The Stretch That Could Be the Key to Saving Your Knees
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 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.
Find a wall/couch and get on your hands and knees with feet against the edge.
Making sure your abs are tight and back is straight, place one knee in the corner of the wall with your leg straight up.
If this is enough stretch for you, stay right here. If not, keeping your core tight, bring the other leg forward, placing your foot flat so it’s under your knee.
For many, this will be enough stretch. Once again, if this is not enough stretch for you, continue by pushing your hips forward and bringing your upper body more upright. Finish by squeezing your butt on the back leg side.
Hang out here (or whatever stage you stopped at) for two minutes.
You should feel a deep stretch in the front of your down (kneeling) leg, ranging anywhere from the knee all the way to the hip, depending on where you are most tight. The more flexible your legs the higher up you’ll feel the stretch toward your hip. The goal is to push the hips forward past neutral while keeping the back straight, however most people can’t the first time. Find the point at which you feel a good stretch and stop there.
The second stage takes things up a notch. Keeping tight through the core, lean back, and straighten your body up as much as you can trying to hit an upright posture. Hold for 2 minutes and then switch legs.
Do this every night and in a week or two your hips, back and legs will be dramatically looser.
I see people on a regular basis who come in with a little back tightness or knee pain that “magically disappears” after this stretch. It’s not magic, it’s just relieving some muscle tension that’s pulling on the back or knee and causing pain.
The couch stretch is not going to fix everyone and everything but it helps almost everyone I have suggested it to, particularly when done regularly and with attention to the details of the sequence and body position. It’s one of the few stretches I do regularly and is the most recommended stretch I give out.