The quadricep is an essential supportive and protective muscle that hooks in all around the kneecap and pulls the joint up to straighten it. The opposing and balancing muscle, the hamstring, is located on the other side of the thigh. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
This exercise focuses on the front/top quadricep, which is often the weakest quarter of the quad muscle, especially for cyclists who tend to strengthen the other three. Start on your hands and knees, preferably with your torso elevated to add weight to your legs. Lift your assisting leg off the floor, and work your active leg by extending and bending at the knee. The assisting knee can be placed behind the working one to add resistance if you like. For another variation, point the working leg's toes back and change the heel's position with each rep, moving from left to center to right, thus working the quad slightly differently each time.
Hindu Squats (Bethaks)
Begin by squatting balanced on the balls of your feet, with your back straight and buttocks touching heels. Keep your back in line with your heels as you press up to standing. For a challenging 3rd level exercise that's one of my favorites, try some one-legged bethaks. The key to doing these properly is not to assist with the other leg; either hold that leg up against your buttocks, or if you're certified awesome, extend it forward in front of you and do the exercise without letting it touch the floor. Pretend you're pushing the earth downward with all your might.
Stand with your feet about one leg's length apart. Lower your bottom to touch one heel, keeping your toes on the floor and your bent knee pointed outward. Now push your hips upward, back to centre, and down to the other side. Move your hips in an inverted U rather than a V, and enjoy.
These familiar exercises begin from a standing posture. Lower your butt until your upper thighs are parallel to the floor, without letting your knees come farther forward than your toes. Keep your back straight and mostly vertical with eyes up. For a little martial-arts style training, kick toward the front at the top of each squat.
Stand up straight and step one foot out in front as if walking. Now plant your feet and shift your body down until your knees are bent about 90° each, their position in profile being ( |‾‾|_ ). Now lift your body up with your weight on the front leg, using the rear leg for balance. Keep your hips facing forward. You can also elevate the rear foot ~10", sole up, and use more of the rear leg to assist in the motion. This requires a flexible and strong knee and is risky without one, but will strengthen a whole different part of your quad. Longer lunges will focus more on your glutes.
Stretches for Flexibility
Standard Quad Stretch
Stand up straight, bring your heel up to your butt, and hold your foot there with one or both hands. Extend the stretch by contracting your shin muscle without moving your hand, thus moving your heel upward. You can also do this from a knee-standing position; try moving the stretching leg's knee back a few inches and arching your back a bit to bring your hip flexors into the stretch.
Supine Hero Pose
Start in the Hero Pose. Keep your knees together as you slowly lower your torso backward, touching your elbows to the floor, followed by the top of your head and if possible, your upper back. Relax and extend your arms upward from your body. This is also a wonderful stretch for the abs, hip flexors, front shoulders and chest.
Supine Hero Stretch
Similar to the supine hero pose, with a different foot position that'll stretch your hip flexors and abs more. Squat down on the balls of your feet, touch your knees to the floor in front of them, and slowly lean back onto your hands, followed by your elbows. If possible, take hold of your feet as you lean farther backward, touching your head and then upper back to the floor. Keep your feet supportive as you relax and stretch. You can also enter this stretch from the supine hero pose by changing your foot position.
Leg Lock Stretch
Begin with the standard quad stretch. Bring your stretching leg's heel to the outside of the leg, and take hold of it with the opposite hand. Now reach the stretching side's arm behind the stretching foot, press the inside of the elbow against the inside of the foot, and bring the hand around in front of the outer calf. Your arm and leg should now be locked together; use your hand to push your knee down, and your elbow to push the foot forward. This will bend and twist your spine in interesting ways, so be careful with it.
Crescent Moon Pose
From a knee-standing position, bring one foot forward and plant it in front of you, so that your torso, rear thigh and front shin are vertical, and your front thigh and rear shin are horizontal. Now raise the rear leg's ankle and take hold of it in both hands. You can also do a seated version of the leg-lock stretch from here.
Static Holds for Endurance
Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width, and lower your butt until (ideally) your upper thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and head up. As you hold this for a long time, try the mounted archer's qi gong movement: exhale as you reach one arm forward and bring the opposite elbow back, inhale as you bring your hands to the same distance in front of you, and inhale as you reach forward and back with the opposite arms.
Lateral Angle Pose
Stand with your feet about one leg's length apart. Turn one foot to point sideways, and bend that knee to burden your quadricep, keeping your hipbones parallel to the line between your feet. To complete the pose, reach the working side's arm towards the matching foot, thus lowering your torso into the same diagonal line as your assisting leg, and reach the assisting side's arm straight upwards.
Lateral Angle Variations
Beginning with the lateral angle pose, reach the working side's hand down in front of your thigh and around behind your butt, and reach the assisting side's hand behind your back to link the two hands together. For a revolved lateral angle, start with the same leg position, then turn your hips towards the working side and anchor your assisting elbow on the working knee, place your palms together in prayer and hold both forearms vertical. As you would with any spinal twist, make sure your back is straight the whole time.
Lay on your stomach, bend your knees to bring your heels to your buttocks, and reach your arms back to take hold of your feet. Lift your shoulders and chest up off the floor, and contract your quadricep muscles to lift them up even farther. Do most of the work with your quads and not your lower back.
Come to a knee-standing position, with your knees a foot in front of, and your forearms on top of, a table or desk. Tuck you toes under your feet, lift your knees off the floor, and hold the pose there or gently move up and down.