There's nothing like hours of running and biking to shorten the hip flexors. If you spend hours each day in a chair at a desk, the problem becomes even worse. Effects can include the types of knee pain that will drive you nuts, devour performance capacity and perhaps even strand you on the sidelines with an injury.
You may have seen (or tried yourself) the stoplight stretch: You're on a run waiting for a green light at an intersection, and you prop yourself up against a post with one hand and use the other hand to grab your ankle behind your back and try and eek out a quad stretch of sorts. Have you noticed how that doesn't really do anything?
The intent is good but the technique doesn't do any deep or lasting work. Compare it to Dr. Kelly Starrett's "Couch Stretch"—so named because it can be a highly potent way to turn five minutes of any TV watching from the sofa into a performance-enhancing change in your underlying physiology and mechanics.
The Couch Stretch is one of the 12 Standards of Performance at the heart of Starrett's New York Times bestselling book, Ready to Run.
How to Do the Couch Stretch
The Couch Stretch is a weapons-grade technique to open up the hip and open up some slack upstream of the knee. It can help alleviate some of the common types of knee pain that runners confront, like patella tendonitis (aka "Runner's Knee") and also help solve hip and back pain troubles. Meeting this standard will support your mission to sustain good posture both in your running and as you go about your day. Try doing the Couch Stretch daily for a week—two minutes each leg, each day—and pay attention to the change you can create.
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1. Back your feet up against a wall, a box, or against the upper cushion of your couch. If using a hard floor, put down a cushion for your knee.
2. Slide your left leg so that the knee fits into the corner where the floor meets the wall (or whatever corresponding corner you might be using). Make the shin flush with the wall and point the toe.
IMPORTANT: Squeeze your glutes and your left glute in particular. Keep squeezing throughout the mobilization. This will stabilize your lower back and correctly position your hip joint.
More: 7 Post-Workout Stretches
3. Now draw up the right leg and post it in front of you with a vertical shin.
4. With butt squeezed, drive the front of the hip toward the ground. Maintain this position for at least a minute.
5. Now really crank the hip flexor by lifting up your torso (glutes still engaged) and hold for another minute.
6. Drive the torso upright, with glutes and abdominals engaged.
TIP: If you're too tight to get into the Couch Stretch position, scale things back by positioning a box out on front of you that you can put your weight on and not worry about posting the leg as in step 4. Work at this daily for at least 2 minutes each side to affect the tissue change you need to improve toward the complete position and passing this standard.
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