“. . . according to the Yoga Sutra (3.1), the term [Bandha] refers to the ‘binding’ of consciousness to a particular object or locus (desha), which is the very essence of concentration.”
Georg Feuerstein

The Rectus Femoris Muscle in Yoga

In this blog post we examine the rectus femoris muscle and its relation to yoga poses, beginning with an overview of the muscle and how it stretches. We conclude with some interesting synergy that can occur between the rectus femoris and the gluteus maximus in poses where both the hip and knee are extending, such as Warrior I.

Here’s the anatomy…

The rectus femoris is one of the four heads of the quadriceps muscle. It runs from the anterior inferior iliac spine to the quadriceps tendon, which attaches to the patella or knee cap. The patella then attaches to the tibial tubercle via the patellar tendon. The rectus femoris thus crosses both the hip and the knee, making it a bi-articular muscle. Note that the other three heads of the quadriceps muscle only cross the knee joint and are mono-articular (figure 1).

Figure 1: The rectus femoris muscle with its origin and insertion.

The rectus femoris combines with the rest of the quadriceps to extend the knee joint. It also acts as a synergist of hip flexion and has increased activity with abduction and external rotation of the hip joint. Figure 2 illustrates this in Supta padangustasana (performed with the leg abducted). Click here to learn more about the relationship between the quadriceps and the pelvis in our blog post, “Preventative Strategies for Lower Back Strains in Yoga.”

Figure 2: The rectus femoris contracting to flex the hip and extend the knee in Supta padangustasana.

Stretching the rectus femoris is best accomplished in poses that combine hip extension and knee flexion. Poses like Virasana (with the hips flexing) are good for stretching the other heads of the quadriceps, however, a reclining variation is necessary to lengthen the rectus femoris. Figure 3 illustrates two poses that stretch this muscle.

Figure 3: Stretching the rectus femoris by extending the hip and flexing the knee.

Finally, figure 4 illustrates the “antagonist/synergist” relationship between the rectus femoris and the gluteus maximus in poses like Warrior I. The gluteus maximus is a hip extensor and, thus, an antagonist of the rectus femoris for this action. If the foot is fixed on the mat, contracting the gluteus maximus tilts the pelvis as shown (closed chain action). Tilting the pelvis back and down creates a pull on the rectus femoris, which is transmitted to the knee joint, leading to more efficient knee extension. In this manner, the gluteus maximus is an indirect synergist of knee extension.

Figure 4: The antagonist/synergist relationship of the gluteus maximus to the rectus femoris. 

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 1 - Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses".

An excerpt from "Yoga Mat Companion 2 - Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends".

Feel free to browse through The Key Muscles of Yoga and Key Poses of Yoga by clicking here.The Yoga Mat Companion Series gives you step-by-step anatomic sequencing for all of the major asanas, with a variety preparatory poses as well. Use these books to design your classes and optimize your practice. We’re also pleased to announce that all of our books are now available in digital format for Kindle and other devices. Click here to learn more…
Click here to browse through all of our books.

Thanks for stopping by The Daily Bandha. Stay tuned for our next post when I'll present another subject on combining science and yoga. Also, we greatly appreciate when you share us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.

All the Best,

Ray Long, MD


  1. I really love these insightful and informative posts. Thank you.

  2. absolutely love your page, Yoga needs this awareness. As a teacher i wish to share your knowledge of anatomy with my student i have your books and these posts remind me i need to re read them. Thank you for sharing your gift!

  3. You are a light in the world of yoga. So grateful that you share all your knowledge with us. When do you come to teach in Montreal, Canada?

  4. Namaskar,
    Thanks you verymuch for providing so much information about the anatomy of muscles and muscles group used in different Yogic postures.

    Rajiv Luthra Norway

  5. Thanks for continuing to provide these posts. I find the diagrams, anatomy and explanations all combine to help me visualise, understand and enjoy my yoga. Colin, New Zealand.

  6. Thank you for your beautiful illustrations and knowledgable write ups. I have a question! I see how putting the rectus femoris on stretch would lead to "more efficient" passive knee extension. However, to cultivate active knee extension requires contracting the rectus femoris, which mechanically becomes more difficult when the knee joint is extended. It seems to me that the assumption here is that passive knee extension is desirable, otherwise it would be actually more challenging to straighten the knee with the closed kinetic chain hip extension, which is in fact, what I find to be true! Just enjoying the discussion...you've sparked my curiosity!

    1. Hi Olivia,

      It works best when you contract the quads to extend the knee, while at the same time contracting the gluts to extend the hip. Then the hip extension also puts the rectus femoris under further tension, which augments the knee extension. Thus, the gluts aid indirectly in straightening the knee.



  7. hi, do these images have copyright? can I use them, something like this web: http://yoguifeliz.com/2015/03/14/psoas-el-musculo-del-alma/