Quad Sets for Quadriceps Activation

Quadriceps inhibition or the inability to feel/activate your quadriceps after major knee surgeries like ACL reconstruction can be a very frustrating early on in the rehabilitation process. How is it possible that you can’t squeeze your quad?! Luckily for you, we’ll show you our top 7 cues and expert tips to increase your quadriceps activation and get it firing again!

Arthrogenic muscle inhibition is a process in which quadriceps activation failure is caused by neural inhibition. It’s essentially the nervous system not allowing the normal pathways of muscle activation to occur. The best evidence to date (Systematic Review from Sonnery-Cottet 2018) supports the use of therapeutic exercise and icing to improve quadriceps activation. Our favorite exercise to re-teach patients quadriceps activation is all mighty quad set.

The quad set is paramount to getting re-gaining quadriceps activation. After an injury (which includes surgery), there is lots of swelling in the knee that accumulates. This swelling leads to a phenomena called arthrogenic muscle inhibition, in which there is an inability to completely contract a muscle despite no injury to the muscle or innervating nerve. To combat this, lots of practice and developing a new “brain-body connection” is required. Follow this foolproof guide to wake your quad back up!

Lay on the ground or table and place a rolled up towel/shirt under your knee. This will act as a lever which will make it easier to activate your quadriceps muscle. Attempt to squeeze your quadriceps muscle using these cues:

  1. Really focus on squeezing your quad
  2. Sometimes touching the muscle, massaging it, or hitting it can help
  3. Think about moving your kneecap up and into your hip socket
  4. Push your knee down into the towel roll
  5. Lift your heel off the table
  6. Move your shin bone in the shape of a “J” by moving your knee down and your heel up at the same time
  7. Squeeze both quadriceps at the same time Happy quad setting!

Knee Extension Overhaul [P]Rehab Program

This program is for anyone looking to truly [P]Rehab their knee before surgery OR work on regaining their knee extension after a surgery or injury. It’s appropriate for anyone regardless of current fitness level and will build you from the ground up to tolerate the end ranges of knee extension. For more about this program click HERE.


Also, check out this video from our good friend Lenny Macrina who did a critical review on the efficacy of different treatments for treating arthogenic muscle inhibition!



Knee [P]Rehab Program

plyometric exercises

The Knee [P]Rehab Program is for anyone looking to get more out of their knee(s)! Learn more by clicking HERE

  • Elyse Lukis
    Posted at 14:36h, 28 October Reply

    Thanks very interesting blog!

  • Сialis
    Posted at 01:07h, 03 January Reply

    Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your
    content. Please let me know. Many thanks

    • Michael Lau
      Posted at 07:51h, 03 January Reply

      No we wouldnt mind at all! Please share away! Thank you!

  • Jade
    Posted at 15:24h, 17 March Reply

    Any suggestions on someone who had a patella tendon rupture over a couple years ago and still struggles with quad activation and strengthening? I’ve also found myself struggling with finding the right balance of implementating quad exercises and pushing through the tendinitis pain I feel with those exercises

    • Michael Lau
      Posted at 10:08h, 18 March Reply

      Blood flow restriction. Will help your with the neuroativation part (if you are still having problems) as well as increasing muscle size. For tendonopathy, you do need to eventually load it. BFR can be a good segway into that.

  • Erik Boehm
    Posted at 15:40h, 21 March Reply

    I had knee surgery two weeks ago. Medial meniscus repair through orthoscopy. The first two weeks have been anything but routine as week one I found out I had a DVT and a day or two later a PE. After taking blood thinners now for a week, blood pooled in my knee which forced me to have it drained in the ER. That was 4 days ago and swelling has gone down, but I’ve noticed I can not lift my leg, which turned me to this site/video. Due to my circumstances, I wasn’t able to be as active in the first two weeks of recovery and now im finding my quad is not activating properly and doesn’t allow me to walk or pick my leg up. Other then the video suggestions, is there anything else I should look towards doing to help fix this or am I trying to rush things too much? Thanks

    • Michael Lau
      Posted at 08:13h, 28 March Reply

      Are you working with a PT? If so, listen to their advice over anything I will say here.

      You need to literally perform hundreds and hundreds of quad sets and straight leg raises a day. You can try NMES with your PT if you are not already. Most importantly, keep the swelling down. Ice ice ice that knee and keep it elevated.

      If you have access to BFR, that may help as well.

  • Bola fowodu
    Posted at 18:50h, 10 September Reply

    for quads activation, how about ”sit to stand” and stair climbing exercises?

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