What muscles do you think work hard in a seated position and which ones do you think chill out and put their feet up?
When you’re healthy, every action of the muscles in the front of your leg (the quadriceps) creates an opposite reaction in your hamstrings. These two muscle groups work in unison to extend and contract allowing you to bend your knees, straighten your hips and rotate your legs. Your hamstrings also work in tandem with the quadriceps to stabilise your pelvis and support your knees.
There is a delicate balance of power between the quadriceps (quads) and the hamstrings and it's natural for the quads on the front of the leg to be stronger than the hamstrings because humans love to sit and run. However if the hamstrings are too weak to support the action of the quads, for example when the quads pull the knee forward, the hamstrings might not be strong enough to pull it back creating a ligament tear, like the ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, connects your thigh bone to your shin bone; one of the most common knee injuries.
If your quads played in the NBL, they might be the MVP, because they try to do everrrrything – even when it isn’t their job. This is called quad dominance. This isn’s to say that your quads and hip flexors are bad guys, because they’re not. They’re essential to functional movement and strength. It’s just that when they’re doing all the work, you end up with misalignment, muscular imbalance, and faulty movement patterning, which is correlated with injury and discomfort in the hips, knees and low back. And I should also add that quad dominance super common, because even if you’re active, odds are you’re part of a sitting society and here’s what happens when you sit. Your quads and hip flexors are locked short and your hamstrings and glutes disengage, so even when you get up to move or workout, you’re carrying that pattern into active life
Keeping your hamstrings supple and strong can help you stay active. Quads and hamstrings work together, and through their collaboration, equal happier knees. Balance them by strengthening the weaker muscle set with resistance exercises.
When the quad-hamstring strength ratio becomes unbalanced, people may experience low-back pain and an increased risk for hamstring strains or tears. If the quads are stronger than the hamstrings, they force the hamstrings to respond to movements faster and more intensely. If the hamstrings movements cannot keep up the motion of the quadriceps, they can snap and tear like a rubber band that has been stretched too far.
These exercises focus on strengthening the main muscle groups that affect the quality of movement for your knee. Strengthening the hamstrings and the quadriceps should be seen as a dual effort instead of individual, isolated movements.
Bring more activation to those heel-to-butt postures .Quads are happy with the knee up and forward, but when we bring it behind us, say in Lord of the Dancers Pose, we're lengthening out those quads more than they're used to. The tendons at the bottom of your quad that connects to your knee, pulls on your knee. Instead of reaching back for that foot with your hands to bring it in, bring it in without using your hands. You'll feel your hamstring work in ways you never thought possible and feel your quad like never before. Your hamstring may want to cramp so flex the toe, and over time as you build strength in the hamstring, you can point the toe. Try this same movement in a low lunge and Bow Pose.
Strengthen the hamstrings and the glutes will join the party. Come into a Reverse Table position and then slide one foot under so that the top of the foot slides underneath you. Play around here with the knee at full flexion, while you bring your hip into extension, and feel and incredible much-needed stretch and release in your quadricep muscle that has been working hard and shortening all day long in a chair.
Sitting for hours at a time can lead to tight hip flexors which hinder hamstring movement. If your job requires sitting for most of your day, make a point to stand up at least twice each hour. Standing or walking for a minute or two every half hour provides much needed circulation to your legs and works your hip flexors.
As always, remember knee pain (and any pain) is very complex and individual. This blog is only to highlight one possible reason and make some suggestions for how to alleviate that pain. This is not a substitute for seeking medical advise.
Louise FitzRoy is the Principal of Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: 5 yoga moves with your chair and How can I keep up a regular yoga practise?