Quad dominance + tight hip flexors: What you need to know

If your quads played Sportsball, they might be the MVP, because they try to do everrrrything – even when it isn’t their job.

So, let’s talk about this quad dominance thing.

First, when I say quad dominance, I’m referring to over recruitment of the quads + hip flexors during daily movements and exercises, which also means under recruitment of other muscles like the glutes, hip stabilizers and deep core.

If you’re not sure if that’s you, here’s what quad dominance feels like:

  • You don’t feel your core when you do exercises involving table top legs like dead bugs or toe taps and planks. Rather, you feel burning in your hip flexors.
  • When you lunge and squat, you’re very aware of the work in the front of the leg, but you feel practically nothing in your backend.
  • When you do hip extension exercises targeting your glutes and hamstrings, you still feel the front of your legs.
  • Your quads and hip flexors talk (or scream) at you during running, walking and other cardio moves, but your hamstrings and booty? Not so much.

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 (and ironically I see it in folks who stand for work too, but for the opposite reason. We stand in a static position for too long, so we end up locking back in the knees and hanging out in the lower back).

What can you do to “fix” quad dominance?

I’ll start by saying that it’s not so much fixing anything as it creating workouts or movement programming that promotes better balance in the pelvis.

Personally, I like to go about this as a three step process (and if you don’t feel like reading the technical explanation you can scroll to the bottom for specific exercises):

Step 1: Release the tight stuff via massage, foam rolling or stretching

Even with something as specific as quad dominance, the areas that you focus on can vary, because everyone has a unique tension pattern and sometimes things that feel tight are actually too long (I’ll save the why on that for another day).

That being said, here are some pretty safe bets.

If you tend to stand in a posterior tilt (aka butt tucked under with no low back curve):

  • Stretching/foam rolling the hamstrings
  • Foam roll your quads
  • Skip stretching the hip flexors. In the butt tucked pattern they’re usually already too open

If you have the opposite standing pelvic position and you’re too anteriorly tilted (aka butt out with a big low back curve):

  • Stretch your hip flexors
  • Foam roll or stretch your quads
  • Skip the hamstring stretches. They’re typically already too long in this pattern.

When it doubt, just do a little foam rolling on everything (e.g. quads, glutes, hamstrings, shins and/or calves.

The beauty of compression techniques (aka foam rolling) is that it acts like a reset button for both too long and too short muscles, telling them to return to a more appropriate tone and length.

Step 2: Strengthen the “weaker” stuff

For most of us this means hip stability + glute strength. There are so many exercises you could do, but a few examples include bridging, side leg lifts, monster walks, donkey kicks or clamshells.

Bonus points if you can find a neutralish pelvis when you do these (aka you have a small low back curve present and your pubic bone and hip bones are in roughly the same line).

Additionally, you want to target your deep core. This can be gentle exercises like heel slides and dead bugs or bigger exercises that require more of the superficial muscles like the Pilates roll-up. In all of these, you will use your hip flexors to an extent. The challenge is seeing if you can get your deep core to fire too!

Want some exercises to promote glute strength and help balance out your quads? 

Step 3: Integrate by doing exercises that works the stronger stuff with the weaker stuff

These are big mover exercises, standing and isometric work that involve multiple muscle groups including quads and hip flexors. Examples included squats, lungs, planks and hovers.

And if you wanted to see a sample version of that might look like as a 15(ish) minute routine, here you go!

Core and glute activation exercises to fix quad dominance

Core and glute activation exercises to fix quad dominance

Want more ways to activate your glutes?


There are 7 comments on this post

  1. Ian
    4 hours ago

    I’ve been dealing with quad and knee pain for nearly 10 years. Been sent to physical therapy numerous times and to no avail. Misdiagnosed and even operated on when not needed.

    What you describe in this article explains my symptoms to a T. I’m going to try these exercises and see if it helps. Either way it provides inspiration which is always good when dealing with chronic injury.

    Question: How often would you perform these exercises?

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      11 hours ago

      Hi Ian. Thanks for your question! I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Physical therapy can be great, but you have to find the right physical therapist and that can be a process (it certainly was for me when I was trying to get out of pain).

      These exercises are pretty gentle, so once a day is probably fine as long as you don’t experience pain or excessive soreness during/afterwards. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m happy to help!

  2. Mina
    13 hours ago

    I’m so glad I found this…can’t wait to try. Had quad dominance happen when I took Pilates today. I’ll do these exercises for a week prior to the next class and see how much it helps.

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      14 hours ago

      Hi Mina,

      Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!

      xx Nikki

    2. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      14 hours ago

      Hi Mina,

      Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!

      xx Nikki

  3. Imogen
    14 hours ago

    This is 100% the problem I have. Unfortunately it took 14 months of being in constant knee pain (believe it’s fat pad impingement) to work it out. I went to 15 different specialists for physios to chiropractors to sports doctors etc. all of which told me I had a mystery pain and would have to learn to live with being in pain all the time. I knew I wasn’t going to accept that at the age of 29 so dedicated my life to getting out of pain and reading every bit of research to ever exist. About 6 weeks ago I worked out my own problem- quad dominance, anterior pelvic tilt, too much downward pressure on fat pad (I also have lower back pain). I cannot believe everyone else missed it. I cringe when looking back at the incorrect advice of a physio being told to leg extension and leg press an already dominant muscle. I can’t believe how much worse it would have become if I didn’t start glute strengthening. It is really obvious on me, my quads are massive and my glutes are almost non existent. Have started 6 weeks ago with glute exercises mainly but I know it’s too soon to see a major difference, still weak. But it means a lot that I finally have an answer and I’m contributing to fixing the problem every day.

    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      14 hours ago

      Thanks for your comment, Imogen. I’m glad you’re experiencing some relief. While quad dominance isn’t an actual condition (more like a laymans way of describing the quads being stronger than the glutes/hamstrings), it is unfortunate to me that sometimes simple solutions are overlooked for pain, which is why I try to write non technical blogs on technical topics 😉 In any case, it sounds like you’re on your way to feeling better. All the best.



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