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Poses for Your Thighs

The 7 Best Yoga Poses to Stretch Tight Quads

Your quadriceps take you everywhere and help you do just about everything. Here's how to ensure they continue to do so without complaint.

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You practice quad stretches all the time in yoga, whether you’re aware that’s what you’re doing or not. But you might be more familiar with its opposite action, quad contraction—you know, that burning sensation you experience in Chair Pose and Warrior II Pose? That’s your quads complaining.

Your quadriceps, or quads for short, are a group of four individual muscles that make up the majority of your thighs. Each time you straighten your legs, your quads contract, and this taken-for-granted movement happens regularly in day-to-day life. Whether you’re standing, walking, sitting, jumping, cycling, skiing, or hiking, your quads are engaged. It stands to reason the quadriceps muscles are prone to overuse.

If you’re thinking that using your quads too much doesn’t sound accurate for your lifestyle, consider that sitting for multiple hours a day due to work or that Netflix binge can also tighten your quads. All of these demands lead to the quads getting sore—and not in a subtle way.

As an antidote, the following quad stretches from yoga lengthen the muscle fibers and provide simple and effective ways to reduce the intensity of those aftereffects.

7 quad stretches you can practice through yoga

Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)

How this pose is a quad stretch: Low Lunge is a beginner-friendly yoga pose that allows you to retain precise control of the depth and intensity of the quad stretch in your back leg. To assist with finding and maintaining an upright posture, you can frame your front foot with blocks on a comfortable setting and press into them with both hands. Keeping your torso upright and pressing your pubic bone toward your right knee amplifies the stretch. To go deeper, you could also move your bent knee further back from your front heel. The wider your stance, the more intense the stretch will feel.

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog Pose. On an exhalation, step your right foot between your hands, keeping your right knee over your right heel.
  2. Lower your left knee to the floor and untuck your back toes to place the top of your foot on the floor.
  3. On an inhalation, lift your torso and keep it in line with your hips. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor as you press your pubic bone forward.
  4. Sweep your arms alongside your sides, biceps framing your ears.
  5. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  6. To come out of the pose, place your hands back down to frame your right foot, turn your left toes under, lift your left knee back up, and return to Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Twisted Monkey 

How this pose is a quad stretch: Twisted Monkey, sometimes referred to as Crooked Monkey, is similar to Low Lunge and provides a deep stretch in the belly, or center, of the quadriceps. To increase the sensation in your quads, draw your lifted heel closer to your glute and press your pubic bone forward. 

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog. On an exhalation, step your right foot to the outside of your right hand with your right knee stacked directly above your right heel.
  2. Lower your left knee to the floor.
  3. Flex your left knee so that your left heel draws toward your left glute. Point your left toes toward the ceiling.
  4. Sweep your right arm back and grab the outer edge of your left foot so your palm faces away from you.
  5. On an exhalation, angle your right foot out to the side and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot to allow your right knee to fall to the side. Press your pubic bone toward your right knee.
  6. Broaden through your chest and lift yourself out of your hips so you don’t collapse in your lower back.
  7. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  8. To come out of the pose, lower your left foot to the ground, bring your right hand back down inside your right foot, turn your right foot forward, and draw your right knee back over top of your right heel. Return to Downward-Facing Dog.
  9. Repeat on the other side.
Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose | Dancer Pose)

How this pose is a quad stretch: You may instinctively do a variation of Lord of the Dance Pose each time you stretch before a run. However, actually coming into this expression of Natarajasana opens your hips and shoulders while also targeting your quadriceps. Deepen the stretch by pressing your foot into your hand more forcefully to extend the quad further from your hips. 

