Your “Quads” (quadriceps) are actually a muscle group. They’re not just one muscle, but four muscles, each contributing to the extension of your knee joint and the flexing of your hip. The quad muscles are crucial in running, squatting and jumping.
The quads are anatomically located in the anterior (front) compartment of the thigh. The quad muscle group is made of up of three large muscles: vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the smaller rectus femorus. Vastus lateralis is on the outside of the thigh, medialis on the inside, rectus femoris is on top, and intermedius is in the center hidden below the rectus femoris.
The quadricep muscles originate at the ilium (upper part of your hip bone) and femur (thighbone) and come together in a tendon around your patella (kneecap) and then attach to your tibia (shinbone).
If you want to see the quads in action, just perform the classic “knee jerk” exercise where you strike (carefully) the patellar ligament just below the knee cap with a soft hammer and watch what happens. The nerve impulse contracts the quadriceps femoris muscle and cause the “kick”.
In the gym, quad muscles are typically targeted with squats and leg presses. The most common pain location in the lower half of the thigh and knee may be related to the quads. Contrary to popular belief, however, the quads have no mechanical connection to the IT (iliotibial) band, so they don’t really contribute much to things like ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome).
Can’t stretch those!
Because the smaller rectus femorus is the only quad muscle that crosses the hip, it’s technically the only one that you can actually stretch. The other three quad muscles are responsible for knee extension and you really can’t stretch the knee in extension because your hamstrings prevent it. The famous “runner stretch”, then, only really stretches the rectus femorus muscle.
Keeping quads healthy
To keep your quads in shape–just stay in motion. Walking, running and jumping keep the muscles toned and healthy. Beware of muscle strain caused, often, by overloading the muscles with too-heavy squats or leg presses. Take it slowly and build strength. You can continue to “runner’s stretch” your rectus femorus muscle too.
Massage is also a great option for regular maintenance or rehabilitation of the quads. Massage therapy can actually affect more of the muscle group than stretching and help with reducing soreness and effectively recharging the muscles. Your therapist will warm the muscles with broad strokes and then use kneading motions and circular frictions to work the muscles and get at those “knots”. Between sessions with your therapist, you can use a foam roller to elongate and lengthen the muscles, and a tennis ball to roll across the muscles and release trigger points. So be kind to your quads with massage and you’ll stay more flexible, more mobile, and have better balance.