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    Hamstrings Versus Quads: Squeezing the Knees When Stretching the Hamstrings

    One basic knee strengthening exercise is to use the muscles of the knee against each other. Depending on the feeling of the contraction ou

    Single Joint Muscles that Act on the Knee

    The single joint muscles at the front of the knee are the three vastus muscles:

    • vastus lateralis
    • vastus intermedius
    • vastus medialis

    The single joint muscles at the back of the knee are:

    • biceps femoris short head (which attaches to the fibula)
    • popliteus (attaches to the tibia)

    Because the posterior single joint knee muscles are so small, I practice activating the multi-joint hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh along with the three vastus muscles at the front of the knee to help stabilize the knee joint.

    The Multi Joint Hamstrings

    The multi-joint hamstring muscles are

    • Semimembranosus,
    • semitendinosus and
    • biceps femoris long head.

    The feeling of this activation is a squeezing sensation at the front of the legs and an upward pulling sensation at the back of the legs.

    In both cases, the sensation is just above the knee joints.

    Working Against Gravity

    When standing on both feet with both knees bent the quadriceps work against the weight of the body to stabilize the knee joints. This may be one reason why the single joint muscles at the back of the knee are relatively small.

    However, when standing with knees straight, the single joint muscles at the back of the knee may not be able to generate enough force to stabilize the knee against the quadriceps. For this reason it seems reasonable to use the hamstrings. The interesting thing is, when activating the hamstrings against the quadriceps in a straight knee standing position, the tension feels like it is isolated around the knee joint.

    knee joint muscles, front view, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermediusknee joint muscles back view, biceps fermoris short head, polpliteusknee joint muscles, hamstrings, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps fermoris long head

    Getting Around Tight Hamstrings

    Ironically enough I rarely used to focus on activating my quadriceps in forward bends because they didn't flex the hips. I thought it more important to focus on the single joint hip flexors. However, activating both quads and hamstrings at the knee together seems to make hamstring stretches easier.

    Learning to squeeze the front and back of the knees simultaneously offers another way to get around tight hamstrings. I found that when I squeezed the knees and then released, in time with my breath, or just slowly and rhythmically, my forward bends were a little more comfortable.

    Fine Tuning the Knee

    Another interesting aspect of activating the knee joint muscles, particularly the quadriceps, is that they can be used to rotate the femur at the knee joint.

    Usually knee rotation is talked about as the tibia and fibular moving with respect to the femur. I found that while standing on one or both legs with knees bent, I could use the quadriceps to rotate the femur on top of the tibia. The action was slight but perceptable.

    I used it to make my knee joint feel more comfortable. At the same time I was also controlling my ankle joint and my hip joint of the knee in question.

    This can be a lot to juggle around with and so what I normally like to do is to activate my foot and ankle, then adjust my knee via my quads, and then adjust the hip. However, sometimes I get a better feel if I do my foot and ankle first, then my hip and then my knee. And then I repeat the adjustments so that I gradually move towards making my whole leg, ankle, knee and hip feel comfortable.

    (The hamstrings can also be used to rotate the knee joint.)

    Equalized Standing on Both Legs

    If I'm standing with feet about hip width apart, parallel, and knees straight and then activate knee muscles, both front and back, I find that my legs want to rotate, particularly when I focus on even tension at either side of the back of the knee.

    I'm guessing that the pull of the two sets of hamstrings (semitendinosus and semimembranosus on the inside and biceps femoris on the outside) is the cause of this feeling. I find that it's easier to equalize tension on inside and outside of the back of the knees if I stand with feet slightly outwardly rotated.

    Squeezing the Knee Joint Muscles In Yoga Poses

    In any standing forward bend, I find that if I "squeeze the knees", lengthen neck and open chest, and then relax, I can get deeper into the forward bend. Squeezing the front and the back of the knee seems to give the hamstrings a better foundation to support the pelvis when lengthening the spine. Then when relaxing the spine the hamstrings also relax, allowing them to lengthen.

    To standing forward bends that you can practice this is are wide leg standing forward bend and triangle forward bend

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    As an example, in triangle forward bend, you can

    • squeeze the knees,
    • lengthen the neck and
    • open the chest,
    • and then relax downwards.

    Then repeat. To add weight and strengthen the hamstrings, try reaching the arms to the sides after lenghtening the neck and opening the chest. Then try reaching them to the front.

    knee joint, triange forward bend, hamstring stretch, adding weight to hamstring stretches, standing forward bend, hamstring stretchknee joint, triange forward bend, hamstring stretch, adding weight to hamstring stretchesknee joint, triange forward bend, hamstring stretch, adding weight to hamstring stretchesknee joint, triange forward bend, hamstring stretch, adding weight to hamstring stretches

    For myself, each time I relax I find I can bend further forwards. It's as if after the work of supporting the upper body, my hamstrings want to relax.

