The couch stretch is an effective hip opener that relieves tightness and improves mobility in your back, core, and hips.
Your hips can become tight due to too much sitting, poor posture, or muscular imbalances. This often causes discomfort, pain, and weakness in your core, back, and hips.
This article takes a look at how to do the couch stretch safely along with a few variations and alignment tips.
The couch stretch is safe enough to do every day and is one of the stretches that Joely Franklin, a Level 3 personal trainer and sports therapist, teaches her clients regularly.
Franklin stresses the importance of activating your core throughout the stretch so that you’re not fully relaxed. This helps to align your body.
You can also do this stretch using a ball, wall, or any sturdy surface. Use a cushion or mat under your knee if you’re placing it on a hard surface.
To do the couch stretch:
- Bend your left knee and place your shin along the back cushion of a couch (or a chair) with your toes pointed upward.
- Keep your left thigh in line with your body.
- Place your right foot in front, aligning your knee above your ankle.
- Elongate your spine and engage your core and glutes.
- Keep your hips square.
- Hold for at least 45 seconds.
- Do the opposite side.
Do the couch stretch daily. A few times per week, spend a bit of extra time on this stretch by repeating each side multiple times. You can also spend some extra time stretching out whichever side is least flexible.
For a fresh take on the couch stretch, try out these variations. Make sure to keep your body properly aligned to get the most benefits.
Front leg support
If your hips are tight, keep your front leg down, with your knee on the floor and your foot pressing into the wall for support.
Low couch stretch
For added ease, hinge at your hips to lean forward, placing your hands on either side of your front foot. Add in a gentle twist by raising one arm to the side and twisting in that direction.
Front foot raised
To increase the intensity, place a plate or block under your front foot.
Twisting couch stretch
Keep your hips square as you twist your upper body in the direction of your front leg.
Side bend couch stretch
Raise the arm that’s on the opposite side as your front leg. Slowly lean over to the same side as your front leg, feeling a stretch along the side of your torso.
The couch stretch lengthens and opens up your hips flexors, which are often tight and shortened due to lots of sitting, cycling, or running. The stretch can help to prevent injury and allow you to feel better overall, both mentally and physically.
Benefits of this stretch include:
- relieves tightness and improves hip mobility
- improves overall flexibility
- alleviates pain in your back, thighs, and knees
- activates and strengthens your glutes and core
- helps your agility during all types of physical activity
- allows you to have better posture when going about your daily activities
- helps with overall ease of movement
The couch stretch opens up your hips, targeting your hip flexors, which are the muscles in the front of your hip.
You use these muscles when you lift your thigh toward your chest or bend down into a squat. The hips flexors attach to your quadriceps, which will be lengthened and loosened during the couch stretch.
The couch stretch also targets your glutes, hamstrings, and knee flexors. When doing the couch stretch, be sure to engage your glutes, especially the glutes of your back legs. This helps to keep your lower back and hips stable and aligned.
Since it’s a deep stretch, you’ll want to build up to the couch stretch slowly if you’re new to exercise or have a lot of tightness.
Work on this stretch slowly, step by step
Franklin notes that it’s really important to do the couch stretch step by step. If you move into it too quickly, it can be painful or uncomfortable.
If you have limited flexibility, work on easier low back, hip, and quad stretches to create openness in your body. This gives you the mobility needed to do the couch stretch safely.
You may feel some sensation or mild discomfort, but you shouldn’t feel pain or experience shaking in your body. You should be able to breathe deeply, comfortably, and steadily throughout the stretch.
Create a straight line from hip to knee
Franklin emphasizes that the couch stretch is not a lunge. She advises that you create a straight line from your hip to your knee so that you’re not shifting forward as you would in a lunge.
“Have someone watch you to make sure you’re doing it correctly,” she said. “This way you’ll get the full benefits with the correct alignment.”
She adds that it’s important to avoid rotating the thoracic spine, moving only in the sagittal plane so that you’re not moving to either side. Correctly align your hips to face forward, and avoid letting your knee collapse into the center or opening out to the side.
Skip this stretch if you have any knee concerns
Skip this stretch if you have any knee concerns. Avoid putting direct pressure on your back knee. Use your back knee as an anchor to ground and stabilize your body. Don’t allow your front knee to travel past your ankle.
Be careful not to overarch your back
Prevent your back from overarching, which can lead to compression of your spine. Instead, maintain a neutral spine and refrain from slouching or collapsing downward. Maintain proper hip alignment by rotating your hips internally. Don’t allow your hips to open to the side.
A standard stretch among athletes, the couch stretch is beneficial for most people and can be a useful addition to your flexibility and mobility routine. It’s also a great option when you’ve had to do a lot of sitting or activities using your legs.
The intensity of the couch stretch means you may need to work up to it slowly. It’s OK to take it back a few steps if the stretch is too deep or causes pain.
Keep in mind that each body is different, so modify and adjust if this stretch isn’t comfortable or effective for you. There are plenty of other options available.
If you have the chance, get some feedback or assistance from a qualified fitness professional or skilled friend who can make sure you’re getting the most out of this valuable stretch.