2 Exercises for the Best Rectus Femoris Stretch

Here’s How to Loosen Your Tight Rectus Femoris Muscle

By Coach E

2 Exercises for the Best Rectus Femoris Stretch

The rectus femoris can often get tight causing a muscular imbalance. Avoid injury with these 2 exercises for the best rectus femoris stretch.

Rectus Femoris Anatomy & Function

The individual muscle name rectus femoris might not ring any bells for you, but this muscle plays a key role in your favorite workouts and activities.

Your rectus femoris is a quadriceps muscle, meaning it’s one of the group of 4 big muscles running down the front of your thigh known mainly for knee extension.

rectus femories anatomy pic

Bur it’s not just a quad muscle, it’s more like THE quad muscle. This muscle is front and center of the pack, and plays a big role in how we move.

Your rectus femoris is the only quad muscle to cross two joints – your hip and your knee. It originates on your pelvis and runs down the front of your thigh, connecting to the patella via the quadriceps tendon [1].

This multi-joint muscle has 2 major movements.

One, it works to flex your hip (as happens when you bring your thigh closer to your abdomen). And two, it works to extend (or straighten) your knee.

Studies examining muscular activation have shown that the rectus femoris is very active during two different types of moves: forward lunges, where quadriceps activity is high and situps, where hip flexor activity is high [2].

rectus femoris stretch

Lower body exercises like leg extensions and squats also work the rectus femoris via the knee extension function, as do other moves that involve hip flexion, like hanging leg raises.

rectus femoris stretch hanging leg raise

Image by www.kinxlearning.com

Rectus Femoris Issues & Injuries

The most common rectus femoris issues are strains to the muscle.

Strains often occur at a muscle’s end range of movement – i.e., hip extension plus knee flexion or hip flexion plus knee extension. That’s because at these end ranges, the muscles are weakest and most prone to injury.

rectus femoris stretch kicking a soccer ball

Rectus femoris strains are fairly common in sports like soccer and football. In these sports, end range movements combined with sudden, forceful contraction of the muscle are pretty common – meaning injury is too [3].

How Do You Stretch Your Rectus Femoris?

The classic rectus femoris stretch is the couch stretch:

rectus femoris stretch couch stretchImage by www.athleticiq.com.au

For this static stretch, you come into the ½ kneeling position in front of a couch or chair with your back foot up on the seat and hold the stretch.

This does get you into a fully lengthened position for your rectus femoris with an extended knee and flexed hip.

The problem is that while static stretching might make some small improvements in your rectus femoris flexibility, it won’t give you lasting mobility changes.

This means that while you might build greater range of motion, you won’t build any STRENGTH in this range, so your range of control (ROC) hasn’t improved.

Not only can static stretching be a pointless practice (your body is prone to just tighten back up when it perceives these uncontrolled ranges), it can also be setting yourself up for injury.

And in fact, studies have shown that too much passive stretching can cause hamstring strains [4].

So ditch the classic rectus femoris stretch and opt for these 2 exercises instead.

2 Exercises for the Best Rectus Femoris Stretch

½ Kneeling Rectus Femoris ERA Sequence

This first move, an End Range Activation sequence, takes the classic rectus femoris stretch and elevates it to help you create a greater range of control.

You’ll activate both the agonist and the antagonist muscles in the end range, helping prevent injuries and build lasting, sustainable mobility.
1/2 kneeling Rectus Femoris Stretch

  • To start, find your end active range by coming into the ½ kneeling position slightly away from a wall.
  • Actively pull your heel toward your butt – the position you come into is your end active range
  • Get closer to the wall and come back into that end active position, but this time just let your foot touch the wall behind you – this will be your starting point
  • Deepen the stretch by resting on the wall a bit with your foot and relaxing
  • Next, drive your foot into the wall behind you, firing up your rectus femoris, and hold for 5 seconds
  • Release and relax into the stretch, allowing your foot to rest on the wall
  • Next, move away from the wall slightly, actively bring your heel towards your butt and provide some resistance by pushing down on your heel with one hand
  • Hold for 5 seconds, firing up the antagonist muscles, your hamstrings, which help you move OUT of the range of motion
  • Release your foot back to the wall and relax into the passive stretch
  • Repeat several cycles, holding each position for about 5 seconds

#2: The BJJ Quad Stretch

This next move is an excellent technique to improve quadricep mobility and is a great way to warm up before workouts.

The move draws on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques to help you actively move into end ranges of motion and create better neuromuscular control over the movements.
bjj quad stretch - Rectus Femoris Stretch

  • Take a seated position on the ground, putting your weight into your left hand and your right foot
  • Keep your right leg bent up at a 90° angle with the foot flat on the floor
  • Bridge your hips up by driving into your left hand and your right foot, bringing your left leg off the ground
  • Squeeze your right glute to push the hip into extension – your right knee should travel past your foot and come close to the ground.
  • Focus on activating the glute as you feel the stretch in your quads and hips
  • Next, activate your hip flexor to pull back into the starting position
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Complete 6 – 10 reps per side, making sure to focus on control and activation to help increase your active range

These exercises will give you a better, safer rectus femoris stretch.

And they’ll help you create mobility that lasts, not unsupported flexibility that just increases instability and your risk of injury.

About the Author

Eric Wong (aka Coach E) is the founder of Precision Movement and has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Waterloo. He's been a coach since 2005 and spent his early career training combat athletes including multiple UFC fighters and professional boxers. He now dedicates himself to helping active people eliminate pain and improve mobility. He lives in Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) with his wife and two kids and drinks black coffee at work and IPAs at play. Click here to learn more about Eric.