AAs we get older, we often wake up with backaches, stiff hips and creaky knees. We usually attribute this to the passage of time and not being as sprightly as we used to be. But in reality, a loss of hip mobility could be to blame.
According to mobility experts Juliet and Kelly Starrett, DPT, there’s a simple exercise they like to call “The Couch Test” that can tell you if your hip mobility needs improvement.
The couple runs a mobility coaching business, The Ready State, to “help ordinary athletes move better, be more agile and be stronger — with less pain and more protection from injury,” according to the website. And they recently wrote together Built to Move: The ten essential habits to help you move freely and live fullyintended to serve as a guide for those wanting to learn the importance of mobility, with step-by-step instructions on how to implement specific strategies and stretches.
Of all the muscle groups that the Starretts cover, if they had to focus on just one area of the body, it would be the hips. “We’re obsessed with hip extension — being able to get into a lunge-like shape,” says Kelly. “We feel like there’s a lack of hip extension in the universe right now.” Still, he adds, they believe exercise is the antidote to our modern, sedentary lifestyle. “If we had said, ‘Kelly, what do you think would change society?’ I think it’s the couch test.”
What is the couch test?
This seemingly simple self-assessment shows the state of your hip mobility, particularly in relation to extension. “And when I say hip extension, I mean bringing the hip behind the body so that the knee travels behind the hip joint in a lunge-like position,” says Kelly. “The problem is that most people don’t spend time in these forms where we’re near our end-of-range position.”
The reason? As we get older, most of us become more sedentary.
“It’s entirely possible that as a modern person you spend a great deal of your time never really touching the hip extension, and that’s one of the reasons why when adults try to sprint for the first time, they can be shocked at what happens.” her body happens at high speed in these positions that don’t touch her very much,” adds Kelly.
That’s why he created the Couch Test, an isometric hold that while it looks easy, can actually be much more difficult to perform.
How to do the couch test
Step 1: Stand in front of the couch with your back to the seat. “Lift your right leg behind you, bend your knee, and tuck it into the seat of the couch where the backrest and pillow meet,” Kelly instructs. “Put your shins on the back of the couch, tiptoe out.”
Step 2: Lower yourself into a lunge. While maintaining an upright torso and keeping your left foot flat on the floor, Kelly tells you to bend your left knee as if you’re going to lower yourself into a lunge.
Step 3: Squeeze your butt. While holding the bottom of the lunge, press your right knee firmly into the seat of the couch and your shin against your back, squeeze your butt, and hold for five slow, steady breaths, Kelly instructs. “Then, relax your butt while slowly exhaling to five,” he adds, noting to repeat the process five times before switching sides.
If you find this sequence easy, Kelly recommends transitioning to the middle couch test position: Instead of placing your left foot on the floor in front of the couch, place it on the seat of the couch and bend your left knee into a 45-degree Angle.
If you’re still looking for more, it’s time to move on to the floor version of the couch test — which the Starretts call the most effective and advanced position for determining hip mobility. See it in action here:
What the couch test reveals
While the couch test—and even the floor variant—may not seem that difficult, when you actually perform it, you may be surprised by your body’s limitations.
On the one hand, the couch test reveals our current hip mobility. On the other hand, it highlights gluteal function (or lack thereof). Both play an important role in our daily movement. They can affect how we sit, stand, and bend, and can account for the level of stiffness and pain we feel with these movements, and generally exist.
While you can certainly do stretches and exercises to loosen and strengthen these areas for better mobility, Kelly says that even if you hold the couch-testing position as best you can, your body will adjust over time.
“Ultimately, the most important thing you can do is spend time in this isometric shape — push your butt, be active, and breathe in this position,” he explains. “That will start to appropriately stress those tissues and teach your brain that this is a position of value.”
So the next time you feel like your lower back is tight or you can’t squat like you used to, you’ll know what to do. “One of the things we love about this test and practicing is that they really are one thing: To get better at the test — and feel better in your hips — you have to actually practice the test,” says Kelly.
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