The big hunka muscles on the fronts of your legs is the Quadriceps Group. They get tight and can wreak havoc on the rest of your body if not taken care of, but often times I find that while clients are aware they exist, there’s little TLC done to them except the occasional quick foam roll. The quick back and forth foam roll that is often seen in the gym will warm up the muscle, but doesn’t do much to release it.
I truly believe the best anything is the thing that you actually do. If you’re not doing it there’s no chance it’s going to be the best for you. That being said, here’s my favorite ways to release and give a lil’ TLC to my quads.
EEEEEEERK. Hold up. Let’s talk first about the quads before we go touching them. (<– How about, in general, we all agree that some knowledge about the body will help us feel better? K. Good.)
Quads by picture
The Quadriceps Group is a set of four muscles on the front part of your upper leg. Lots of people refer to this area as the thigh. The most superficial muscle (the one on top) is the Rectus Femoris—and is the only Quad that crosses both the hip and knee joints which means it performs both hip flexion and knee extension.
The other three, even though they’re not on top, are also pretty important and are responsible, in addition to Rec Fem (<– I’m not sure if this is an in-the-biz thing or a Julie thing…so use at your own risk. K?), for knee extension. Think: kicking a soccer ball. They are Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, and Vastus Intermedius and originate on different parts of the upper femur while all converging into the tibial tuberosity (a.k.a. that boney area on the upper shinbone).
Now, what to do about them?
To soften* muscles I like to use a lacrosse ball instead of a foam roller. It brings specificity that a foam roller can’t. Warning: The thing with a lax ball, though, is that it can get kinda painful because of the specificity. So if you’re kneading (massage joke!) to gently get into a muscle ease back and use something softer like a foam roller or a tennis ball.
My favorite way to soften muscles with a ball is to find a tender spot and then let the ball sink and soften (has someone hashtag’ed sink and soften? #sinkandsoften) by placing the ball on my Rec Fem and add as much body weight as possible. Let’s get real though: as much body weight as is tolerably comfortable. We’re not in the business of creating sharp and lasting pain.
And so, I rest until the muscle releases—which might feel like a relaxation in the area you’re working on or simply, it being less uncomfortable. I don’t say sink and soften lightly; that’s exactly what happens with the combo lax ball/pressure meets muscle—it feels like the ball sinks into your softened muscle.
Once you soften that specific area, move the ball around to access other tender areas. This is sometimes a one and done move, or you’ll find new spots that need some of that special TLC. Spend anywhere from 2-5 minutes on this muscle, but no more than 2 minutes in any single place.
I release* most muscles through movement and it’s the most powerful way I know how to do so on my own. One way to do it is to place the lax ball (or any implement) on the muscle and take it through the opposite range of motion of its action. Since we know that the action of the quads is extension (to straighten the leg), the reverse is going to help release it. Bend the knee to lengthen the muscle over the lax ball. The combo of pressure and lengthening of the quads (by contracting the hamstrings) sends a signal to the brain to release the muscle. Do this anywhere from 5-10 times per spot and move the ball around 2-5 times (and, potentially more if your quads are really tight!).
It’ll feel deep and stretchy—that’s good! What’s not good is any kind of zingy feeling or pain that lasts once you’re done. You can move the ball up and down or left and right over the entire quadriceps region. CAUTION: stay out of the inner crease of your hip ’cause nerves and arteries!
*(Note: softening and releasing your muscles are pretty much the same thing…at least in my book. The difference? The techniques used and how your body responds to them on a cellular level. The more work you do on yourself you’ll find that you prefer certain techniques on different areas.)
To make sure I’m doin’ things correctly, I’ll work on one leg, stand up and feel the difference between sides. That will give you some clues as to what it feels like to have tight muscles vs. released muscles and what techniques are working for you.
Can’t wait to get your hands on a high quality copy of a #musclestothemasses print? Use them as art or for reference when you’ve got a an issue in your tissue (ha, muscle jokes!).