Having tight hip flexors can contribute to problems with the back, knees, feet and affect stride length as well as other running issues including muscle imbalance.
The couch stretch is a mobility exercise and stretch that helps improve mobility to help in running more freely to offset the problems of sitting too long as I know I do in my job at the desk.
The video here explains how to do this important and intense stretch the correct way:
This video has the best explanation and demonstration on vital part of the stretch I’ve seen on how you should tighten your glutes and how you need to be pushing to get the hips in a neutral position and not overextending the back. I’d missed this previously and it does make the stretch more effective and more intense too.
I’ve been doing the couch stretch for a few months on and off to help with loosening up my hip flexors that are tight from too much time sat at a desk which puts them in the shortened position too long. And it has helped even if I wasn’t doing it correctly.
It is one of the toughest stretches you can do.
How Often And How Long
Dr Kelly Starrett, well known mobility expert and the author of Ready To Run, says that you should do this at least daily and if possible more than once a day. He says it’s something you can do while the commercials are on as to do both legs takes about 4 minutes in total.
THe first hold part of the stretch should be held for a minute before moving to the upper body to a vertical position which should hold for a further minute and then repeat with the other leg hooked on the couch or against the wall. According to TEd McDonald you need to hold in place a stretch for at least 30 seconds for the muscle to stop fighting the stretch and suggests even holding stretches for recovery up to 5 minutes.
It sounds similar to the glute stretch that you do standing up when you hook your hand over you ankle and pull your lower leg up behind your upper leg. This isn’t as intense and it is said it doesn’t bring about lasting change in the tissue and with properly positioning the leg with the hip as the couch stretch does.
Scaling The Stretch To Get Started
When done against a wall this can add much more intensity and can be unbearable when first starting out – you want to feel the stretch but not so much that it overbearing or pain in the knee. Take it easy when starting.
To make the stretch more bearable you can move the knee away from the corner of the wall or where the couch and floor would meet.
If you can’t kneel up straight you can use a box or something similar to push up on to move towards a more upright position. As you loosen up you can then progress with the stretch.
I do struggle with this stretch to get in the position and get the front foot and knee aligned and ready – I have to bring it around the side. I always use a cushion under the knee – it helps with comfort and reduce pressure from the floor – you’re supporting some weight and not pushing the knee down into floor.
The quad stretch where you stand next to a post for start and pull your ankle behind you leg towards your quads is a similar stretch but doesn’t have the same lasting effect in lengthening the muscle and getting the hip and leg aligned (Source:Kelly Starrett)
I can tell when I run and haven’t been doing this stretch as I do feel tighter. And I can tell when I restart as it goes back to being very intense and I have to start over again because of those many years of sitting at a desk.
I normally do the stretch as part of my cool down after I’ve been for a run from home.
If I’ve not done a run I find it is easier after I’ve warmed up a little – normally 5 minutes on my indoor seems to help me.
Most important is to take it sensibly so as not to cause pain rather than the uncomfortable feeling you get from a good stretch.
The one thing in the video I don’t do on this stretch is to lift my hand over my head. I don’t think I could keep my balance or sustain it due to the intensity of the stretch.
The stretch helps with getting a more natural stride length which will make your running more efficient which is all needed when running slow and struggling with a MAF pace over 10 minutes a mile.
It does this by getting the hips firing properly and providing more balance to the stride. Better use of the hips helps reduce the pressures on the knee
It also helps with doing squats properly.
Have you tried this stretch and/or do you have stretches and tips for better hip mobility for stronger running?