Stretching for Parkour, a summary from PKG RDV6, part 2
Mon, 2012-01-09 10:15
The second most important muscle group for every Parkour practitioner to stretch, in my opinion, is: the quadriceps.
The first time I ever did Parkour was an evening class with Parkour Generations, lead by Blane and James Gore; a tough session with a classic kick-ass Blane warm up, followed by endless jumps as we never seemed to nail the jump all at once, leg pistons for,like, ever; push ups, cat leaps and other fun challenges.
Having danced and done kick boxing for several years, my thighs have never been of Tinkerbell’s dainty proportions. But they were no where near strong enough for what I asked of them that session, and I subsequently couldn’t walk properly for 8 days after my first session for pain in my front thighs. I remember an elderly man asking if I wanted help down the stairs at Putney Tube station as I was holding on to the railing sideways and ‘wfffff’ –breathing and “mmnhgggh”–exhaling every time I took a step down the stairs
I am proud to say I don’t need old gentlemen’s help down the stairs anymore after training, but I think for regular traceurs and traceuses it is easy to underestimate the grand use of the thigh muscles in Parkour and how brilliantly powerful they become after all the running and jumping and drops we do.
But you need to take care of them, otherwise they can give you long lasting and annoying trouble, and pain.
What are the quadriceps?
The quadriceps, full name quadriceps femoris, are the four muscles on your front thigh. The Latin name means ‘the four headed muscle of the femur (the femur is the bone in your thigh) and what I want you to remember from that is the number 4. That is because you have four muscles to think about when you stretch the front thigh and they all attach in different places.
Let’s call them quads to make it easy and if you extend your leg grab your thigh right now, you are more than likely grabbing the quads, however feeling only three of them.
From the outside to about 4/5 into the thigh (leave some space for the inner thigh, if you please) you have three of them that are attached from the top of the thighbone to right above your kneecap. The attachments run all the way from the outside to the inside on top of the kneecap. Let’s call these three muscles of the quads, the vastis-group (they all start with the name vastis).
The fourth one, rectus femoris, covers most of muscles in the vastis-group (completely covering the one in the middle) and has a different attachment that I want you to be aware of:
(follow this by tracing the journey on your own body)
Rectus femoris is attached on top of your hip bone (similar to one end of our friend iliopsoas), goes down the front thigh as the muscle, obviously, and has one mother of a tendon –the quadriceps tendon- that attaches above your knee-cap, covers the entire knee cap, now becomes baptised as the patellar tendon, and then attaches below your knee on the big shin bone.
If you read the blog on the hip flexor stretch, it might make sense if I say your knee problems could be due to a wonky hip that is caused by a tight iliopsoas (http://www.parkourgenerations.com/blog/stretching-parkour-summary-pkgen-...), which is over-used because your butt isn’t toned enough, right? Tricky stuff, having a balanced body.
Together the quads work to extend your knee from a bent position (a kick for example) but due to the rectus femoris and it’s attachment, it also flexes the hip, bringing the leg forwards or up towards you. It is used in walking, running, squatting, kicking, jumping…any movement that uses your legs basically.
How do the quads relate to my Parkour?
Given the anatomy description above it hopefully isn’t hard to imagine what things your quads will be used for when doing Parkour.
All jumps, strides, drops, balancing, vaults, climbing, all variations of quadrupedie movement on the ground, cat balance, traversing etc etc. The quads are not the primary muscle power used in all of the aforementioned, but they are in there nonetheless.
The only time they are not used is if you do only upper body stuff, climbs and tree swings, for example, using only arms etc. But more than likely you will get up high somewhere and will have to come down to the ground again, for which the quads will be used when you land.
And with that amount of impressive and important use, you should want to take care of them.
What happens if I don’t stretch my quads?
If you don’t stretch your quads, eventually you may become invisible.
But before that you will most likely encounter lower back pain and a myriad of different pains and aches related to the knee that can at worst force involuntary rest upon you for annoyingly long periods of time.
The quads are one of the most powerful muscles groups in the body, for the simple fact that we all use them any, and every, time we get up and walk about. Even if you sat down and played World of Warcaft every day all day, your quads would probably be the strongest part of your body (apart from your thumb perhaps) as you’d use them every time you got up to tea/pee.
So how could tight quads give you back pain?
Place your index finger on top of any hip at the front, whist also lending some fingers from your other hand on your vertebrae in your spine, in your lower back.
Tilt your pelvis/hip forward.
Can you feel what happened in your lower back?
