the four gates
by julee snyder
The four gates of the thigh, coined by David Beadle, refer to the muscles on all four sides of the hip joint. For knee and hip health, we want to equally open and stretch all four sides. These muscle groups include the quadraceps on the front of the thigh, the hamstrings on the back of the thigh, the adductors on the inner thigh, and the abductors, located in the glutes, but feeding into the iliotibial band of the lateral leg.
I encourage you to refer to an anatomy atlas to further study the specific muscles, attachment sites, line of pull and specific joint actions. But generally, the quadriceps are responsible for knee extension and hip flexion. The hamstrings are antagonist to the quadriceps; they are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension. The adductors are aptly name for the adduction or returning the leg toward the midline, while the abductors pull the leg laterally away from the midline.
As you plan your sequence, keep in mind that you want to balance all sides of the hip joint. Include poses that stretch and open all sides of the thigh, as well as poses or flows that strengthen all sides of the thigh.
I often start my practices with a hip opening sequence that gets the synovial fluid flowing in the hip socket via small range of movement exercises and then moves into deeper stretches of the hip rotators. Once the hip is warm, I will take out a strap to stretch the hamstrings, the medial leg, and the lateral leg. While that feels pretty thorough, I still need to stretch the quads. So I roll to my side or my belly to grab hold of the foot or ankle and stretch the quadriceps.
The same kind of logic can be applied to kneeling poses, standing poses, balance poses, as well as strengthening poses. Have fun being both creative and strategic!