Exercise Highlight 6: Foam Rolling your Quadriceps

The thigh muscles or quadriceps which are made up of 4 primary muscles (rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, medialis, lateralis) commonly have a lot of tension and adhesions (trigger points or knots) within them, especially in the large population of people who sit much of the day and athletes that are quad dominant. This leads to short and weakened hip flexors, poor static and dynamic posture, trouble hinging from the hips correctly, squatting from the knees instead of sitting back with the hips and disengaged glutes. 

The quadriceps are responsible for stability and extension of the knee, flexion of the hip, and deceleration of knee flexion as well as hip extension. The quadricep group tends to be top of mind in many when it comes to performance, speed and strength of movement and this is where the trouble begins. They do play a large role in movement and gait but it’s your core, t-spine and ankle health that are going to determine the quality of your movement and the strength & speed of it. Unfortunately the core tends to lag behind and your primary hip extensors (gluteal complex or butt muscles) are usually asleep at the wheel, leading to compensations, imbalances and eventual injury. This is mostly do to the sitting epidemic.

*Core = structures that make up your lumbo-pelvic-hip-complex. These include but are not limited to, transversus abdominis, internal external obliques, diaphragm, psoas, rectus abdominis, gluteus medius, lumbar multifidus, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae, adductors and others that make up the core of the body. Just think of all the muscles within and around your pelvic girdle and spine.  

To begin, lets just focus on 1 muscle of the quad, take the Rectus Femoris muscle, with the origin on the Ilium of the hip, inserting all the way down to the Tibial Tuberosity and patella. This muscle runs the full length of the thigh, crossing over 2 major joints (hip & knee). When it is overactive and has a lot of tension within, it will lack proper extensibility, range of motion and strength, leading to faulty movement patterns, compensations, an anterior pelvic tilt (your belt line is tilted forward, excessively arching your lower back) and eventual injury. So as you can see, it becomes imperative that we correct this and foam rolling is the 1st step you will need to take.

First, It is very important you foam roll the quadriceps, then lengthen the tissues, and finish with re-introducing them to quality movement patterns. Foam rolling is a form of massage and flexibility training, click here to learn more. You do not want to stretch the area before you foam roll, especially if you have an injury to the muscle, adhesions or spasms. Doing so will just stretch the tissue around the area and do nothing to the trigger point that is causing the tenderness and lack of flexibility. Simply imagine a 12 inch rope with several knots throughout it, making it now only 10 inches in length. If you try to stretch the rope to bring it back to 12 inches you will just strain and weaken the rope, making the knots even tighter. It is not until you get rid of the knots with foam rolling & massage, that you can bring back the right length tension relationship of the muscles fibers.

It is key to take your time when foam rolling and breathe throughout the duration. If you hold your breath, you will increase tension throughout the body, never allowing the muscles to relax enough so you can get deep into the fibers and begin to rid them of the tension. There will be areas that are really tender so roll them slowly. Foam rolling can be used for both corrective strategies as discussed here or aid in recovery from workouts.

There are a variety of foam rollers out there, some denser than others. We recommended beginning with a less dense roller and then progress to one of high density to really get deep into the fibers. For the foam rollers and massage tools that we recommend, click here.

During this time, it is imperative that you meet with a qualified coach for a movement assessment and to discuss your training. A balanced program that is designed specifically for you is essential. Compensations will need to be addressed and functional movement patterns practiced.

To learn more about foam rolling click here.