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Get Flexible! The Benefits of a Rectus Femoris Stretch

As we age, maintaining our mobility is a huge factor for independence and self-sufficiency - often going hand in hand with our quality of life and even happiness. You could say that a flexible and strong rectus femoris (being part of your quadriceps) is a crucial element to being mobile, taking part in movements such as walking or jumping. 

Because of its involvement in our activities of daily living, it may be a wise investment of your time to start incorporating these rectus femoris stretches now. After all, stretching is free and you can do this routine anywhere.


How to Stretch Your Rectus Femoris: 3 Stretches to Try

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

  1. On a stable and flat surface, stand with your feet hip-width apart 
  2. Shift your weight towards your left leg and bend your right knee
  3. Bring your right heel towards your buttocks and grab your right ankle/foot behind you
  4. Hold on to a chair or wall for balance if needed
  5. Your knee should point downwards rather than to the side
  6. Hold for 15-30 seconds and alternate sides

Kneeling Lunge Stretch

  1. Start in a kneeling lunge position (using a pillow under your knee for comfort if needed)
  2. Bend your knee and grab your ankle 
  3. While tilting your pelvis back, lunge forward
  4. Pull your ankle towards your buttocks
  5. This stretch is focused on the front of your hip and thigh
  6. Hold for 15-30 seconds and switch sides

You can also do this particular stretch by using a wall or having a partner behind you, resting your foot there (or even putting pressure by pushing your foot into the wall/your partner). Try the following variation:

  1. Place your foot on the wall/surface or have a partner hold your ankle so you can contract your muscle.
  2. Contract and stay in this position for 5-6 seconds, making sure your partner also provides enough resistance to prevent any movement. 
  3. Relax for 30 seconds
  4. Do a controlled stretch for 20-30 seconds.
  5. Relax for 30 seconds
  6. Repeat 2-4 times

Making use of the wall or with the help of a partner makes this an example of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretch which we will discuss in a later section.

Supine Stretch

  1. With one foot on the floor, lie on the edge of a couch/flat surface
  2. Bring in and hold your opposite side knee at your chest
  3. With your leg that is on the edge, bend your knee as much as you can
  4. Also, feel this stretch in the front of your hip and thigh
  5. Hold for 15-30 seconds and switch sides

Rectus Femoris Stretch: Brief Anatomy Review


The rectus femoris is a muscle that is part of your quadriceps muscle group. The most unique characteristic of the rectus femoris is that it overlaps both the knee and hip joint. This means that it also functions as a knee extender and hip flexor.

The rec fem starts at the front bottom border of the iliac spine, extending downward towards your kneecap (patella). 


rectus femoris stretch anatomy

Movements and Function

This muscle works when we do any lower extremity movements - walking, sprinting, jumping, you name it! Whenever you extend your knee (such as when you kick) or flex your hip (lifting your thighs), you use your rectus femoris. 

This means whether or not you are athletically inclined, your rectus femoris is still working for you in your everyday activities. 

Rectus Femoris Stretch Benefits

Stretching your rectus femoris or quads, can benefit you in many ways. The effect is the same as when you stretch other muscles of the body.

Some of these benefits include:

  • Better flexibility: Stretching can help improve your range of motion
  • Less muscle tension: A proper stretching routine can relieve tightness and tension.
  • Improved circulation: Stretching can help direct more blood flow to your muscles - more blood flow also means better nutrient transport and potentially faster muscle recovery. 
  • Lower risk of injury: Muscles that are both flexible and strong can have better performance outcomes, becoming more resilient to stress or strain. 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) 

PNF is also called many other things, such as Contract-Relax (CR) stretching or Hold-Relax stretching. While it was initially used as a rehab exercise, the range of motion (ROM) benefits can be experienced by anyone.

According to a study published in Journal of Human Kinetics, “PNF is a stretching technique utilized to increase ROM and flexibility. PNF increases ROM by increasing the length of the muscle and increasing neuromuscular efficiency.” [2] 

You’ll see PNF stretches that have the following steps:

  1. Uses a shortening contraction of the opposing muscle (to place the target muscle on stretch)
  2. Then static contraction of the target muscle. [2] 

When it comes to PNF, other studies also claim that they are more effective than static stretching for increasing ROM when it comes to shoulder extension and hip flexion for both males and females. [3] 

Pro tips for Stretching:

  • There is no need to use full force with stretches - use gentle pressure and slow, controlled movements.
  • With a PNF, the effort of contraction should match your level of conditioning [1] 
  • Do a proper warm-up before your stretching routine!

Rectoris Femoris Stretch and Knee Issues

In a study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, their findings demonstrated that “rectus femoris stretching increased flexion ROM. Stretching exercises may increase ROM by raising the pain threshold, stretch tolerance and sarcomere numbers.” [4] 

Additionally, this study showed the following among knee osteoarthritis patients:

  • 2 weeks of stretching helped patients who had total knee arthroplasty
  • Rectis femoris stretching increased walking speed by 0.28 m/s
  • Movement patterns while walking among the elderly started to resemble healthy adults

Importance of Proper Warm-Up Before Stretching

Warming up before stretching is an often overlooked step when doing physical activity. Maybe a majority of people even skip stretching as well. Let’s review some important reasons why warming up is important. 

