How to Foam Roll Your Quads Using the Active Release Therapy Technique

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Reviewed by Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP

Tight quads make it painful to walk, run, stand, and even sit. But no matter how much you stretch and take time off to recover, the tension never seems to go away. Whether you're training or sitting at your desk, the knots in your muscles constantly ache.

 Those days are over; we want to help you get back to living and training without pain. We'll show you how to foam roll your quads, why foam rolling is better than stretching, and exactly how to release knots that are sensitive to the touch.

Why you should foam roll your quads

Tight quads can be caused by both overuse and underuse. Athletes like cyclists, sprinters, and powerlifters often experience quad tightness because of the heavy, repetitive load they place on the muscles. Quadricep tension is also common in people with underactive muscles, like those who sit for long periods of time. 

 Your quads are the largest muscle group in your body and are responsible for practically every lower body movement. If these muscles are sore, you’re going to experience a great deal of pain and discomfort until you loosen them. 

 Foam rolling your quads will:

  • Reduce soreness across all four of the upper thigh muscles 

  • Release tension and tightness in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower back

  • Increase your hip mobility and rotation

  • Strengthen your knee so that you can squat more weight, jump higher, and run faster

  • Improve recovery times between training sessions

  • Prevent knee pain and future injuries like Runner’s knee, patellar tendonitis, and ACL tears by improving knee stability

Simply put, foam rolling will make you a better athlete.

Is foam rolling better than stretching?

Stretching is the first thing that everyone tries when their quad muscles tighten up. And while it’s a good start, it won’t be enough to treat soreness and alleviate tension. Stretching lengthens the muscles, increases blood flow, and removes waste product from the muscles, all of which aid the recovery process. 

 But if you stretch your quads when they’re not warmed up, such as after sitting in a chair all day, you’ll actually cause the muscles to tighten up even more. This is the last thing you want to do, especially if you’re already feeling sore.

On the other hand, foam rolling breaks down damaged muscle tissue so that your body can naturally heal at a faster rate. And the best part is, you can do it without warming up beforehand. When done properly (which we’ll show you how), foam rolling your quads stimulates myofascial release to actively reduce soreness in just minutes. 

What is myofascial release?

Myofascial release is a massage therapy technique that involves applying pressure to trigger points (knots) on certain muscles in order to relieve tension and reduce soreness. Though it’s usually performed by a massage therapist, the Rolflex foam roller breaks down the connective myofascial tissue that surrounds the muscle and is the primary cause of tight, sore muscles. 

Physiology: the structure and function of your quad muscles

Before we get into the technique, let’s break down what the “quads” actually are. As the name suggests, the quadriceps are a group of four muscles that sit on the anterior (front) of your thigh between your hips and knees. 

  • Rectus femoris - originates at the hip bone and stretches the entire distance to the knee cap via the femoris tendon

  • Vastus intermedius: the deepest of the four muscles, it lies beneath the rectus femoris 

  • Vastus lateralis - the largest and strongest of the quadricep muscles, it runs along the outside of your thigh and connects your femur to your kneecap

  • Vastus medialis: this muscle functions similarly to the vastus lateralis except that it connects the femur and patella via the inside of your thigh

It’s unlikely that just one of these muscles will be tight, so we’ll target all of them with the foam roller.

How to foam roll quads for optimal recovery, treatment, and prevention (a 5-minute technique)

Our resident physical therapist, Nic Bartolotta, MPT, HHP, will walk you through how to relieve tension in your quads with the Rolflex foam roller. You can perform this entire technique sitting, standing, or laying on the floor - let's get into it. 

Slowly massage your thigh

Adjust the Rolflex so that the arms can comfortably fit around your thigh. Squeeze the handles to apply pressure and begin to slide the contoured roller up and down your quadriceps. Spend at least 1-2 minutes massaging the entire muscle group, making sure to target the inside, outside, and top of your thigh. 

As you foam roll your quads, make a mental note of spots that are tighter and more sensitive than others. Once you’ve warmed up the muscles, you’ll target these trigger points, or simply “knots” with active release therapy (ART). 

Stimulate myofascial release

After you’ve massaged every inch of your quad muscles between the hips and knee, it’s time to get rid of those knots and say goodbye to muscle soreness. 

On the same leg, place the Rolflex over a trigger point and squeeze the handles to apply pressure. And without moving the foam roller, fully bend then straighten your knee. As your quads move your knee through its full range of motion, the roller will break down the myofascial tissue. You’ll feel relief almost immediately. Repeat this for 5-10 repetitions on each trigger point, then move to the next one. 

After you’ve massaged and performed ART on one leg, move to the other. This foam rolling technique should take just 5 minutes for both legs. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you foam roll your quads?

Yes, foam rolling your quads is an effective way to reduce soreness, shorten recovery times, improve flexibility, and prevent injuries. 

How long should you foam roll quads?

Because it’s the largest muscle group in the body, you should spend more time foam rolling it than other muscles – usually 1-2 minutes. 

How do you release a tight quad with a foam roller?

The best way to release a tight quad with a foam roller is with active release therapy (ART), a technique that breaks down the hard outer membrane around the quadriceps.