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posted: 4/22/2013 5:07 AM

Do the legwork, feel the results

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  • IT band stretch

    IT band stretch
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  • Seated hamstring stretch

    Seated hamstring stretch
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  • Quad stretch

    Quad stretch

  • Step-ups

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By Sally Anderson
Tampa Bay Times

Do you have strong and flexible quadriceps and hamstrings? If so, consider yourself fortunate, as weakened or tight muscle groups can develop into a chronic posture issue that causes lower-back pain. And since they are muscles that help to propel us through life, and are key players in independent living, they deserve some tender, loving care. We want to keep them strong and well-stretched to meet the demands of our daily activities and to continue participating in many of our favorite sports.

The "quads" and "hams," as they are often called, are two major muscle groups in the upper leg, quads having four muscles in the front of our thighs that run from hip joint to knee joint. They are responsible for straightening the leg from the knee and are involved in many movements such as walking, running and squatting, while the hamstrings have three muscles behind the thighs that cross both the hip and knee joint, enabling you to bend knees, bringing the heel back toward the buttocks (knee flexion) and to move the leg backward (hip extensions).

Generally, hamstrings are weaker than the quads, in part because the quads are a bigger muscle than the hamstrings and are used more frequently in daily living. This strength imbalance increases the risk for injuries; hamstring injuries have become common runner injuries.

Strengthen and stretch quads and hams: When the quads are overly tight, they will pull the pelvis forward, and when hams are overly tight, they will pull the pelvis to the back, messing up proper pelvic alignment.

Keeping the quads and hamstring muscles strong and flexible is the best way to keep your knees healthy and prevent injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic surgeons.

Getting into and out of a chair and going up and down stairs become quite difficult when those muscles are weak or too tight, and playing sports such as tennis, golf, swimming, walking and running becomes painful.

When skiing, some of the most-used muscles are the quads, which hold you in position while skiing and also act as protection for the knees. Strong hams are required for skiing downhill to help stabilize the body as you are leaning forward.

When you sit for long periods of time, your quads shorten and become tight as a result of being in a lengthy contracted state.

Because these muscles are involved in practically every movement we make, and are so large, you will not only be building more lean-muscle tissue, you will be burning more calories.

How to improve leg strength and flexibility: Cardio exercise, weight training and calisthenics all offer good exercise for improving leg strength.

Swimming, tennis, soccer, bicycling, kickboxing and running are great sport activities to strengthen legs.

In a gym, you could use the stationary bike, treadmill, calf-raise, leg-curl and leg-extension machines.

Lunges and squats are compound exercises that you can do most anywhere without having to use any equipment other than a few weights, and if you are a beginner, you can use your own body weight for resistance.

It is generally recommended to perform eight to 12 repetitions of each resistance exercise to develop strength, working toward two to three sets of 12 reps.

For significant strength gains, work out two or three times a week and use a variety of exercises.

Climbing stairs whenever you can gives a good cardio workout and is a great strength exercise for those lower-body muscles. Stretching after sitting for long periods of time or after a workout can keep leg muscles flexible.

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