The massive muscle that takes up mostly all of the front of the thigh as well as it’s sides is known as the quadriceps. Once you reach the back of the thigh, that’s all hamstring territory and a topic for another day.

The quadriceps literally translate to “four heads” and it this aptly suited name that will allow you to better understand the four main parts of this thigh muscle and how they work in unison to perform a wide array of physical tasks. The following are the four parts of the muscle that put the quad in quadriceps.

quadraceps muscles diagram

Rectus Femoris

The rectus femoris attaches at the hip on the outside of the body. It works in a few keys body movements including extending and raising the knee, as well as flex the thigh. In body building events, when a contestant flexes the leg muscles, it is this rectus femoris muscle in the hip area that can be seen expanding outward.

When it comes to hip flexions, the only muscle in the body capable of carrying out the movement is the rectus femoris, and without it, flexing the hip would be impossible.

Vastus Intermedius

The vastus intermedius rests in the middle or intermediate area of the upper two-thirds of the thigh bone. It rests under the rectus femoris. Its main functions are to provide support to the ever so important knee and provide overall stability to the leg. This muscle due to its location deep within the thigh, makes it difficult to target specifically, but can be strengthened as a whole with regular exercise to the other 3 heads of the quadriceps.

Vastus Medialis

This muscle can be found on the opposite side of the body in terms of the rectus femoris. It is found medially or at the midline of the body. This important member of the quadriceps club works in concert with the femoris to extend the knee from the other side and acts on its own as a kneecap stabilizer.

Vastus Lateralis

This is the most powerful of the quadriceps muscles and exists on the side opposite of the previously mentioned medialis. If you ever see a muscle of the body labeled as lateral, chances are it has a medial counterpart, and that rings true here. It not only works with all the other quad parts to stabilize and extend the knee, but it is also responsible for moving the entire leg forward.

Without the vastus lateralis, walking would be virtually impossible. This massive part of the quadriceps attaches at the top of the femur or thigh bone and extends all the way down to connect to the tibia or shin bone.

Quadriceps Exercises


For practicality purpose, these exercises will be of the beginner variety to introduce you to a few keys techniques and good habits to take on for eventually building your quadriceps exercise routine further.

Goblet Squat

Everyone and their mother is doing squats these days. Many, unfortunately are performing the exercises with weighted barbells without first learning about proper squatting technique.

This beginner squat with a kettlebell allows you to focus on proper form, so that you do not hurt yourself when it comes time to graduate into the introduction of serious weightlifting. With the kettlebell raised and kept at the center of your chest, focus on squatting down as far as you can go.

Try to reach a point where your thighs and hamstrings become parallel to the ground and push through slightly further, before returning to the starting upright standing position. Repeat this full squat 10 times, rest for on minute, and then perform 10 more.

Every instance of activation of the quads or any other muscle group engagement created from this moment should be a stretching feeling without any pain. If pain occurs, your body is telling you that it cannot take on that level of stretch, so adjust accordingly to keep your body free of potential injury.

Squat Jump

Since squats are truly all the rage these days in terms of lower body exercises, and for good reason, this next exercise will help break up the monotony of doing the same exact squatting motion for every different exercise. The jump squat is exactly what it sounds like. It is that same squatting motion but with an added jump for flare and good measure.

To get into pre-movement position, separate your feet so that they are slightly on the outside of your shoulders when thinking in terms of alignment. At rest, your legs should be in a slightly bent position.

Now, get started with a standard squat, bending for some fast but efficient two to three seconds before exploding back upright with a jump straight up into the air. This replacement of the raising from the squatted position and in cardiovascular benefits as well as lubrication and strengthening of your joints including the hips and knees.

To prepare for landing, make sure that you are focusing your toes towards your shins before landing. At the landing, continue all the way down to the full squat position. Perform 9 more of these jumps from the squatted position, rest for just 30 seconds, and then proceed to do 10 more.

Quad Rocking

If squats are becoming boring to you and even the jumping variety isn’t breaking things up enough for your liking, quad rocking is a low impact exercise that can help ensure the body remains in optimal condition regarding taking on more explosive exercises.

Quad rocking may sound like it has something to do with a crazy musical festival of sorts, it is meant as a peaceful movement that utilizes yoga technique. If you are familiar with yoga, start in child’s or cow’s pose, if you have no idea what this means, just make sure you get in all fours. In this position with your hands touching the floor, and and your legs below the knees being parallel to the ground, push your hips back as far as you can in a controlled rocking motion that uses your arch of your back to perform the movement.

You should feel this stretching primarily in the hips, but also in the upper and side quad areas. This exercise might not give you bulging muscles if you’re interested in that, but it will greatly prime your glutes  and hips to take on more explosive and demanding moments afterward.

Quadriceps Pain

If you are ever in pain in any location within the quads, it is important to utilize the RICE method of injury treatment to ensure that pain pain subsists and doesn’t evolve into a more serious injury.









RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation and utilizes the four steps to ensure optimal conditions for your body to heal itself when surgery isn’t required to correct the painful area. If you feel pain in any part of your quad, stop exercising immediately. Further use of the body part in pain could result in damage that could take month to correct. It just isn’t work it to continue if you feel pain. The body uses the sensation of pain to let us know that something isn’t right and continuing an activity that causes pain is a one-way ticket to further damage.

Ice placed in the painful area will work to constrict surrounding blood vessels in the quad, allowing blood to remain in the area to hit it with all its healing factors. Ice is also a great way to reduce any inflammation that could make future activity cumbersome and detrimental.

Compression does a lot of what ice does, but can be used much more frequently than ice, as too much freezing can do damage to the surrounding blood vessels, and you absolutely don’t want that.

The final piece of the rice puzzle is elevation and can be best utilized while laying down on your back. In this position, lift your leg so that your quads are positioned above your heart. This will increase blood flow to the painful area and deliver much needed oxygen and nourishment to the huge leg muscles


Key Takeaways from Quadriceps Pain and Exercises

The quadriceps are a major muscle group found on the front and sides of the quads. They are responsible for so many every day functions such moving forward, which is important for everyone regardless of physical conditioning.

The four heads of the quadriceps can be activated using squats and relaxed using yoga. It is important to take things slow while getting into any exercise that activates the quadriceps.

If you happen to feel pain at any point, utilize the RICE technique to help heal your body before more serious injury that may require surgery even has a chance to occur.


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