A Physiotherapist’s Guide to the Quadriceps


The quadriceps muscles, often referred to as quads, play a pivotal role in our movement and functionality. This guide will take you through the anatomy of the quadriceps, their functions, how to strengthen them, and the importance of maintaining their health.

Anatomy of the quadriceps

The quadriceps, a group of four muscles located in the front of the thigh, are crucial for various lower body movements. These four muscles are:

Rectus Femoris

Positioned at the centre of the quadriceps group, its multifaceted role encompasses both hip flexion—allowing us to lift our thighs—and knee extension, which straightens our lower leg. With its origin at the hip's anterior inferior iliac spine and its insertion at the patellar tendon and tibial tuberosity, this muscle spans a significant distance from the hip to the knee. The rectus femoris is an essential player in activities like climbing stairs, running, and even simple acts like getting out of a chair.

Vastus Lateralis

Located on the outer side of the thigh, its impressive size and robust fibres contribute significantly to knee extension, effectively driving the leg into a straightened position. It originates from the greater trochanter of the femur and inserts at the patellar tendon ensure its influential role in maintaining knee joint stability during activities like walking, running, and squatting.

Vastus Medialis

Nestled along the inner contour of the thigh, the vastus medialis might be less visible but carries profound importance as a  crucial participant in both knee extension and stabilisation. Notably, the vastus medialis plays a pivotal role in patellar tracking, aiding the kneecap's smooth movement as the knee bends and extends. This intricate function is particularly crucial in exercises like leg presses and cycling.

Vastus Intermedius

Occupying the intermediary position between the rectus femoris and the vastus medialis, the vastus intermedius plays a role that's just as crucial. Originating from the femur's anterior and lateral surfaces and inserting into the patellar tendon and tibial tuberosity, this muscle contributes to knee extension alongside its companions. Its strategic location allows it to work harmoniously with the other quadriceps muscles to execute movements like walking, running, and jumping.

The Anatomy of the Quads
The Anatomy of the Quads

Function of the quadriceps

Together, these four quadriceps muscles form a powerful and harmonious unit that empowers us to engage in an array of movements, from basic daily tasks to more athletic endeavours. Their coordination ensures that the front of the thigh remains a centre of strength, stability, and controlled motion, all of which are vital elements in maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle.

The quadriceps muscles are crucial for various movements and activities, including:

  • Walking and Running: They extend the knee with each step, propelling us forward.
  • Climbing Stairs: The quadriceps help lift our body weight as we ascend.
  • Jumping: These muscles enable explosive movements by extending the knee.
  • Squatting: Quad engagement is vital for maintaining proper form during the squat.
  • Sports Performance: From cycling to weightlifting, strong quadriceps are essential for many sports.

Top warm up exercises for the quadriceps

Standing quad stretch

Standing on one leg, grab your foot with the hand on the same side of your body and pull your heel up towards your backside. Hold this stretch for 8-10 seconds at a time. You may need to hold onto something stable with your resting hand to help you balance.

Couch stretch

On one knee, bring your opposite foot up behind you and put your laces onto a couch or chair. Keep your upper body tall and you will feel a strong stretch down your quad and in your hip. Hold this for 8-10 seconds at a time

Single leg squat

Balancing on one leg, reach forward with your opposite heel allowing your standing knee to bend. Sink down into a quarter squat and then stand upright again. This will activate your quads and produce a “Burning” sensation in the muscle after 10-15 reps. Focus on a slow and controlled movement.

Top strength exercises for the quadriceps


We recommend a slow and controlled tempo to really engage the quads and if you want to load the squat pattern to really target your quads, try a front squat or goblet squat.. Technique wise, you want your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, focusing on dipping your hips back and down whilst allowing your knees to bend. Focus on your knees tracking over your 3rd and 4th toe, not rather than tracking inwards.


With your feet shoulder width apart, take a large stride forward and distribute your weight evenly between front and back foot. Keeping your front kneecap stable, bend both knees to take your back knee towards the floor and back up again. Once again focus on a slow, controlled movement to really engage the quads.


There are multiple variations of the deadlift but all will require knee & hip flexion and therefore, target the quads. Whatever stance or grip you adopt, the key form cues are to brace your core before you lift with a big inhale, bring your shoulder blades back and down towards your “back jean” pockets to engage your upper back and then push the ground away from underneath you.

It is advised that these exercises are educated and trained by an experienced coach or professional that can assess the players competency and technique as well as review and set their training programmes to incorporate these exercises making sure that adequate rest and nutrition is planned.

James Walker

Service Development Director & Senior Physiotherapist

James is the Service Development Director and a Senior Physiotherapist at the White House Clinic. He qualified from Sheffield Hallam University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Physiotherapy in 2009.

James Walker

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