Warming up before a good stretch not only helps transition your mind and body to a more physically demanding activity but also helps to level up your core temperature. Ultimately, this contributes to things like muscle looseness, circulation, respiratory rate, and heart rate - helping oxygen get to those muscles. 

A good warm-up looks like the following:

  1. A general warm-up: light activity (walking, jogging, etc.) for 5-10 minutes
  2. Stretching (static): 5-10 second holds
  3. Sports-specific warm-up: Movement reflecting the activity you’ll be doing during exercise 
  4. Stretching (dynamic): Do this in a controlled manner and as it pertains to your activity. [1]

How Can Incorrect Stretching Cause Damage?

One of the most harmful things you can do is stretch incorrectly. If you don’t approach your stretch with slow movements or gentle pressure, you could injure yourself by over-stretching and tearing muscle tissue. 

Some mistakes include skipping the warm-up, having an inconsistent stretching routine, and simply not listening to your body when there’s discomfort or you’ve pushed past your limits. 

You’ll still see some controversy behind stretching and whether the benefits are true. While some results can vary and are subjective, the benefits are there if done correctly. 

Practical Tips for Staying Consistent with Rectus Femoris Stretches

Since stretches are an important part of your fitness routine, here are some practical tips you can try to stay consistent.

  • Set some goals: If you would like to attain a certain level of flexibility or performance, having a goal in mind can help you stick with a program.
  • Start slow: Remember that stretching should not only be manageable but just like an exercise routine, be aware of how much you can tolerate! 
  • Make a schedule: This one speaks for itself! Having a schedule can help you keep the guesswork out of the equation.
  • Try some variety: Have a good mix of stretches available that you can try. Having access to various resources such as videos or articles/blogs (like ours!) can help you have some stretches ready to go.

More tips for stretching:

  • Take approximately a minute doing each stretching exercise 
    • If you can’t see yourself intentionally stretching, try a class that does this for you such as yoga or tai chi
  • No matter your age, do stretching for all major muscle groups 2-3 times a week
  • Don’t forget to listen to your body to avoid over-stretching!

Rectus Femoris Stretch FAQ

How do you loosen a tight rectus femoris?

We have included some simple rectus femoris stretches in the first part of this page. You can try these stretches anytime at home. There are, however, many other stretches out there you can try if you’re inclined to do so.

Beyond incorporating stretches, the key here is consistency and also building your muscle strength. Tightness can also stem from a rec fem that has to compensate for the weakness of surrounding muscles. 

What causes a rectus femoris tightness?

Aside from the lack of stretching it is usually either overuse or underuse of the muscle! You’ll know if you have rectus femoris tightness because your lower body range of motion will be compromised. This will affect most movements such as walking, lunging or even squatting and sitting down. 

A sedentary lifestyle that demands prolonged sitting can cause muscle tightness. Working in an office for long hours means having to take stretching breaks to prevent this stiffness. 

Additionally, if you’re physically active and have had muscle tightness it may be due to tears in muscle fibers. 

How do you get rid of rectus femoris pain?

Just like with most muscle pain, you can first try the following (noninvasive) interventions. 

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Elevation 
  • Pain medication (if your pain is bad enough you can try over-the-counter pain meds that target inflammation)
  • CBD Salve: Check out the one here - since it is infused with two active ingredients for pain relief (CBD and Arnica), applying it locally to where you have pain might help. 

CBD Arnica Balm

  • (Last but not least) Incorporate a good stretching routine: Maintain that flexibility and stay consistent once your initial period of acute pain is over.

If you’re not sure if your rec fem is the one causing you pain, it has been noted to feel like a sharp pain at the anterior part of your hip (or even in the groin) when doing sudden movements. 

What is the best exercise for the rectus femoris?

There are so many exercises to choose from, but in the very basic sense, lunges and squats are a good place to start. 

If you're new to quadriceps exercises, squats and lunges are great because you can do them anywhere and with your body weight. As you get stronger, adding weight at home or using a machine at the gym such as the upright leg press can help you build your quads. Check out our article on the V squat, for example! 

Rectus Femoris Stretch: Conclusion

As you can probably deduct from this page’s brief anatomy lesson, the rectus femoris does a lot for us. If you want to maintain your mobility and strength as you age, having a good stretching routine is something you’ll want to start now.

Stretching is not only free, but it’s easy to do, convenient (no supplies needed), and the benefits are numerous.  It wouldn’t be any fun experiencing any unnecessary quad tension just from doing simple things like walking or getting up from your chair! 

So whether you’re doing a complete PNF routine or doing a proper warm-up, don’t avoid a good rectus femoris stretch - your quads (and your future self) will thank you! 



[2] Hindle, K. et al. (2012) Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF): Its mechanisms and effects on range of motion and muscular function. Journal of Human Kinetics, 2012

[3] Entire, B. et al. (1988) Chronic and Acute Flexibility of Men and Women Using Three Different Stretching Techniques. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Volume 59, Issue 3, Pages 222-228

[4] ElGendy, MH. et al. (2022), Efficacy of rectus femoris stretching on pain, range of motion and spatiotemporal gait parameters in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a randomized controlled trial. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 2022. 

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