Woman practicing yoga Anjaneyasana or low crescent lunge pose

Change Up Your Practice: 4 Not-So-Typical Yoga Poses to Stretch Your Quads and Strengthen Your Hamstrings

By: 
Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP

We all know about the endless benefits of yoga. We understand the good that it can do for both our bodies and our minds. But, just like so many things in our lives, yoga has the potential to become stagnant and repetitive. We can fall into ruts in our practice and continuously run through the same motions on autopilot. 

If we don’t stop to pay attention, we run the risk of falling into habits that aren’t necessarily ideal. The repertoire of yoga poses out there already has its own natural tendencies. 

We tend to prefer forward folds to backbends. Just think of the ratio between the two in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations), for example. We tend to demonize certain movement patterns while glorifying others. (Think of the anti-spinal flexion rhetoric out there. We’re told that rounding the spine as we fold forward is “dangerous” compared to the supposedly “safer” hip hinge variation.) 

Notably, yoga practice has a strong tendency toward strengthening the quadriceps—think Virabhadrasana (Warrior Poses), squats, Utkatasana (Fierce Pose), etc., and stretching the hamstrings (think all forward folds). It’s rare that we invert this and stretch the quadriceps and strengthen the hamstrings.

So, here are some not-so-typical yoga poses to switch things up in your practice. Because becoming stagnant in your movements is not a recipe for success. Variety is the spice of life, and it may also be the secret to healthy tissues. (1)

 2 Not-So-Typical Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Hamstrings

Likely one of the most neglected muscle groups in yoga strengthening exercises, the hamstrings need to be equally as strong as they are flexible. 

The main role of the hamstrings is to flex the knee. They also work as a helper to the gluteus maximus to extend the hip joints. 

Bridge Slides

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) inherently works to strengthen the hamstrings as the pose requires both flexed knees and extended hips. However, adding this little extra work can target the muscles of your hamstrings specifically to build strength. 

For this exercise, you will need a yoga blanket and a semi-slippery floor surface that allows your blanket to slide over it. 

How to Practice Bridge Slides        Setu Bandha, Bridge pose, restorative version, sliding bridge version, yoga for hamstring health

  1. Fold a yoga blanket into a rectangle and place it at the foot end of your mat, but on the floor rather than on the mat.

  2. Lie down on your back toward the foot edge of your mat. 

  3. Bend your knees and place your feet on the blanket roughly hips-distance apart.

  4. Relax your arms by your sides in any position of comfort.  

  5. Activate your core. Hug your frontal hip points toward each other (as if tightening a drawstring). Three-dimensionally cinch in around your waistline (as if tightening a corset). Draw your navel toward your spine and up toward your ribcage. 

  6. Press down firmly into your feet and feel your hamstrings engage. 

  7. Keep this action and press equally into your shoulders to lift your hips off the floor. 

  8. Either choose to keep your arms as they are or interlace your fingers behind your back. 

  9. Once you’re stable in Bridge Pose, maintain your core activation and continue to press firmly into your feet. From here, slowly slide your feet forward in space as far as you comfortably can. 

  10. Pause for a moment, press down into your heels, and slowly slide your feet back to your “normal” bridge shape. 

  11. Continue to slide your feet forward and back while maintaining your hips lifted for as many repetitions as feels appropriate for you. When you’ve finished, slowly release your hips back down to the floor and pause for a moment to rest in Savasana (Relaxation Pose). 

Unsupported Eka Pada Anjaneyasana (One-Legged Lunge Pose)        

Working with hip extension and concentric contractions, this variation of a low lunge works to strongly activate your hamstrings without the support of your arms to share the workload. As a bonus, this shape also places the quadriceps into a stretched position.

How to Practice Eka Pada Anjaneyasana       Eka Pada Anjaneyasana, Lunge pose, yoga with blanket support, yoga for hamstring health

  1. Come into a low lunge on your mat with your right foot forward. Release your left knee to the floor. You may wish to add padding under your knee by doubling up your mat or placing a blanket or pillow underneath your kneecap. 

  2. Place your hands on your front thigh. 

  3. Bend your left knee deeply and draw your heel toward your seat. Do not hold your foot or use your arms to support you. Use the strength of your hamstrings to hug your heel closer toward your body. 

