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Why Are My Thigh Muscles Getting Tight?

Muscle tightness, or a lack of flexibility, in your thighs is common if you are active but overtraining your quadriceps. Your thighs can also become tight if you neglect your post workout cooldown stretching. Women in particular are prone to tight thighs because they do not utilize their gluteal muscles as efficiently to stabilize and create movement at the hip and knee.

As you work out, your thigh muscles must constantly repair themselves so that they can meet the demands of training. This results in improved performance but can result in a loss of flexibility. Muscle fibers repair themselves more tightly knit to each other which create tighter muscles over time. The first step in addressing this issue is to restore the optimal length-tension relationship to the quadriceps muscles of the thigh. You can do this by performing a 10 to 15 minute of stretching exercises for your quadriceps after your leg workouts. You should hold each stretch 30 to 60 seconds and alternate between legs to ensure each leg is stretched evenly.

Working out your quadriceps with resistance training or through running causes your quads to develop significantly faster than your hamstrings. This will improve your quadriceps strength but can reduce your ability to activate your hamstring muscles at proper levels. This creates a constant reinforcement of “quad dominance;” therefore, exercises to strengthen your hamstrings must be performed to restore balance to the musculature of your upper leg. A good rule of thumb is to use two hamstring exercises for each quadriceps exercise in your resistance training program if you are having problems with tight thighs.

Your gluteal, or butt, muscles are responsible for extension of your hip in movement such as climbing stairs or standing up out of a chair. Unfortunately, constantly sitting in a chair or the development of high levels of quad strength through exercise can cause your quadriceps to “take over” for your glutes during these movements. This reinforces quad tightness because they are will now have to work more often unless strength in your glutes is restored. Utilize exercises such as the hip bridge and glute-ham raise to restrengthen weakened glute muscles. When your glute strength is restored, your glutes will better be able to assist your quadriceps and cause your quadriceps to be used less.

Taking care of tight quadriceps is an urgent issue for any athlete, runner or individual experiencing muscularly related knee pain. You can reduce your risk of ACL injury by stretching tight quadriceps muscles and restoring strength to your hamstring and gluteal muscles. Poor flexibility in your thighs is also associated with patellar tendonitis and poor iliotibibial band, IT-band, tracking which can cause pain in your knee joint. Before implementing changes in your workout routine to address quadriceps tightness, consult with your doctor to ensure these methods of training are safe for you to perform and that your knee pain stems from quadriceps tightness and not a more serious condition.

Resources (2)

  • "NSCA's Essentials of Personal Training"; Roger Earle and Thomas Baechle; 2003
  • "NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training"; April 2007

Photo Credits:

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.