How to Stretch Your Quads Without Getting Off the Couch

Photo: Getty Images/ Studio Tec
One of my favorite places to be is on the couch. It's where I read my beloved thrillers, re-watch The Office, cuddle up with my dog, and—as much as I hate to admit it—eat dinner on occasion. One thing I've yet to utilize the comfy piece of furniture for, though, is a solid "couch stretch."

If you haven't heard of the couch stretch, it's about to be a total game-changer for your body. A variation of a hip flexor stretch, it focuses on stretching the muscles that help you lift your leg toward your torso or fold forward. In doing so, you get some much-needed relief from being stuck behind a computer the majority of your day.

"Hip flexor stretching—combined with hip extensor strengthening—is a good idea for anyone who sits during the day. While sitting, these muscles are often in a shortened position for long periods of time, causing chronic tightness," says Stacy Dockins, yoga teacher and corrective exercise expert. "Since muscles work in reciprocal pairs, when the hip flexors are tight, the glutes tend to get a little sleepy. This leads to a lack of tensional integrity around the hip complex. Some muscles are over-firing and tight, while others are lax and stretched. This soft tissue environment creates an imbalance in the joints, which can eventually lead to pain and degradation in the sacroiliac joints, lumbar spine, and hip socket."

Aside from benefiting the hips, the couch stretch also helps out your quads. Particularly the rectus femoris, one of the four quad muscles that also happens to be one of the hip flexor muscles.

"When the rectus femoris is chronically tight, it can create dysfunction in the other quad muscles as they try to accommodate the overactive rectus femoris," Dockins says. "The overly-tight rectus femoris can also lead to a mistracking of the knee cap, which can further fuel pain and dysfunction in the entire lower limb from hip to ankle."

The couch stretch can help prevent all these issues from occurring, especially when you're also incorporating glute-strengthening exercises into your routine. "Doing one without the other can lead to further imbalance," Dockins says. And as for the couch stretch in particular, you can either do it on your trusty piece of furniture or in varying lunge positions on the floor. The choice is yours.

"Doing these stretches three to four times per week for two to three rounds at 15 to 30 seconds each is a good place to start. The stretch not only encourages a mechanical release of the soft tissues, but a neurological response occurs as motor neuron excitability diminishes with the static 15 to 30 second hold," Dockins says. "As always, keep in mind that your body is unique. What works for one person may not be the exact formula that works for you. Tune in to how your body is responding to your efforts and play with varying combinations of strengthening and stretching."

How to perform the couch stretch

  1. Stand facing away, with the backs of your legs touching the couch. It will be best without shoes.
  2. Place one knee on the couch and slide it back until your foot and shin can rest vertically on the back cushion.
  3. Use your hands as needed for support on your front thigh.
  4. Draw your tailbone down and under until you feel the stretch land in your lifted-leg hip crease and down the center of your quad (rectus femoris). Engage your lower abdominals as you do this.
  5. Maintain a tall lift through your spine and take deep breaths in and out through your nose. Slightly deepen the stretch on the exhalation.
  6. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat both sides for 2 to 3 rounds.

Optional: Squeeze your glutes of the side that is being stretched. This engagement will further facilitate the release of the hip flexors and overall tensional integrity. This can be done during the floor version as well.

How to perform the couch stretch on the floor

  1. Come into a kneeling position with your right foot forward.
  2. Place both hands on your right thigh for support.
  3. Slide your left knee back a couple of inches and draw your tailbone down and under until you feel the stretch in the left hip crease and center quad (rectus femoris).
  4. Maintain a tall lift through your spine and take deep breaths in and out through your nose. Slightly deepen the stretch on the exhalation.

Optional: Lift your arms vertically, then drop your right arm by your side as you laterally bend your trunk to the right and slightly back. Your left hand will be reaching up and out of the left hip flexor area for added access to the stretch.

Feelin' good after stretching? There's more where that comes from. You can also learn how to stretch to relieve lower back pain and try the foot stretches that beat a massage any day.

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