How to Do a Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 22: Aaron Vandenberg of the Demons stretches during a Melbourne Demons AFL training session at AAMI Park on July 22, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.
Melbourne Demons Training Session. Michael Dodge / Stringer / Getty Images

Targets: Quadriceps

Level: Beginner

Stretching the quadriceps muscles improves flexibility for this large muscle found in the front of thigh. This stretch is a common one used as part of a warmup or after-exercise stretching, especially for activities such as cycling, running, and yoga. There are many different ways to stretch your quadriceps, but this is a simple version you can do while standing.


The quadriceps (quads) are a group of muscles along the front of the thigh. They consist of the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. This muscle group is recruited to extend the leg while straightening the knee and is a primary mover in stair climbing and cycling. Injuries to the quadriceps muscle are often caused by a strength or flexibility imbalance between the quadriceps and the hamstrings. While the evidence is still debatable as to whether stretching prevents injuries in sports, this stretch will often be included in exercise sessions. Sports where the quads are heavily used include cycling and hiking or running uphill. Practiced regularly, this stretch can help you maintain or improve your range of motion. Stretching the quads is suggested for people who sit for long periods and it may be included in exercises for back maintenance.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stand on one leg. If you need support, hold onto something solid, such as a wall or chair, for support.
  2. Bend your right knee and bring your heel toward your buttock.
  3. Reach for your ankle with your opposite (left) hand.
  4. Stand up straight and pull in your abdominal muscles. Try to keep your knees next to each other. Relax your shoulders. As you hold your leg in the bent position you will feel a slight pull along the front of your thigh and hip.
  5. Breathe deeply and hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat on the left leg, this time holding your ankle with your right hand. Stretch each leg one to five times in a stretching session.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most from this stretch and prevent strain or injury.


Do not bounce while performing the stretch. If you find yourself doing so, you should stabilize yourself by holding onto a chair or wall.

Locking Your Knee

Don't lock your standing knee during the stretch. Keep it soft.

Knee Drifting Outward

Don't allow your bent knee to move or drift outward. Keep the knees in next to each other.

Stretching Before a Warmup

To prevent muscle strain, you should stretch only after you've done a warmup. This is usually some easy cardio exercise to get your circulation going taking the muscles through their range of motion.

Stretching to Pain

Stretch until feeling mild discomfort—don't go beyond this to the point of pain. Be careful not to strain your knee. The goal is not to touch your heel to the buttock, but rather to feel the gradual stretch in the thigh.

Arching Your Back

Avoid arching your low back as you bend your knee, keep your abdominals engaged to keep your back neutral as you pull into this stretch. 

Modifications and Variations

There are many ways you can stretch your quadriceps, depending on your abilities and needs.

Need a Modification?

If you aren't yet able to reach your ankle to hold it during the stretch, try this—loop a towel around your ankle and grab both ends. This way you can hold the leg in a bend without needing to reach all the way to the ankle.

If you can't keep your knees aligned, it is ok to let the bent knee come back as far as it will without causing pain. As you use the stretch in your workouts your knee will naturally come further back as the muscle relaxes.

If holding an ankle with your opposite hand causes discomfort, you can hold the ankle with the hand on the same side as the leg being stretched.

Up for a Challenge?

Varying your quadriceps stretches can be beneficial. A couple of different ways to stretch them include doing this exercise lying on your side or when prone on your stomach. You can also do a simple quad stretch by assuming a lunge position.

Safety and Precautions

The standing quad stretch is excellent for improving flexibility, but if you have knee or back pain, you should go easy in this stretch. Ask your doctor or physical therapist what kind of stretching is recommended. Do not stretch to the point of pain. End the stretch if you feel sharp pain anywhere. If you have any balance issues, be sure that you are doing this stretch where you can reach out and touch a wall or chair.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.