  4. Flex your ankle, press out through the ball of your foot, and spread your toes. Doing so will hopefully help to prevent any cramping in your hamstrings. 

  5. Bend deeply into your front knee and sink the weight of your hips toward the floor. Then, counter this by elongating your spine toward the sky. Imagine trying to draw your spine up away from your pelvic bowl. Let your hips lower down, and your spine lengthen up. 

  6. Continue to hug your left heel toward your seat for as long as is comfortable. When you’re finished, slowly (with control) release your left foot back down to the floor and repeat on the other side. 

And Here Are 2 Not-So-Typical Yoga Poses to Stretch the Quadriceps

Likely one of the most worked muscle groups in yoga, the quadriceps need to be lengthened just as much as they are strengthened. 

The main role of the quadriceps is to extend the knee. One quadriceps muscle (the rectus femoris) also crosses the hip joint and therefore helps to create hip flexion as well. 

Cat-Pulling-Its-Tail Twist

Creating both hip extension and deep knee flexion, this twist variation targets the whole quadriceps group for a deliciously juicy stretch. 

How to Practice Cat-Pulling-Its-Tail Twist       Cat Pulling at it's tail pose, supine twist, Yoga for quadriceps, gentle stretches, supported stretches

  1. Lie down on your back with your legs extended out on the floor. Bend your right knee and hug it into your chest. 

  2. Hold onto the outer edge of your knee with your left hand and release your right arm out into a half “T” shape. 

  3. Gently draw your right knee across your body toward the left side of your mat. You may wish to support your knee with a prop. 

  4. Soften both of your shoulders into the floor and either stay as you are or turn your head to look in any direction that feels comfortable for your neck. 

  5. Bend your left knee and draw your heel toward your seat. Catch hold of your left foot with your right hand and gently draw your foot closer toward your body. 

  6. Stretch your left knee toward the bottom of your mat and strive to keep both shoulders grounded. 

  7. Hold for a few long, deep breaths before releasing and switching sides. 

Captured Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)

Another shape that places your knee into flexion and your hips into extension, this Restorative Pigeon variation helps to lengthen all of your quadriceps muscles. 

For this pose, you’ll need a yoga strap and potentially other props to support your shape. 

How to Practice Captured Pigeon       Captured pigeon pose, Captured Kapotasna, knee flexion, hip extension, yoga with props, yoga for quadricep stretches

  1. Make a wide loop in your strap. Loop your left shoulder into the strap. 

  2. Come into Pigeon Prep Pose with your right leg forward. Starting in Bharmanasana (Tabletop Pose), slide your right knee forward so that it ends up next to your right hand. 

  3. Open the bend of the knee so that your right lower leg is angled to the left. 

  4. Then slide your left leg back so that the knee is straight, allowing your hips to lower down toward the floor. Note: Use whatever props you need to support your hips so that they are supported from underneath. 

  5. Bend your left knee and draw your heel toward your glutes. 

  6. Wrap the same loop of your strap around your left foot. Tighten your strap as needed so that it holds your leg in place tautly. 

  7. Fold forward over your front leg and, again, use props as you like for support. Placing a bolster lengthwise under your torso is the best support, but you can fold blankets to approximately the size and height of a bolster as well. Readjust the tautness of your strap as needed. 

  8. Relax muscular control and allow your body to soften down with the force of gravity. Let your strap do all of the work in the shape to stretch your quadriceps. 

  9. Hold for a few minutes, slowly release, and switch sides when you’re ready. 

Add Variety to Your Yoga Practice for Greater Overall Balance 

Yoga offers us balance in so many different ways. 

Avoid blindly moving your body in the same ways and perpetuating imbalances that our daily lives create. Instead, add a variety of movements to your yoga practice. 

Strengthen muscles that are often overlooked. Stretch muscles that are typically neglected. And notice how this newfound balance changes everything. 

 

Yoga for Sciatica and Piriformis Syndrome - learn more in this course by Doug Keller and YogaUOnline.

Interested in more anatomy and yoga practice tips? Read Leah Sugerman's article Yoga Anatomy 101: Stop Relaxing Your Glutes in Backbends. 

Leah Sugerman

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice and teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.


 

 

References:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270795738_Optimal_loading_Key_variables_and_mechanisms

 

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