Ending our week on quadriceps, I feel that I have found new ways of stretching and targeting different muscles to find those sweet spots that feel so nice to work on. We have learned about our body and why the quads are so important to pay attention too.
A lot of knee problems might result from tight quads. If you look at the picture below, you will understand better why. The quads are actually a group of 4 muscles: The Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius and Vastus lateralis. Their primary function is to extend the knee. As such, they are the agonists and their antagonists are the Hamstrings. The hamis’ primary function is to bend the knee (refer to the previous article to know more about Hamis). The quads form that large mass of muscles on the front of your tights.
The Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius and Vastus lateralis originate on the femur bone, while the Rectus Femoris – which is as well a hip flexor, originates on the pelvis (Ilium). They all join together to create a big tendon that slides under the patella (or knee cap) and inserts on your tibialis (one of the bones in your lower leg). Check out the picture, see those white areas around the knee? That’s what I mean.
So if those muscles get tight, they shorten right? If they shorten, they are going to pull up, creating tension on the knee. Knee problems can have many causes but this is one that I often find relevant for people who run a lot or train hard at the gym.
Tight quads can as well create lower back tension, especially if the Rectus Femoris is tight. It is going to bring the pelvis out of alignment creating a crushing effect in the lumbar spine. But this is a complex issue that I won’t develop here. If you need to know more about your personal situation, I would recommend seeing a pro such as a physio or massage therapist.
It is important to stretch the Quadriceps but I find that there is an interesting phenomenon that can happen regarding the knee. You know how we can often live which aches and pains and put up with it for a while (even if we shouldn’t;-)? Well, if you have knee pain it’s a lot harder to put up with. Pain in the knees are harder to bear. So with that in mind, when it comes to stretching, there can be a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort if sensations of pulling in the knees happen. We can learn about our bodies and the way our mind functions big time here. It is very important to distinguish ‘good’ pain and ‘bad’ pain. Bad pain is sharp, very unsettling and you kind of know that something is not quite right. Get out of the pose then and ask the teacher for help to modify the pose or drop it completely. Then there is the pain in the knee that is more like a ‘gentle pulling’, a sensation of stretching. It should NOT be too intense… so it means that it’s ok, that the mind can settle down having thought rationally about what’s actually going on. Being able to use our intelligence to resonate will help us relax in the pose and allow the Quads to stretch harmoniously. Always ask the teacher if you have any doubts, it’s better to double check than injure yourself!
Here are a few reminders of the poses (Asanas) that we practised this week.
In this first series of ‘lunges’, remember the stepping steps:
- Place some cushioning under your back knee and bring the other foot forward. Make sure that the front knee doesn’t passes the ankle. You might have to modify your stance after following the next steps.
- Tuck the back toes under, lift your leg and replace the back knee on the floor, applying weight on top of the patella and not on the kneecap itself.
- Place your hands onto your hips, adjust your pelvis. Feel the two ‘front hip bones’ (ASIS) and make sure they are both square to the front of the room. Posterior tilt your pelvis by bringing your pubic bone up and tailbone down. Engage your core. Keep all of that engaged now!
- Then choose your hands placement. It can be on a chair that has been previously placed in front of your front leg; or on your hips, in front of your heart or arms above. Remember as well than when the arms are up, you have to draw your rib points in more to avoid over extending in your lower back. Keep your fingers active and lift up from the sternum. This last option intensify the stretch are their is more weight redistribution that goes into the Quads and knees.
- Stay present with your mind focused on your breath. Allow gravity to gently pull tha pelvis down. Your job is to slowly relax in the stretch first.
- Then use a PNF stretch: pull the front heel to the back knee, use your muscular strength to do so and hold for two breath. Then gently release on the exhale and allow the pelvis to drop a little more towards the floor. Hod for a few more breath then slowly come out of the pose and switch side.
You can as well grab the back foot, move your pelvis back and pull the heel to your butt cheek, then allow the pelvis to gently start lowering to the floor.
Here are some photos that illustrate what we practised. All are lunges variations. Remember the stepping steps mentioned above and be patient! Hold for at least 5 breaths on each side for each pose. In between, take breaks on all 4, stretch one leg at a time and shake.
The last one is Warrior I (Virabadhrasana I) and has the back foot flat on the floor. Shorten your stance a little bit so you will be able to square your hips to the front more easily. For this pose (as well as Crescent warrior – back leg straight heel up) you should strongly activate your back leg by lifting your back kneecap.