Stretch of the Month: Couch Stretch (Done Right) -

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Stretch of the Month: Couch Stretch (Done Right)

hip_flexor_stretch

Have you ever been to a Mobility class? Maybe you haven’t because you have no idea what actually goes on in class?? Check out the new page under programs which answers all questions about Mobility Class and hopefully gets you to join us!

This month’s  stretch is a very very well known stretch among the CrossFit community. We teach it during the first week of On-Ramp and it’s definitely a go to stretch for most coaches after the WODs. I’ve been seeing a trend with the set-up of this stretch, which is not allowing athletes to stretch the correct muscles. And since I’m usually the perfection queen, I would like to share with all of you some key points to this stretch to make sure that you are all benefiting from it rather than wasting your time mobilizing in a bad position. Let’s start with a good picture.

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This person is in a good position with her foot up against the wall, tight midline and upright chest. She’s also showing off because not a lot of people can get this close to the wall with their foot and be in a tight midline position. For example, this next picture shows someone getting close to the wall behind her, but you can tell she’s arching her lower back and compromising her stretch position. This doesn’t allow the muscle to be in a proper position to actually get the correct stretch. She may be feeling something, but she’s also mobilizing in a terrible position which will then translate into bad position during her workouts and daily life.

8215481684_7b5b1ee3a5_oThis one is pretty bad too……you can see how arched her lower back is. I know the CrossFit-athlete mentality is “how close can I get my foot to the wall” but that’s not the point of the stretch, especially if you’re lower back looks like this.

couch-stretch

The point of the stretch is to really get into your quads and other hip flexor muscles. This helps to improve your hip extension for CrossFit movements, gets you in a better squat positin, undoes the damage from sitting all day, can help relieve pain in different areas of the body AND it can be done at the convenience of your own couch while watching tv. The reason the 2 girls above are arching their lower backs in this stretch can be one or both of the following: 1. midline is not active 2. their muscles may be way too tight to allow for this position. Take a look at the image below of the Thomas Test, which is a medical test to look at true  flexibility of the quads and other hip flexors.

thomas-testThis woman appears to have excellent flexibility (according to the testing rules) because her knee is at 90 degrees and her thigh is on the table.

thompson-test-positiveHowever, this person has such tight hip flexors and quads his knee cannot relax to 90degress and his thigh is way above table height. So image him trying to jam is foot up against the wall during the couch stretch? One of the major hip flexors (psoas) attaches to the lower spine, so if it’s really tight (like the image above) it’s going to pull the lower back into an overextended position. There’s no way his muscles would tolerate the couch stretch with his foot high up on the wall, so his lower back would arch and create a less effective stretch. So what’s the fix for this, since most people have tightness like this guy? Move your foot away from the wall! This guy below is not doing the stretch against the wall, but it’s the same position and he has just moved his knee away from his foot so his midline is tight. This guy is getting a way more effective stretch than those girls up above, even though they may “look cooler” for being able to get their foot higher on the wall.

tony-couch-stretch

You can replicate this with your foot on the wall by scooting your knee further away from the wall.

So I urge you to try this stretch ASAP and make sure that you are doing it in the correct position. Go by the position of your back rather than what you feel. If you can’t keep your midline tight, you’re probably too close to the wall. If you’re that person who does this stretch all the time and feels like no gains are being made, re-check your form and see what happens. This can be an amazing stretch……when it’s done correctly! Remember to hold for 2minutes each side, at the end of your workout or outside of the gym. If you want help with this stretch or others, come to Mobility class to make sure you’re doing things the right way!

I’m leaving you with an awesome article on the importance of perfect squat form, How CrossFit is Ruining Your Knees. I couldn’t have said it better myself, please read!!!!!!

  • VIn

    Thanks, Missy. Any thoughts on keeping the foot, knee, hip, and shoulder in line? That’s something I usually emphasize, but maybe it’s not as important as I thought. What do you think?

    • Missy Albrecht

      Great questions Vin…..I would say the concern with keeping everything in a straight line is to decrease stress on the knee joint because that’s what’s happens when everything is not in line. The shoulder is not as important because you can twist your torso and upper body many ways to change up the stretch. So would say keep the foot, knee and hip in a straight line. Either way your emphasis has been excellent per usual 🙂

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