Everything you need to fix quad dominance for women
If you’ve ever felt gripping in your hip flexors during core work or knee pain during running or squats, you might have been told that you have quad dominance.
This post will discuss:
- What quad dominance is.
- How to know if you have it.
- What you can do to fix it.
What is quad dominance?
Quad dominance is the feeling of overusing your quads + hip flexors during daily movements and exercise. It is also defined as being overly strong in the quadriceps and hip flexors (the muscles on the front of your legs) and weak in the glutes and hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your legs).
It’s important to note that “quad dominance” is not a diagnosis. It’s also not an indicator that something is wrong with you or that you’re going to hurt yourself. Rather, it is an experience of discomfort in that area AND that discomfort is very real – hence why this post is dedicated to giving you the tools to address it.
And if you have some questions about form and are looking for specific exercises to help you with any challenges you’re having, you can book a virtual consult with me here.
How do I know if my quad is dominant?
There’s no formal assessment for quad dominance, but here’s what it may look like:
- When doing core exercises, such as planks, table top legs, dead bugs, or Pilates ab exercises, you feel pain or burning in your hip flexors and you don’t feel your core.
- When you lunge and squat, you feel most of the work in your quads (the front of your leg) and less engagement in your glutes and hamstrings (the back of your leg).
- When you do exercises meant to target your glutes and hamstrings, such as bridges and hip thrusts, you feel your quads more than the muscles in the back of your legs.
- Your quads and hip flexors talk (or scream) at you during running or walking
- You get pain in the front of your knee during or after squats or running. You seldom feel your glutes or hamstrings though.
If you notice any of these things, then you may be quad dominant.
Does quad dominance cause injury?
Short answer. No.
Long answer. Pain and injury are complicated, which means that there is seldom a single cause – unless it’s a freak accident like tripping and breaking your ankle.
The most common causes of pain and injury are:
- An unexpected event, such as being tackled, slipping and falling, or stepping wrong.
- Overuse, where you are constantly loading your joints or using your muscles in a repetitive way that irritates your tendons, muscles, and joints.
- Practicing an exercise or movement that you don’t have the strength or control to perform.
With that, quad dominance is NOT a good way to predict if you are going to be injured and it is unlikely that it alone will result in an injury.
Does quad dominance cause knee pain?
The more nuanced answer is that if you lack strength and control in certain muscle groups or around a joint, like the knee, then you may experience pain or discomfort.
Your knee pain is not because your quads are too strong. In fact, strengthening your hip flexors and quads may even REDUCE knee pain, which I’ll show you how to do in the next section of this post!
How to fix quad dominance
Step 1 to fix quad dominance: Release the muscles that feel “tight” via massage, foam rolling or stretching.
This may reduce the discomfort and temporarily increase your mobility around your hips and ankles.
When your quads and hip flexors don’t feel as activated, it’s easier to exercise with better form and feel other muscles like your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
One more tip. Don’t just stretch or foam roll the muscles that feel sore or overly active like your quads.
Sometimes when you stretch or foam roll things, it can also be easier to feel “blind spots” that you have a hard time sensing – so if you never feel your hamstrings or glutes, rolling or stretching that area may help!
There is no one size fits all, so test things out and notice what your body responds best to.
Here are some areas that you may want to focus on when stretching and foam rolling if you’re quad dominant.
- Hip flexors and quads
- Inner thighs – this one is often overlooked and it can be a game changer!
…Yes, I listed all the muscles of the lower body, but this does NOT need to take a long time and you don’t need to work on all these areas. Devote 5 to 10 minutes to stretch or foam roll before or after your workout.
Lower body foam rolling stretches for lower back pain, hip stiffness, and quad dominance video
Step 2 to fix quad dominance: Increase lower body strength through strength training
You may be surprised to hear that one of the most common causes of quad dominance or tight hip flexors isn’t overly strong or short muscles. Rather, it’s a lack of strength.
When our muscles aren’t strong enough for a given task, then they get tired faster. And when a muscle is tired we feel it. For instance, this is why you might feel your hip flexors and quads gripping when you do ab work. Your hip flexors aren’t strong in that position, so they tire out quickly and as a result “burn.”
