Its officially summer and everyone out there hiking, biking, playing tennis, or partaking in any other outdoor sports always wonder what poses are best to practice before and after such activities. For many of us, our yoga practice can take a hit during these active months and consequently the all too familiar aches and pains of an un-stretched body can return. Not to imply that we don’t stretch and take care of our bodies outside of yoga, but I unfortunately observe people warming up or cooling down from their workouts by using a series of rushed and ineffective basic hamstring, side body, and shoulder stretches. For the few individuals who happen to integrate a quadriceps stretch into their routine, it’s often by standing on one leg while hopping around like a mad man pulling the other leg into their butt. This article is dedicated to one of the most basic and accessible quad stretches (Ardha Bhekasana or Half Frog) and the importance of stretching this crucial muscle group for our active bodies.
Whenever we pick up our leg (for instance, when we walk) we use a group of muscles called our Hip Flexors. One of the primary hip flexors is the Psoas muscle. This fascinating muscle originates at our Lumbar Spine, wraps around deep inside of our pelvis, and connects to our Femur bone (thigh bone). Therefore, anytime we walk, run, sit, or stand for a long time, our Psoas muscle will engage and often tighten. This can create pressure and pain in our low backs. When we effectively stretch our quadriceps (also hip flexor muscles), your Psoas elongates and can help to tremendously relieve low back discomfort. In our yoga practice, stretching your quadriceps creates more space in your low back and spine which can free and open your back bends, forwardbends, and twists. We often don’t think about it, but incorporating a quad stretch or two into your yoga routine can give deeper freedom to many other poses that appear unrelated.
In addition to freeing your spine, stretching your quadriceps can also help open your hamstrings. Often, the cause of tight quads and Psoas muscles are when our Femur heads (thigh bones) push too far forward and out (externally rotate). This pressure from the Femur will tighten and strain the groins, quads, and low back. Additionally, when your thighs pop forward, your hamstrings shorten and get tighter. When you stretch your quadriceps appropriately, it allows the Femurs to move back into the hamstring muscle, stretching the fascia and muscle fibers apart. Also, when you engage your quads while stretching your hamstrings, not only does it keep your joints safer, it also helps to open your Hamstrings more effectively!
Lastly, and on a more functional level, quadriceps are your largest muscle group in the body. They support your patella and allow for knee extension. Therefore, when stretching and warming up this part of your body, it helps reduce the risk of knee injury involved in certain sports and activities. Below, I will explain how to safely stretch your quads in a pose called Arda Bhekasana.
Lay flat on your belly with your forearms on the ground in front of you. Bend your right knee and hold onto your foot with your right hand. Depending on the flexibility of your quad and shoulder, you’ll either grab the outer edge of the foot, the inner edge of the foot, or take the deepest expression by flipping your wrist up and over so your fingers wrap over your toes (as illustrated in the photograph). Your foot will be pointed but keep your toes spread. This will help engage your outer shin (Peroneal muscle) and stabilize your knee. Then, as you pull your foot in toward your hip, kick the foot into your hand a little bit but resist back by pulling with your hand. This action will engage your quads which allows them to stretch more effectively and provide additional stability for the knee. Keeping all these actions, begin to pull your right foot in toward your outer right buttock. If your quads are open, draw the heel in until the inner edge of your foot lines up and touches the outer seem of your right hip. Make sure you don’t draw the foot in too far outside or inside the hip (at an angle). This can put tremendous strain on your knee. Keep your left leg extended but don’t it fall away from center. Squeeze your back leg toward the midline to ensure stability for your low back while stretching your quad. Hold 30 seconds on each side.
If your shoulder and/or quads are very tight, it may not be possible to grab your foot in this pose. Alternately, you may perform this pose while standing. Do everything as described above, just hold on to something to make sure balance isn’t an issue and draw your belly and ribcage back to minimize pressure on your low back.
Sean Haleen’s classes are noted for their humor and depth. Focusing on alignment, students wishing to learn about their bodies and the different concepts of yoga philosophy in detail will enjoy his public classes. Click here to see his weekly class schedule. Sean will be teaching a Yoga 101 and Backbending Bliss: Learn to Go Back Without Pain workshops this month.
Photography by Ryan Scott. firstname.lastname@example.org