America’s northeast got slammed with snowstorms this winter, which makes for stellar spring skiing. If you’ve ever hit the slopes—in any season—you know what a workout your quads get and how sore they feel after a day on the trails. So after you indulge in some hot chocolate by the fire, you might practice a few yoga poses to stretch out your overworked quads.
Your quadriceps is a group of four muscles on the front of your thigh. All four cross your knee; their job is to straighten your knee. When you ski or do utkatasana (fierce pose) in a yoga class or squat to avoid sitting on a public toilet, gravity pulls your knees into deeper flexion. That is, gravity, if given its way, would bend your knees more. Your quads resist gravity’s tug and keep you in a crouched shape. Because these muscles straighten your knee, they’re stretched when your knee is fully bent.
But there’s more. One of your quadriceps also crosses the front of your hip. When it contracts, it straightens your knee AND swings your thigh forward at your hip joint. So if, for example, while sitting on the chairlift, you were to straighten your knee and hoist your thigh off the seat like an antsy five-year-old, you’d give your quads a serious extra workout. Not sure why you’d want to work them harder than they already do on the slopes, but now you have a clear picture of how all four quads move your body.
Because one of the quads crosses your hip joint and raises your thigh in front of you, to stretch it, you have to position your thigh behind your pelvis with the knee fully bent. Lots of yoga poses stretch your quads effectively: ardha bekkasana (half frog, where you lie on your belly, prop yourself up on one elbow, and use the other hand to pull your heel toward your seat), urdhva mukha eka pada virasana (aka King Arthur, where you wedge one knee into the spot where the wall meets the floor and trap your shin against the wall with your toes directed toward the ceiling, step the other foot forward into proposal position, and bring your trunk upright). Those are two common ones. The chair contraption pictured at the top of the page has become indispensible in my post-ski repertoire as it’s the only option I know of that moves the thigh behind the pelvis with the knee fully bent, thereby ensuring a quad stretch of maximum efficacity—and maximum intensity.
To enter the après-ski chair lift, turn a chair upside down on your yoga mat. Your knee will need some padding, so fold the front of the mat over the metal lip on the underside of the chair seat. Throw a blanket over the rung between the chair’s legs to pad your ankle. Kneel in front of the chair and plop one knee into the lip on the underside of the chair seat. Then step the other foot forward into proposal position and bring your trunk upright. Press your hands down on the lower chair legs in order to tip the chair forward. Mid-tip, climb your hands to the higher legs and press down until the lower legs meet the floor. It’s an astonishingly strong quad stretch so be sure to steady your breathing.
Depending on your relationship to tapas, the Sanskrit word for transformative intensity, you may want to have another cup of comforting hot cocoa ready for you when you exit the pose.
Jennie Cohen was first introduced to yoga through dance, and her work with Simonson technique informs her approach to teaching yoga: classes prioritize working safely and address the needs of different students. Precise instruction and focused sequencing invite students to delve into the intricacies of postures and to explore a sense of adventure. Jennie’s interest in anatomy and her studies of the texts that form the philosophical foundation of the practice infuse her classes. Jennie is 500-hour certified through YogaWorks and has studied anatomy with Irene Dowd and Leslie Kaminoff. For more information on Jennie, visit her website or like her on Facebook.