It should have created an arch and probably given some discomfort with it.
Keep that arch in your mind and imagine yourself landing from a big drop.
Or trying to take off to jump up somewhere.
Apart from it looking ridiculous, it wouldn’t be good for your spine, or effective for your landing/jump.
Seeing as you have the most powerful of the four quads attached to the top of your hip, the quads have the power to make the forward tilt of the pelvis that we just forced, compressing and stiffening your lower back as just a starter for problems to possibly arise should it happen. Having a mobile, free and strong lower back is important for anyone, let alone for someone who does Parkour and needs to absorb as many drops as we do.
Now it is unlikely the quads will cause such a massive tilt as we have just done, but just a slight tilt forward and out of the place your pelvis should be in is enough to pull everything out of kilter and cause lower back pain and stiffness.
And this pelvic tilt can also affect your knee.
So let’s continue on this glorious journey of good news.
The knee joint is the biggest joint in our body; a complex and clever construction of tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bones. Everything in this joint needs perfect spacing and balance to function, of course.
Feel your kneecap for a second. It is like a plate that moves- the patella- and it really needs that space to move in order for your leg to bend as it should. As described above, one of the four quadriceps muscles has a major mother of a tendon that covers this whole ‘plate’, and the other three muscles are attached just above the knee cap.
Straighten your knee.
Try to hold on to the kneecap from underneath it.
Now try to bend your knee without letting the kneecap slide down in its natural movement.
If the quadriceps get too tight and start pulling on the tendons where the muscles are attached (see http://www.parkourgenerations.com/blog/spacing-within-and-why-i-stretch-have-toned-butt-functions on why you should stretch), you may restrict the movement of the kneecap. Your leg movement will suffer greatly and the pain in the knee in various places can be pretty intense, causing a quadriceps rupture or give you patellar tendonitis/tendinopathy at worst.
Knee tendonitis/tendinopathy is akin to a swear word in the Parkour world, as well as being an unfortunate, common injury that can be avoided with the correct stretching! Often confused as the same thing, tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon, whereas tendinopathy is more about the degeneration of the tendon. In other words, patellar (knee) tendinopathy is you training so often and hard without stretching (or strengthening the tendon) that the muscle in it’s constant tightness, starts pulling on the tendon until it tears in ever so small amounts, doesn’t have time to repair, and becomes degenerate instead. Patellar tendinopathy will cause you pain every time you train, for some even just by walking depending on how bad it gets, and it is something you want to avoid at all costs.
Tight quads can also cause the patellofemoral joint (where the patella-kneecap- meets the thigh bone) to be compressed and cause a very common pain/injury called patellofemoral syndrome- often resulting in pain at the front of the knee.
As a last quick thing, just flex your leg again. More than likely if you do Parkour, you can feel the outside of the three vastus muscles making quite a sweeping bulk on the outside of your thigh. In jumping, kicking and running it is very common to recruit this muscle over the inner vastus muscle of the quads.
Pain on the inside of the knee is commonly related to an imbalance of these two vastus quads, which in return can be fatal for the knee particularly during landing. Stretching the quads followed up by strengthening the weaker muscle, can often sort this pain out and prevent many knee injuries.
How will stretching the quads improve my parkour?
For me stretching the quads is imperative to prevent knee and back pain/injuries, as well as hopefully allowing me to train for as long as I want.
I call it more of an injury prevention stretch rather than improvement stretch for Parkour. I have no illusions as to what the repetitive, elative, awesome jumping that we do can do to particularly my knee joints, and once you have anything that starts with tendon and ends in “itis” or “opathy” you are looking at long periods of testing rest and sometimes confusing methods of recovery.
For a lot of you out there, simply stretching your quads may actually allow you to train without knee pain. How’s that for saving you £75 going to a physio! And rhyming.
Stretching the quads may also improve your jump as the muscle will be freer from the joint to engage all the power you need to take off.
The same goes for your landing; a stronger and freer knee joint will allow for a softer landing. When you land it is important that the hamstrings are recruited correctly to stabilise your knee (hamstrings are attached behind your knee and should work with the quads to balance your knee) But if the quads are too tight they will do all the work and create an imbalance in the knee, often forcing the hamstrings remain weak, and perhaps tight.
Stretching the front thighs can also allow you to cat balance for longer without lower back pain, as with the quads being less tight other muscles used in this movement should have space to be recruited and do their work (chore and stomach muscles as an example)
The stretch is on the youtube link below.
See the hipflexor stretch blog referred to above for tips on when to stretch, for how long, etc.