This week I thought we would stretch our Hip Flexors and Knee Extensors - you guessed it, I am talking about your Quadriceps Group (or your Thigh muscles). I perused my trusty Stretching Anatomy book and the stretches in there looked more difficult and/or dangerous than the stretch I will describe for you, and in my mind easier stretching means better results. I am sure you are all aware of this stretch, it is widely used in lots of places - gyms, training groups, almost everywhere people stretch they are sure to be using a variation of this one.
The main muscles we want to focus on with this stretch is the Quads - as mentioned above - but also the Psoas and Iliacus Muscles (often referred to as the Iliopsoas, and found deep in the lower abdominal region on the front of your lumbar spine). Tension in the Psoas and Iliacus can lead to low back ache by pulling forward on the lumbar vertebrae. This stretch is done kneeling on 1 knee (sometimes referred to as a lunge position), and stabilising your body by holding onto a stable object like a chair or a post or anything that will not move.
Position yourself kneeling on 1 knee with the other foot stretched out in front of you a little further away than the length of your Femur (thigh bone). Stabilise your body by holding a stable object - chair, table, post, whatever. Place your other hand on your hip to help your balance.
Take a deep breath in, then as you exhale gently push your pelvis forward towards your other foot. You should feel tension not only through the front of your thigh, but also through your pelvis ... this is where your Psoas and Iliacus go.
Hold this position for 15-20 seconds, and don't hold your breath, then gently release the stretch by returning to the starting position and repeat on the other leg.
Try to keep a neutral spine throughout the whole stretch. By this I mean as you push your pelvis forward, let your whole upper body go with it rather than extending the lower back.
Also in relation to your pelvis, try to keep it 'squared off' with your torso. By this I mean try to move the whole torso - pelvis and upper body - as 1 unit, and don't let your groin get left behind or tilt your pelvis forwards.
If you can only stretch a short way forward to start with, it is more important to maintain neutral spine and squared-off pelvis than to sacrifice these for greater distance. The more you do the stretch, the further you will be able to go and the better you will feel.
Variations of this stretch can be done standing, or even in side lying position, but I believe this is the best way to achievethe best results for effort when stretching these muscles.
Variation to deepen the stretch to the Quads:
Once you are comfortable with this stretch and you feel it is not giving you as much benefit for your Quads, you can step up the intensity and difficulty with the help of a towel or some rope/cord. As you get into the starting position place a rolled up towel or some rope/cord under the ankle of the leg you are kneeling on, and hold the ends with your free hand - over your shoulder. Then once you are in full stretch forward, pull the towel/rope/cord over your shoulder which will in turn flex the knee you are kneeling on and give a deeper stretch to the Quadriceps group of muscles. Be careful not to over stretch your Quads or you may do more harm than good.
Always remember to relax into your stretches - don't fight against the stretch (it may cause more harm than good), and always do each stretch 3 times, at least twice each day.
This stretch has not been directly taken from any specific source, but reference is made to "Stretching Anatomy" by A.G. Nelson and J. Kokkonen - pp106-109, and "The Anatomy of Stretching" by B. Walker - pp108-1