The Couch Stretch: 5 Variations And a Follow Along Routine

The couch stretch is one of those all-star mobility exercises that the majority of modern humans could benefit from.

It’s no secret that having mobile hips is one of the foundations for efficient movement and performance in pretty much any sport or physical activity. 

But if we spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or driving a car around, things inevitably get stiff down there (not like that). 

Enter the couch stretch.

The brainchild of the Godfather of Movement & Mobility, Kelly Starrett, the couch stretch is one of the biggest bang for your buck exercises when it comes to improving overall hip mobility and pelvic alignment.

Today, we’re going to through the couch stretch in detail, and take a look at a follow along hip mobility routine that incorporates the drill.

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4 Benefits of The Couch Stretch

✅ Releases tight hip flexors

Prolonged sitting leaves the hip flexors chronically shortened, which can interfere with your normal movement mechanics and result in an anterior pelvic tilt. The couch stretch is one of the most effective ways for releasing this tension through the quads and hip flexors, and restoring normal function at the hip.

✅ Improves glute activation + power

Our old nemesis Mr. Sitting also does a good job at making the glutes sleepy, amking it hard to feel that connection when walking/running/lifting. When done correctly, the couch stretch reactivates those bad boys, reinforcing a more stable position and giving us access to more power from the posterior chain. 

✅ Potential pain management

Pain is a complex beast and isn’t always related to positioning. But there are times where lower back pain, for example, is at least partly caused by an overly anteriorly rotated pelvis. By recalibrating our resting position, the couch stretch can potentially help to release that tension in the low back and ease some of the pain.

✅ Easy to scale

The couch stretch is brutal, but the good news is that there are are many progressions and regression of the drill that can we can use regardless of your current mobility level – from the basic hinged version, to more advanced banded variations.   

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5 Couch Stretch Variations

Below I’ve listed  five variations of the couch stretch you can play with, along with common faults to look out for.

For each exercise, you can either hang out in the position passively for 1-3 minutes, or you can do contract-relax/PNF style stretching. I suggest the latter. 

Here’s how:

  1. Get into position and hang out for 30-60 seconds.
  2. Take a deep inhale through the nose.
  3. Hold the breath for 5-10 seconds, and either contract a) the rear foot into the wall/back of the couch, or b) the rear knee down through the floor.
  4. Take a long slow exhale through the nose, and if you’ve managed to create some room, slowly move a little deeper into the position.
  5. Hang out for 30-60 seconds, then repeat the process 3-4 times on both legs.
 
If it’s your first time, I highly recommend starting with the first couch stretch variation. 

It’ll feel intense to start, but you might find as you go through each round of contract-relax, things start to open up and you can then explore the more advanced progressions.

Pre-Couch Mobilisations

After some great feedback on Reddit, some peeps are struggling to get into version one of the couch. That’s no problem! Here are a few drills you can perform to break down the position and loosen things up:

  • Foam rolling the quads and hip flexors
  • Using a lacrosse ball release into the lower back / QL
  • Stretching out the quads with a standing quad stretch
  • Stretching the hip flexors with a runner’s lunge / low lunge
You might find that after spending a few minutes on each you can then enter into the first couch stretch, but it might take a few weeks/months depending on how tight things are. 
Couch Stretch 1

Version 1: The Low Couch Stretch

  • From a low-lunge position, place the top of your left knee into the junction between the floor and wall (or the back of the couch).
  • Hinge over and support your weight through your hands on the floor or on top of your front knee. The more you bend forward, the easier the stretch will feel.
  • Keeping your left glute switched on (so it’s firm to touch), you’re aiming to keep your left foot in contact with your bum throughout.
  • You should feel an intense stretch up through the quads and hip flexors on that left leg.
  • Note: If V1 is a bit too intense, you can step your front foot forwards and let your bum come away from your heel, or perform some release techniques on the hip flexors and quads before entering the position (as we do in the follow along routine).
Couch Stretch 2

Version 2: The High Couch Stretch

  • The same principles as V1, keep the core and that left glute engaged.
  • This time you’re going to start raising your torso up – first with your hands resting on your front knee, and eventually aiming for vertical.
  • If you feel like you can no longer activate that rear glute, you’ve gone too far and need to back off a little.
  • Pain face is optional but not recommended…
Couch Stretch 4

Version 3: The Twisting Couch Stretch

  • Again, we’re in that upright couch stretch with the core braced and left glute on.
  • Staying long through the spine (as if there’s a string lifting up through the top of your head), slowly begin to rotate towards your right knee.
  • This winds up the stretch and gets the thoracic spine involved, wringing it out like a sponge.
  • You can contract-relax here, or move through controlled twist repetitions. 

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Version 4: The Leaning Couch Stretch

  • Starting in our V2 position again, we’re going to reach up overhead with our left arm and gently lean towards the right.
  • You’ll likely feel the stretch increase in intensity around the psoas area, and even up through the obliques and lats. 
  • Again, feel free to contract-relax, or move through controlled side bend reps.
Banded Couch Stretch

Version 5: The Banded Couch Stretch

  • Kelly calls this one the ‘Super Couch’, and for good reason.
  • Adding in a band creates a forward distraction in the joint and really helps to open up the hip capsule.
  • You’ll need a fairly high tension band for this one and a stable attachment (like a pole or squat rack).
  • Contract-relax, or you can oscillate your hips forwards and back for reps.

Common Couch Stretch Faults:

In the following images I’ve demonstrated a few of the most common faults that pop up with the couch stretch:

Image 1 – I’ve placed my knee too far from the wall and I’ve let my foot drop in towards my body (external rotation at the hip). Ideally we’re looking to keep the knee in that junction, and the foot aligned straight out behind us.

Image 2 – I’ve let my core and left glute switch off, which puts me in an overextended position with the ribs flared and an excessive curve in the low back. It appears I’m ‘deeper’ into the stretch, but that’s only because I’ve compromised my position. 

Couch Fault

Follow Along Couch Stretch Hip Mobility Workout

In the following routine, we start with a quick check in, assessing how the hips are moving and if there are any differences from side to side. 

We then jump in with some tasty release techniques to free up the lower back and hip flexors. 

It’s then time to play with one of my all time favourite mobility drills, Kelly Starrett’s couch stretch, before finishing things off with some core compression work.

This is actually sample routine from my online course Mobility RESET, which is included in the Hero App.

You can find out more here

 

Over to You!

So there we have it – 5 variations of the infamous Mobility WOD couch stretch. Go forth, open up those hips, and let me know how you get on (or if you have any questions) in the comments section below.

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Luke Jones

Luke Jones is a Movement Coach, Wellness Enthusiast, Online Content Creator, and Founder of HERO Movement. Through articles, videos, courses, and online coaching, his big goal is to help people discover freedom of movement and create lives filled with well-being & adventure.

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