QUad Stretcing to Help Anterior Pelvic Tilt
I’ve always had tight quadriceps. When kneeling, I couldn’t even touch my butt with my heels. It was kind of embarrassing, especially when visiting Japan where everyone can sit like that.
When I first got into serious strength training, I skipped proper warm-ups. I might have done some warm-up sets for squats and bench press, but I didn’t stretch.
After gaining some appreciable muscle mass in the legs, I figured the reason for my tight quads must be from the combination of not stretching and gaining leg mass.
When I finally looked at some pictures and realized I had some massive anterior pelvic tilt, I wondered if my tight quads caused my APT. Or could my APT have caused my tight quads?
Immediately, I began to stretch my quads and I noticed some improvement. The weird thing is the improvement only lasted for about 10 minutes. I thought the answer was to simply to stretch more often. I began stretching from 10 to 20 times a day. My flexibility got better and I really felt I was loosening up.
Although my flexibility was improving, when I would take my leg back, I would feel my leg vigorously wanting to pull forward no matter how much I stretched.
After about a month I realized it was futile. I still wasn’t even close to passing my SEA test. I didn’t have a flexibility problem. I had a stiffness problem.
I could increase the flexibility of the hip flexors and quads all I wanted, but until I increased the stiffness of the hamstrings, obliques, and glutes (HOG) to offset the pull of the hip flexors and quads, there would always be that same massive pull. I could have a ton of flexibility in my hip flexors and quadriceps, but they could still be dominant over HOG.
I began to exclusively focus on strength training my HOG’s.
I also stopped stretching. I finally began to notice some improvement in my SEA test.
Over time that nagging pull began to disappear. My SEA test got better. But then I reached a limit. I realized that even with proper strength (and thus stiffness), if a muscle is tight it’s going to remain tight.
Although the nagging pulling feeling decreased, my overall range of motion still wasn’t great so I began to focus on that. Voila! My SEA test improved even more.
The benchmark that I used to stretch my quads was pretty simple: While standing or kneeling, can I touch my butt to my heel if my leg.
While I really like the Thomas Test, I’ve found that leg weight and gravity can give us false negatives. This basically means that your quadriceps could be tight, but the Thomas Test might not pick it up.
Because I realized that being in a neutral pelvic position was the most critical piece for my strength training, I didn't realize proper position would carry over into my stretches. I thought I would simply check my pelvic position while stretching my quads.
As I began to stretching my quads, my pelvis was definitely going into APT. When having a stick on my back, I could not touch my low back to my thumb. There was too much space between my low back and I was reinforcing my APT.
When I corrected this position, I couldn’t touch my heel to my butt without my low back going into significant lordosis. Or if I maintained my full neutral pelvic position, I couldn’t touch my butt to my heel.
I realized it was critical to both build up my ability to stretch my quadriceps, but also focus on maintaining a neutral pelvic position.
After awhile, I was able to touch my heel to my butt and to have a neutral pelvic position. For all clients who have tight quads and have APT, it is critical for them to maintain a neutral pelvic position while stretching their quads.
While some trainers might go for mobility before stability, I am reminded by one of my favorite physical therapists, Mike Reinold. He advocates for alignment first before mobility and
stability and I concur.
If you have someone who has limited mobility in the quadriceps (and probably any muscle for that matter), it is going to be more important to keep a neutral pelvic position. This is why at all costs, you should maintain a neutral pelvic position while you gradually increase your flexibility. Do not stretch into a range of motion which pulls you into an anterior pelvic tilt.
Over time, you will find that your range of motion increases while you can still maintain a neutral pelvic position. Eventually, you will be able to touch your heel to your butt. Give it time, make sure you are strengthening HOG, and stay neutral!