Beginner Guides Cheltenham Club Fitness

Thu 25 Feb, 2016

Getting Started with Flexibility Training: The Couch Stretch


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In the world of fitness training, flexibility is one of those things that often gets neglected.

A bit like core work, for most people it’s at best an afterthought to their main workout – lifting heavy weights or heading out for a run.

But the truth is, if you want to maintain your health and fitness as you age, flexibility is arguably one of the most important things to work on.

Which is why we’re releasing our article series on the the basics of flexibility training – starting this week with the couch stretch.

The Couch Stretch: Why is it Important?

Compared to tens, hundreds and certainly thousands of years ago, we spend a heck of a lot of time sitting down.

Think of an average day for your standard office worker:

They sit – in the car on the way to work, at their desk all day in front of a computer, again in the car on the drive home, and in front of the TV to relax in the evening.

It’s unnatural, and all this sitting takes its toll on the body.

Amongst other things, it results in chronically tight hip flexors (the muscles at the front of your hips) and weak glutes (the muscles that you’re currently sitting on).

This combination can have a number of unwanted side effects, including:

  • A tilt in the pelvis, leading to poor posture and back problems.
  • Limited range of motion in the hips and subsequent tight hamstrings.
  • An increased risk injury risk from misalignment and the inability to get into correct positions.
  • Reduced efficiency of movement, which decreases power output.

The couch stretch aims to undo all of this mess: opening up the hip flexors and quadriceps, and activating the glutes so you can move freely.

How to do the Couch Stretch

As the name suggests, the couch stretch is designed to be performed against a couch, but can also be performed against a wall (although you might need a little padding underneath your knees).

Be warned – it can be an intense stretch, so take it easy to start with.

As the mobility expert and creator of the couch stretch Kelly Starrett says – don’t go into the pain cave. You should feel discomfort, but never pain.

1. Set up

If you’re performing the stretch against a wall, start on all fours facing away from the wall, in a braced position – meaning your core is engaged and back is flat. If you’re using the couch, start standing, facing away from the couch – again with your midline stable.

2. Knee to wall/couch

Then place one knee up against the crook of the wall/back of couch, with your foot pointing straight up, keeping the thigh in line with your body and shin bone against the wall.

3. Low lunge

Come up onto the opposite foot into a low lunge, with your upper body just above parallel to the floor, hands resting on the raised knee/floor/couch, and the core still engaged to protect the lower back. If your hip flexors/quads are especially tight, this position might be enough for you. If so, you can hang out here, contracting and relaxing the glute of the back leg.

4. High lunge

If your body allows it, raise up into a high lunge, moving the upper body perpendicular to the floor and keeping the core engaged. Again, contract and relax that rear glute muscle to open up the front of the hip even further.

How Often Should you Perform the Couch Stretch?

This will depend on your individual restrictions and your mobility goals.

If tight hip flexors are a big issue for you, you should look to start with two sets of two minutes each leg per day, until you start to see improvements in your positioning. Then it’s just a case of maintaining that range of motion with regular movement.

You can also use the stretch after any prolonged periods of sitting – travelling, working, going to the movies.

The beauty of the couch stretch is that you perform it at home, in front of the TV – turning your relaxation time into something that’s benefiting your body, as opposed to breaking it.