    Another yoga pose in which you can experiment with squeezing the knee joint muscles is chair pose. It's an alternative to focusing on the single joint muscles of the hip when doing this yoga pose.

    One yoga pose where I found that squeezing the knees wasn't effective was wheel pose. For this backbending yoga pose, I found I got a better feeling when I focused on using my inner thighs to help press my pelvis upwards.

    Myofascial Meridians

    In terms of myofascial meridians, the three single joint anterior knee muscles are part of the superficial front line which connect to the abdominals. Meanwhile the hamstrings are part of the superficial back line which connect the spinal erectors.

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    Return to Yoga Anatomy from Knee Joint Stability


    Gumroad, Yoga for your shoulders, available in epub, pdf and mobi. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Gumroad, Yoga for your shoulders, available in epub, pdf and mobi. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

    Yoga for Strength

    Basic Stability

    Exercises for Improving Core, Pelvis and SI Joint Awareness and Control

    Back Strengthening Exercises

    Arm and Shoulder Strengthening Exercises and Poses

    Leg Strengthening Exercises and Poses

    Strength Based Yoga Practice

    Yoga and Weights/Kettlebells

    Learn to Activate Your
    Quadriceps and Hamstrings

    What's New?

    An Exercises for Knee Stability, The Seated Get Up

    The seated get up is a way of getting into the one legged squat from a seated position. Even if you aren't interested in one leg squats this video does include tips on stabilizing the knees (at about the 5 minute mark.) Usual muscle activations for knee stability might include the quads, the hamstrings or any of the glutes. This looks at another set of muscles all together. If you like the video or find it helpful, please do share it! Thanks!

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    Deep Squats

    Some tips for learning how to do deep squats (without weight). The first tip is on how to stay balanced while squatting.

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    Learning The Body Weight Squat

    How do you learn the body weight safely? How do you work towards this pose even if you aren't sure if you are capable of doing it.

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    Basic Yoga Poses

    Basic yoga poses: standing, sitting, arm balances, binds, twists, inversions, back bending, front bends.

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    Scapular Awareness

    Scapular stabilization becomes a little bit harder when working agains the weight of the body. It can be easier to learn if you gradually increase the amount of body weight the scapular stabilizer muscles are working againsts..

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    Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises

    Some hip flexor strengthening exercises.

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    Arm Strengthening Exercises

    These yoga poses can be used as arm strengthening exercises.

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    Leg Strengthening Exercises

    Turn yoga poses into leg strengthening exercises using floor pressing actions, leverage and friction.

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    Hip Strengthening Exercises

    One way of finding and fixing hip problems is to do standing hip strengthening exercises while balancing on one leg.

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    Knee Anatomy for Yoga Teachers

    Knee anatomy for yoga teachers looks at the bones and muscles that comprise the back of the knee in simple terms.

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    Kneeling Quadriceps Stretch

    Working towards a kneeling quadriceps stretch you first need to be able to kneel. If you have difficulty kneeling, you may find it helps to activate your quadriceps.

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    Quadriceps Stretching Yoga Poses

    When doing quadriceps stretching it may help to activate and then relax your quadriceps in these standing, lunging, pigeon and supine yoga pose variations.

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    Lying Quadriceps Stretch

    Some exercises and yoga poses for working towards a lying quadriceps stretch one leg at a time.

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    Benefits of The Dance of Shiva

    What are the benefits of the Dance of Shiva? Arm strength and balance, learning to learn and improving creativity.

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    Yoga Routine Video for Strengthening Arms and Legs Via Friction and Pressure

    This yoga routine video is designed to help you strengthen your arms and legs via the use of friction and pressure. It also teaches you how to become more aware of your body.

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    Transverse Abdominis Exercises

    The transverse abdominis muscle can be broken down into three parts. Transverse abdominal exercises can thus affect the SI Joint, lumbar spine and the lower portion of the ribcage.

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    Knee Strengthening Exercises

    To improve the resiliency of your knees it can help to exercise them in a variety of positions. The following yoga poses can be used as knee strengthening exercises. The trick is to activate your knees while doing them.

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    Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors

    Learn to consciously control your quads and hip flexors with Conscious Muscle Control: Quads and Superficial Hip Flexors. This downloadable video course teaches you how to feel and activate your quadriceps (the vastus muscles) as well as the rectus femoris, tensor fascae latae and sartorius muscles.

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    Calf Stretches

    For any calf stretch you have to bend your ankle forwards to stretch the soleus and/or gastrocnemius. How you bend the ankle forwards can make the stretch more or less effective.

    Continue reading "Calf Stretches"

    Yoga for Flexibility

    Yoga for flexibility with stretches for the hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, psoas, shoulders and arms. These yoga stretches are designed to improve flexiblity.

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