Muscle Group of the Week: Quadriceps

by Nov 13, 2023

The quadriceps femoris – known as the quadriceps extensors, quads, or the quadriceps – is a group of four different muscles on the anterior thigh.  Quadriceps femoris is a Latin term that translates to “four-headed muscle of the femur.  The most superficial of the four muscles is the rectus femoris.  Deep to the rectus femoris lies (from the lateral side of the femur to the medial side) the vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis.

anatomical graphic of a woman doing a squat with dumbbell on shoulders with quadriceps highlighted

 

What Do They Do?

If you check out the previous articles about the calves, hamstrings, and the glutes, you’ll notice that all of these lower body muscles assist with the same movements.  Walking, running, kicking, jumping… all of these large powerful muscle groups, the quadriceps femoris as well as the above mentioned three, are responsible for the completion of those actions!

More specifically, however, what does each individual quadricep muscle do?

anatomical highlight of the rectus femoris

Rectus Femoris

  • Hip Joint: Thigh flexion
  • Knee joint: Leg extension
anatomical highlight of the vastus lateralis

Vastus Lateralis

  • Knee joint: Leg extension
anatomical highlight of the rectus femoris

Vastus Intermedius

  • Knee joint: Leg extension
  • Beneath Rectus Femoris
anatomical highlight of the vastus medialis

Vastus Medialis

  • Knee joint: Leg extension

Making it Strong

Most exercises targeting the quadriceps don’t require special equipment but adding some weights – so long as your body isn’t shaking or surpassing its limits – can add an extra benefit!  Basically, anything with the word “squat” in it is going to get the quads pumping!

woman performing a bodyweight squat in the grass

Bodyweight Squats

man performing a barbell squat in the gym

Barbell Squats

man performing a goblet squat with kettlebell in the gym

Goblet Squat with Kettlebell

woman performing a split squat outside with back leg on a short fence

Split Squats

woman performing a hack squat on a machine in the gym

Hack Squats

The Best Stretches

You’ve done all your squats now and it’s time to stretch!  Post-workout muscles are warm, and warm muscles are more pliable muscles.  Do the following stretches while the fibers are most flexible!

man doing a standing quad stretch outside on beach

Standing Quad Stretch

woman doing a kneeling lunge stretch outside

Kneeling Lunge Stretch

person rolling quadriceps on a foam roller, only the legs and mid body are visible

Quadriceps Foam Roll

Keeping it Happy

chiropractor working on patients quadriceps while laying on a treatment table

Deep tissue massage is an effective treatment for tightened hamstrings.  It’s worth noting, though, that the posterior thigh is a hotspot of trigger points. Trigger point therapy can knock out those hyper-irritable cesspools of lactic acid with a dig of an elbow.

As with any bodywork session, you get the ultimate benefit if you go a step further than removing knots from locked-short muscles. When you have hyper-contracted quadriceps, the muscles on the front of your thigh overstretch and weaken.  Take a look at the hamstring article mentioned in a previous section and take a look at exercises and stretches for the quadriceps’ antagonistic muscle group!  While you can always practice the techniques at home, you can also ask your therapist to assist you with them; PNF is used for both strengthening and improving range of motion.

 

Now You Know!

Do your squats, extend those legs, and hit the leg press! Next time, we’ll talk about a muscle group that sits just above the four quadricep muscles; the hip flexors!

Katrina Jenkins

Katrina Jenkins

Author, Licensed Massage Therapist

Katrina Jenkins graduated from Towson University in 2013 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and worked as a nurse’s aide briefly before pursuing her true passion. She graduated from the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado in April 2016 with honors and completed the Touch of Healers Scholarship Program the following summer. She has been a part of the Moyer Total Wellness Team since the summer of 2017.

Resources

Inverarity, Laura. “3 Easy Quad Stretches to Improve Thigh Flexibility.” Verywell Fit, 2018, www.verywellfit.com/quadricep-stretches-2696366.

Lindberg, Sara . “10 Quad Exercises for Stronger Legs.” Verywell Fit, 27 Sept. 2022, www.verywellfit.com/10-quad-exercises-for-stronger-legs-5093857.

Sears, Brett. “What Exactly Are the Quad Muscles?” Verywell Health, 2019, www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-the-quadriceps-muscles-2696379.

Vaskovic, Jana. “Quadriceps Femoris Muscle.” Kenhub, 29 Oct. 2020, www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/the-quadriceps-femoris-muscle.

 

Photo Credit

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