Side Lying Quad and Hip Flexor Stretch

Women in exercise class practicing Pilates table legs routine
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This quad and hip flexor stretch is one everybody should know. It stretches the muscles of the front of the thigh (quads) and the hip flexors. A lot of people think they know this stretch. We see versions of it from runners to dancers, but most people do it wrong and end up overstretching their knee. This is not, I repeat not, a knee stretch.

Doing this side-lying hip stretch with Pilates alignment and attention will help you use it to greater effect. Once you get the principle of this move lying down you will be able to translate it to many similar stretches that are done from the knees or standing.


  1. Lie on your right side with your head resting on your right arm which is stretched overhead. Rest your left hand in front of you for stability.  Adjust your position so that your hips and shoulders are in a straight line.
    1. Your legs are straight and at a slight angle about 6" in front of your body. Flex your bottom foot — it will help your balance if you press the edge of it into the floor.
  2. Pull up and in with your abdominal muscles and keep your hips and shoulders stacked on on top of the other.
  3. Keeping your left leg straight, open from the front of your hip to take the leg behind you slightly.
  4. Bend your left knee and reach back and grab your left ankle with your left hand.
    1. Your abs are pulled up and in, your ribs stay in — they don't pop forward, and your back does not arch with the stretch. Feel like your abs are pulling your tailbone through to the front as you send your knee away from you and back.
    2. Tip: This is where you might be tempted to just pull your foot to your butt. Resist that urge for now. It will give you a stretch of the thigh, and an overstretch of the knee, but it won't give you the better stretch you will get if you do step 5.
  1. If you are ready to go further, open through the front of your hip to take your leg back a little more. As you do, you have an opportunity to play with the dynamic between pulling your leg back, bending your knee so your foot goes toward your butt, and pressing your ankle slightly into your hand. This is a different action than a passive lower leg.
    1. Check the alignment of your hips and shoulders. Don't cave into the stretch by leaning forward.
  2. Hold the stretch as you take deep breaths for about 30 seconds. Slowly release it and do the other side.


  1. Judge all the stretches between opening your hip, stretching your quad, and pushing your foot into your hand for yourself. Play with it to discover the different levels of stretch you can get.
  2. You can take this into the standing quad stretch, but use what you learned about alignment to keep from folding forward during the stretch, a mistake most people make.
  3. Avoid stressing your knee. Protect your lower back by keeping your hips stacked and moving forward as your leg goes back. If you feel stress on your back or knee, back off.
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