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

Let’s talk “quad dominance.”

First, when I say quad dominance, I’m referring to what feels like the constant gripping 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.

It’s important to note that “quad dominance” is not an actual phenomenon or pathology, so much as a description of an experience of discomfort in that area. However, even if the term isn’t “real,” the discomfort is. In this post, I will discuss why it happens and how to potentially address it.

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.

The irony is that even if you feel like your quads and hip flexors are overly strong, oftentimes the solution is actually to STRENGTH these muscle groups. Go figure. 

What can you do to “fix” quad dominance?

Truth be told, there really isn’t much to fix, but it may be helpful to follow a strength program promotes better balance through the muscles of the lower body and improves overall lower body strength – including your quads and hip flexors.

First, release the stuff that feels “tight” via massage, foam rolling or stretching.

While there’s very little evidence that this will change the length of your muscles, it may reduce the discomfort and temporarily increase your range of motion, which can help strength and core exercises feel more comfortable and in turn assist with form and muscle activation.

Here are some areas that you may want to focus on when stretching and foam rolling.

  • Stretch or foam roll your hamstrings
  • Stretch or foam roll your hip flexors and quads
  • Stretch or foam roll your inner thighs. This one is often overlooked and it’s a game changer!
  • Bonus: Stretch or foam roll your glutes and calves 😉

Here’s a lower body stretching video if you need some ideas. 

 

Then, strengthen your lower body in some targeted ways.

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.

It also means exercises to target your hip flexors, such as hip flexor pulls or isometric hip flexor activation exercises.

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!

Looking for some full body at-home strength workouts to help with this? I curated a FREE mini library of classes for you. Get it below.

 

 

There are 7 comments on this post

  1. Ian
    12 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?

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      5 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!

      Reply
  2. Mina
    2 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.

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      1 hour ago

      Hi Mina,

      Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!

      xx Nikki

      Reply
    2. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      1 hour ago

      Hi Mina,

      Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!

      xx Nikki

      Reply
  3. Imogen
    1 hour 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.

    Reply
    1. Nikki Naab-Levy Author
      1 hour 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.

      Nikki

      Reply

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