Muscle of the Month: Quadriceps
The quadriceps (or quads), is a large muscle group found at the front of the thigh and can also be known as the quadricep femorus and the quadriceps extensor.
Quadriceps means “four headed” in Latin and this group comprises four muscles: the rectus femorus, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and vastus lateralis.
The origination and insertion of the quadriceps
The rectus femorus (Rec Fem) originates from the anterior iliac crest (the hip) and inserts into the tibial tubersoity via the patella tendon (the front of the shin). Because of this positioning, the Rec Fem is the only quad muscle that can extend the knee and flex the hip - a similar movement to kicking a football- and therefore the Rec Fem can also be labelled as being part of the hip flexor complex.
The 'vasti group' (the vastus intermedius, vastus medialis and vastus lateralis) all originate from the front of the femur only and inserts into the same point as the Rec Fem tibial tubersoity via the patella tendon (the front of the shin). Therefore the vasti group can't influence any movement of the hip and can only cause extension of the knee.
However, regardless of their independent functions, all four of the quads work in a synergistic relationship to ensure optimal and functional movements.
The action and basic functional movement of the quads
As discussed, the quads are responsible for acting as extensors of the knee joint, flexors of the hip joint and assist in stabilisation of the knee.
They are particularly used when:
Common exercises for the quads
When a personal trainer is devising exercises to work the quads, they might include any or all of the following:
- Body weight squats
- Barbell front and back squats
- Step ups (with or without a barbell/dumbbells)
- Lunges (with or without a barbell/dumbbells)
- Leg press
- Leg extension machine
The benefits of quad exercises
Personal trainers will often recommend compound and isolation exercises to build up the quadriceps as this muscle group helps both everyday functional movements and sport-specific movements, such as running and jumping to head a ball in football or jumping in basketball and netball. The quads need to be well developed for most if not all athletic events, from track events to the long jump or high jump.
Problems arising from underdeveloped or damaged quads
Injuries of the quadriceps are quite common and include strains, sprains and ruptures. This can affect a lot of functional movements, including walking and getting up from a chair.
Quadriceps tendinopathy is when the tendon above the kneecap (the patella tendon), or the sheath that covers it, becomes inflamed. This can be common in weightlifters or in athletes who have been competing for a long time. A serious quadriceps tendon tear may require surgery.
If you want to work your quads safely it is also important that you work your hamstrings equally as muscular balance and the prevention of muscular dysfunction is key. Talk to a personal trainer or fitness instructor for more advice on the best programme for you to train your legs. For any injuries, consult your doctor.