What I’ve observed for myself AND my clients is that basic strength training exercises, such as deadlifts and squats, reduced or even eliminated hip flexor gripping – and it’s because our legs were strong enough that this position was no longer hard.
And if you’re wondering what the best way to improve lower body strength is – it’s strength training.
How to start strength training and reduce quad dominance
Strength training, which is the same thing as weight lifting, can be done with many forms of resistance, including barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, cables, machines, and heavy resistance bands. Learn more about the difference between kettlebell, dumbbell, and barbell training,
Strength training is effective, because as you get progressively stronger, all tasks will feel easier. Being strong means your muscles won’t get tired as quickly. Also, your joints won’t take as much impact, because your muscles are better at controlling how forces run through them.
Quad dominant exercises to target your glutes and hamstrings:
- Isometric lunges with a hip hinge (can also be done dynamically)
- Heel elevated glute bridges
- Good mornings
More exercises to correct quad dominance and even more ideas to strengthen your glutes!
Can a general strength training program make you less quad dominant?
Yes! A well rounded lower body strength program will often help reduce the discomfort related to quad dominance over time -even without specific quad dominant exercises. However, if you are going to strength train, I’d suggest following a whole body strength program.
This will give you all the benefits of strength training, including:
- less upper and lower body joint pain
- Increased muscle mass or “tone”
- Better body composition
- Improved bone density
Can Pilates take the place of strength training to fix quad dominance?
While I think all forms of exercise are valuable, Pilates mat, Pilates reformer / apparatus, yoga and barre won’t give you the same result as strength training and are less likely to resolve quad dominance.
Learn more about how Pilates and strength training are different and listen here for a podcast on the difference between using light hand weights and lifting relatively heavy.
What is more effective? Pilates or weight training when fixing quad dominance?
One of the biggest differences between Pilates, yoga, and barre versus strength training is that strength training is designed specifically to produce progressive overload, which is the best way to build strength.
You achieve progressive overload by thoughtfully increasing the amount of weight you can lift in various exercises over time.
Progressive overload happens by:
- Following a weight training program with workouts that target each of your major muscle groups where you will do a specific number of repetitions designed for strength building with weights that feel appropriately heavy relative to YOUR current level of strength.
- Practicing these same workouts in the program over the course of several weeks.
- As the weights you are using begin to feel easy, increasing the amount of resistance that you are using, so the program continues to be challenging.
…and then you continue this process over time with more advanced programs as you become more skilled. Learn more about getting started with strength training and progressive overload.
End result? Your legs get stronger. Your quads don’t have to work so hard. You don’t feel them doing things as much. Quad dominance is less of a problem.
Need some help getting started with strength training or troubleshooting your quad dominance?
I’d love to help you. I’m available for one on one virtual personal training sessions + consults and custom strength programming.
I also have a DIY beginner strength program designed for progressive overload called PUSH IT, which you can learn more about here AND a FREE guide that includes a beginner minimal equipment strength training program, that you can have emailed straight to your inbox, using the opt-in form below.
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?
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!
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.
Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!
Thanks for your comment. Hope it helps!
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.
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.
I am a D1 college runner and have been dealing with quad stiffness, burning and aching for six months now, basically taking me out of the sport entirely. I have tried everything I can, and been tested for everything from nutrients to lupus. I am thinking it is possible that i just have extreme fatigue from just running more and more with quad dominance, making my posterior chain weaker and weaker. Or- are my quads weak and that is why they are constantly fatigued? Thanks for your article!
Hi Mac. Sorry you’re having issues. It’s out of my scope to suggest anything that relates to diagnosis or treatment and without a longer conversation this is a difficult question for me to answer. I suspect it’s unlikely that running is making your posterior chain weaker and in turn is causing these symptoms. You absolutely need your posterior chain to run even if you happen to feel your quads more. To me, it sounds like there may be an issue with your recovery to training ratio (e.g. not having a long enough off season) that is leaving you exhausted and not allowing that muscle group to recover – maybe after a single event that has now created long term symptoms – or maybe another aspect of cross training outside of running that is missing. Have you tried seeing a physical therapist who specializes in strength and conditioning and running? They may be a good resource. Sorry I can’t offer more specific advice. I do hope you get some answers.