How to practice:

  1. Begin standing in Mountain Pose
  2. Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your right glute. Reach back with your right hand to grab your right ankle, palm facing out
  3. Press down through your left foot, drawing your tailbone down and keep your shoulders stacked over your hips.
  4. On an exhalation, press your right foot back and up as you reach your left arm forward and up. Lengthen your torso forward by hinging at the hips.
  5. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  6. To release, let go of your right ankle and slowly return to Mountain Pose.
  7. Repeat on the other side.
Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Ardha Bhekasana (Half Frog Pose)

How this pose is a quad stretch: Half Frog Pose is a lying quad stretch that brings your knee into flexion, much like Twisted Monkey. You’ll feel the stretch throughout the entirety of your quad in your bent leg. This pose can feel intense, so only go as deep as feels comfortable. If you have difficulty reaching the top of your foot or keeping your hips square as you reach back, consider using a strap (or, if you don’t have a strap, a towel or sweatshirt) looped around the arch of your foot.

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Sphinx Pose with your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders. Angle your left hand so it’s pointing diagonally toward the right.
  2. Press down with your left forearm to roll your left shoulder back and away from the floor.
  3. Keep your chest open as you bend your right knee to bring your right heel toward the outside of your right glute.
  4. Reach back with your right hand, bend your elbow, and place your hand on top of your right foot and toes, fingers pointing away from you. Turn your wrist so your fingers are pointing toward the front of the mat and keep your elbow pointing toward the ceiling.
  5. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  6. To come out of the pose, lower your right foot to the ground and bring your right forearm to the mat.
  7. Repeat on the other side.
Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)

How this pose is a quad stretch: Reclining Hero Pose is another lying quad stretch that’s restorative in nature and can be easily modified based on your flexibility. Props such as bolsters, blocks, and blankets can be used as support beneath your back or arms to adjust how deeply you lean back, allowing you to find the point where you begin to feel a quad stretch and can stay there without discomfort.

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Virasana with your inner knees touching, feet wider than your hips, and glutes on the floor or supported by a block or bolster.
  2. Place your hands on your hips and sit up straight
  3. On an exhalation, place your hands behind and outside of both feet, palms facing down and fingers pointing forward. Stay here or begin to lower down to your forearms as you continue to lean backwards. Stay here or continue to lower onto your back with your arms alongside your body, palms facing up, or you can grab opposite elbows above your head. Find a depth that is comfortable for you.
  4. Stay here for as long as feels comfortable.
  5. To come out of the pose, slowly release the same way you came into the pose, rising first onto your forearms and then onto your hands. Lean forward until your shoulders are stacked above your hips.
Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Three-Legged Dog, Variation

How this pose is a quad stretch: While this bent-knee variation of Three-Legged Dog is technically a hip opener, you’ll also experience a pleasant stretch along the front of both thighs. In the quadricep of the bent knee, the muscles relax and receive a passive stretch, whereas the quadricep of the planted leg elongates even as they engage in an active stretch.

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
  2. On an inhalation, lift your right foot so your leg is in line with your hips and back.
  3. Bend your right knee and bring your right heel toward your back.
  4. On an exhalation, with both hands and your left foot planted, begin to press through your right heel and bring it across your glutes toward the left side of your body.
  5. Focus on keeping your center of gravity straight down your center. Press down through both hands evenly.
  6. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  7. To release, return to Downward-Facing Dog.
  8. Repeat on the other side.
Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia

Camatkarasana (Wild Thing)

How this pose is a quad stretch: This pose opens the entire front of your body as you work to find grace and balance. The leg positions are similar to Three-Legged Dog and the quad of your bended knee—as well as your hips, chest, and shoulders—will feel the stretch as you lengthen through your back.

How to practice:

  1. Begin in Downward-Facing Dog Pose.
  2. Shift your weight into your left hand and roll onto the outer edge of your left foot.
  3. On an inhalation, lift your hips. On an exhalation, bend your knee and step your right foot behind you.
  4. Sweep your right arm alongside your ear with your palm facing up.
  5. Stay here for 10 seconds.
  6. To come out of the pose, bring your right arm back to the ground, come back onto the ball of your left foot, and return to Downward-Facing Dog.
  7. Repeat on the other side.