Quadriceps Mobility and Strength

The forgotten muscle in performance and injury prevention.

quadriceps mobility

It’s common to see athletes of all ages and abilities engaged in prolonged, static stretching of a muscle or muscle group. Imagine the classic scene of a jogger stopping at a park bench for a quick hamstring stretch. From competitive sport to physical education classes to yoga, passive static stretching is the norm. In fact, hamstring stretches are one of the mainstay stretches used by everyone. However, this may not be the path to performance and injury prevention that many believe it to be. Increased mobility, pain-free function, and injury prevention may actually require that we flip the relationship between strength and flexibility in the lower extremity. It makes more sense to stretch our quadriceps instead of strengthening them, and strengthen our hamstrings instead of stretching them.


Appreciating the interconnectedness of tissues in the human body helps when we consider how and why we stretch. A prime example is the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. Essentially, the quadriceps and the hamstrings meet at the bones of the pelvis, creating a fulcrum. There is a basic relationship between the anterior thigh (quadriceps and hip flexors) and posterior thigh (hamstrings and glutes). That relationship influences the muscles of the abdominal wall and low back via the pelvis. This is possible because they share a similar front to back of the body relationship through the pelvis.


As this relates to the muscles of the thigh, the quadriceps are typically in a shortened position. At the same time, the hamstrings are elongated. To understand this, picture your position when sitting in your favorite easy chair. The same holds true for most of our daily activity like walking or standing. Because of this, the hamstrings are constantly at a disadvantage. Static stretching of the hamstrings only makes the situation worse. The already chronically stretched hamstring gives up even more ground to the quadriceps in relation to the pelvic fulcrum and becomes weaker.

Quadriceps & Hamstring Imbalances

Research suggests the ratio of hamstring to quadriceps strength should be roughly 0.6. This means that the hamstrings possesses 60% of the strength of the quadriceps. In athletic populations, this strength ratio is closer to 1.0, or equal, for purposes of injury prevention. Static stretching weakens force production, reduces strength endurance, and diminishes sprint performance. Because of this, we may be putting ourselves at a mechanical disadvantage by habitually stretching our hamstrings. This could potentially result in causing injury instead of preventing injury.

So, is it better to skip stretching?

kettlebell swing quadriceps mobilityAs a rule, its still important to stretch. But, it’s all about timing – post-exercise v. pre-exercise, and type – dynamic v. static. When stretching, focus on the results you want. Ask yourself what area of your body you are mobilizing, and what mechanical changes are occurring as a result. For example, if we stretch the quadriceps with an emphasis on movement, it helps reduce tension in the hamstrings. Therefore, our muscles are more ready for training and competition. Another key step is the addition of high quality strength and conditioning focused on the posterior muscles. Examples include dead lifts and kettle bell swings. So keep stretching, training, and playing. At the same time, be mindful that sometimes our attempts at preventing injury aren’t always what they seem.


Written by: Ross Dexter, DAT, MKin, ATC, CSCS athletic trainer for The Center Foundation and Summit High School in Bend, OR. Learn more about Ross HERE.

The Center Foundation places dedicated athletic trainers in local high schools to provide sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. Learn more about our work HERE.



Janda V. Muscles and motor control in low back pain: Assessment and management. In: Twomey Lt. Physical therapy of the low back. New York, Edinburgh, London: Churchill Livingston, 1987;253-87

Ogura Y, Miyahara Y, Naito H, Katamoto S, Aoki J. Duration of static stretching influences muscle force production in hamstring muscles. J Strength Cond R. 2007;21(3):788-92 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17685679

Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Arnall DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2005;19(2):338-43. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15903372

Nelson AG, Driscoll NM, Landin DK, Young MA, Schexnayder IC. Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. J Sports Sci. 2005:23(5);449-54 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16194993

Winchester JB, Nelson AG, Landin D, Young MA, Schexnayder IC. 2008. Static stretching impairs sprint performance in collegiate track and field athletes. J Strength Cond Res. 2005:22(1);13-19 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296950

Coombs R and Garbutt G. Developments in the use of the hamstring/quadriceps ratio for the assessment of muscle balance. J Sports Sci Med. 2002:1(3); 56-62 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24701125

Holcomb WR, Rubley MD, Lee HJ. Effect of Hamstring-Emphasized Resistance Training on Hamstring: Quadriceps Strength Ratios. J Strength Cond Res. 2007:21(1);41-47 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17313266

Lake JP and Lauder MA. (2012). Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2012:26(8);2228-33 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22580981

Zebis MK, Skotte J, Andersen CH, Mortensen P, Petersen HH, Viskær TC, Jensen TL, Bencke J, Andersen LL. Kettlebell swing targets semitendinosus and supine leg curl targets biceps femoris: an EMG study with rehabilitation implications. Br J Sports Med. 2013:47(18);1192-98 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22736206