout
The following rectus femoris exercises are closed-chain exercises that build strength for optimal knee health, says the Journal of Experimental Orthopedics. Closed-chain exercises have one extremity fixed to the ground and may help build up strength. They are more functional, promote joint stabilization and recruit several different muscle groups, states the American Council on Exercise. Perform two sets of 10 of each exercise.
Move 1: Squats With Free Weights
- Holding free weights, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down as you hinge your hips back as if you are sitting down in a chair.
- Hold for a few seconds and come back up standing.
- If you are at the gym, the leg press machine will work the same muscles.
Read more: The 30 Day Squat Challenge
Move 2: One-Legged Squat
- Extend your arms in front of your body for balance. You can also hold onto a chair for balance. Balance your weight on one leg, with the opposite leg extended straight in front.
- Squat down and hinge your hips back, while keeping the other leg off the floor. Stand up.
For a more advanced rectus femoris workout, the SPSR study recommends the following exercises:
Move 3: Alternating Split-Squat Jumps
- Get into a deep lunge position, with one foot back and one foot forward into a lunge.
- Explode or jump up and switch as you lunge to the other side. Repeat.
- Perform two sets of 10. Rest for 30 seconds between sets.
Move 4: Forward Deceleration Steps
- Place an elastic band or towel around your waist and have a partner hold on to it while standing behind you.
- Start by walking forward as your partner applies resistance with the band, making it difficult for you to move forward.
- Progress to running forward with resistance.
- Run or walk up to 20 yards. Repeat five times.
- ExRx.net: "Quadriceps"
- Science Performance & Science Reports: "Rehabilitation of Rectus Femoris Injuries in Kicking Athletes"
- Journal of Physical Therapy Science: "Muscle Activities of the Rectus Abdominis and Rectus Femoris and Their Ratio During Leg Raises Performed by Healthy Adults"
- Journal of Experimental Orthopaedics: "Quadriceps Muscle Activity During Commonly Used Strength Training Exercises Shortly After Total Knee Arthroplasty: Implications for Home-Based Exercise Selection"
- American Council on Exercise: "What Is the Kinetic Chain?"