The Couch Stretch

*If your back bothers you, your hips are tight, your knees hurt, your shoulders are stiff, your posture has gotten worse, you generally want to feel better or all of the above, this post is for you.*

As a general rule, the more life goes along the less people move. We go from high volume, varietal, intense and dynamic movers to increasingly lower volume, lower variety, lower intensity movers that are mostly stationary and static beings. 

While kids move all the time in a hundred different ways and with great intensity and change, adults (even teenagers) move very little, with fewer and fewer movement patterns that aren’t too intense (or have too much intensity) when we do move. Add a few too many hours sitting at a desk, in a car or on a couch and the result is many of our joints and muscles lose their mobility and strength while the body loses its overall ability to do normal things. We go from bodies that are capable of anything and well adjusted to everything to bodies that have become adapted to static and limited posture and are very well adjusted to only a handful of small ranges of motion. 

When we do ask our body to do normal things it often physically can’t, which means we either just don’t do those things anymore, feel bad acutely while trying (or chronically in general) or worse, injure ourselves trying to do things our body isn’t currently capable of. Every adult I’ve ever met has experienced this to some degree, from minor limitations and irritations to major life altering problems. 

The long term solution is to move more. In frequency, variety, intensity and dynamics.

The short term solution is to start taking better care of ourselves with some simple exercises and stretches. One of my favorites is the the couch stretch. 

The Couch Stretch

The couch stretch got its name because the couch was the only place people would consistently do this stretch, both from a comfort and convenience perspective. It is designed to be done against a wall (or just about anywhere) but often gets more consistent usage (which is key) when using a couch while watching tv. 

It takes 4 minutes per side (2 minutes each position), or 8 minutes total, and could be the most beneficial 10 minutes you give yourself all day. 

Here’s the stretch:

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…
Hang in there for two more minutes. 

Switch sides and repeat for another 4 minutes, 2 each stage. 

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. 

Here’s a quick video tutorial from Kelly Starrett, the creator of the couch stretch:

Give it a shot and let me know how it feels. 

*Note: If you have a couch, use it. This will be more enjoyable while watching documentaries on the BBC. Or Bachelor in Paradise…

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

P.S. Here’s a variation using a bench:  
After spending about 2 minutes there, step forward about a foot and lean/lunge into the stretch, still keeping the body upright…  

Spend another 2 minutes there and then repeat on the other side. 



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