If you’re a runner with knee pain and/or back pain, you need to master this mobility drill.
The last piece of our quest to restore the normal function of your hips and help you become a better runner is here. Welcome in the sixth standard:
#3-A Supple Thoracic Spine
#4-An Efficient Squatting Technique
#5 Hip Flexion
#6 Hip Extension
Having normal hip extension, in combination with normal hip flexion and efficient squatting form, means you’ve got full capacity of your hips. As a bonus, when you have a normal amount of hip extension you also decrease the load on your knees.
If you’ve had years of knee pain or back pain as a runner, meeting this standard is critical to resolving your pain. The muscles that run down the front of your hip and thigh, the iliacus, the psoas (in the chart below they’re the muscles that start on the spine and pelvic bowl), and the quadriceps (the four muscles crossing the front of the thigh), create a huge load at the knee and passively drag the spine forward if they lack the range to allow the hip to fully straighten.
Lack of normal hip extension creates torturous consequences for your feet, as well. The next time your have the opportunity to watch a road race, watch how man of the runners’ legs and feet rotate out as their legs swing forward. As their heels strike the ground it looks like their toes are trying to avoid contact with the ground. If the foot hits the ground on the outside of the heel, it will immediately rotate inward to find stability. The path of least resistance is to slam the ball of your foot on the ground. Do that repeatedly for 3-plus miles day after day, month after month, year after year, and you’re on your way to developing painful bunions.
Instead of buying a pair of shoes that allow you to continue to run with crappy mechanics, we’re going to restore your normal hip extension and unlock the final piece of hip mechanics that allows you to run efficiently.
The approach to restoring your hip extension is as brutally effective as it is simple. Welcome to…
THE COUCH STRETCH
1. While in hands and knees position, put your feet up against a wall or couch.
2. Put your right knee up against the wall. If you’re on a hard surface you can put a pillow under your knee.
3. Slide your left leg out in front of your body. Make sure your foot is either directly under your knee or right in front. At this point, some of you may feel like you’ve reached your limit in terms of right hip extension. For now, that’s fine, stay in this position for the next two minutes, making sure to keep your abs and your right glute engaged, and driving your right hip towards the floor. For everyone else, spend 1 minute in this position and move on to step four.
4. Lift your upper body, keeping your abs and right glute engaged. Try to get your upper body as tall as possible and hold for another minute in this position
There are three common mistakes we see when folks perform the Couch Stretch.
First, the knee comes away from the wall:
This is a tight hip’s attempt to blow off some steam as you try to bring it into full extension. This is common with folks who’ve had recurrent issues with jumper’s knee or patellar tendinitis (aside: this is actually a ligament as it attaches one bone, the patella, to another, the tibial tuberosity, but I digress).
The second fault we commonly see with the couch stretch happens when the low back gets out of position:
If you find yourself in this position, lean forward with your upper body, re-engage your abs, and try to get upright with your trunk again without arching your low back.
The last fault we commonly see is the bottom leg sneaking out to the side, away from its normal position directly under the hip:
If this is you, you may need to do some additional mobility work. We are posting a few different ideas on how to solve your problems with the Couch Stretch on our YouTube Channel next week. Check them out here.
If you can achieve this position with your left and right hips, you pass this standard. If one or both sides are tight, you’ve just uncovered a new homework assignment: spend 2 minutes per-day, per-leg, until you can achieve this standard.
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