How to Do a Couch Stretch to Relieve Tight Hips
If you spend your days sitting (like most people), the couch stretch can help ease tension through the front of your hips. Here's how to do it—and a beginner modification for those with limited mobility.
The couch stretch for hip tension
The idea of a “couch stretch” sounds pretty appealing, right?
You’re probably imagining something along the lines of a Netflix-and-chill stretch: laid out on the couch, fully extended, nothing but a bag of popcorn, a glass of wine, and a companion to distract you.
Sorry to ruin the fantasy, but the couch stretch doesn’t actually involve a couch (although it can), and it’s not quite as chill as it sounds.
That said, if you spend your days sitting (whether in a desk chair or on an actual couch), chances are you need the couch stretch to help relieve the tension that has likely developed in your hip flexors, quads, and even your ankles.
(Try these stretches for lower back pain.)
What the couch stretch works
The couch stretch is designed to improve or maintain flexibility through the hip flexors, the muscles that run along the front of your hips and pelvis.
Unsurprisingly, these muscles are used to flex the hips, and if there’s a position that’s consistently overused throughout the day, it tends to be a position of hip flexion.
Just think about it. Whenever you’re sitting at a desk, in your car, at the kitchen table, at an event (or, you know, on the couch), chances are your hips are in a flexed position.
Plus, with each step you take or each pedal you make on your bicycle, your hips are moving into and out of some degree of flexion.
Hip flexion is definitely important. But when you spend an excessive amount of time sitting or moving in hip flexion, without an equal amount of time spent in hip extension, it’s very easy to end up with muscle imbalances.
“Often when we sit for long periods of time, our hip flexors shorten,” says Pamela Holt, a yoga instructor and founder of Pamela’s Essentials, a coaching practice that employs yoga and meditation.
“The couch pose stretches the hips, counteracts that tightness, and strengthens and improves mobility in the back, hips, and core.”
You’ll also likely feel a stretch in your quads and shin as your hip is in extension. You may even feel a stretch in your ankle, which remains pointed as you perform the couch stretch.
That’s a good thing. Your ankles, like your hips, are often in a flexed position during the day. Therefore, moving them into full extension may feel a bit unusual, but in a good way.
(Add these easy yoga poses to your stretching routine.)
Who should (and shouldn’t) try the couch stretch
There are a number of couch stretch variations to make the pose accessible for most individuals. That said, the most common pose takes place in a kneeling position, and this might not be appropriate for individuals with knee pain or injuries.
If this is the case for you, you’ll want to consider performing a modification in a standing position.
And because of the ankle extension, people with tight ankles or pain or injuries at this joint may be uncomfortable in the position.
Regardless, if you try the couch stretch and feel any pain in your hips, lower body, or low back as you try to enter or maintain the position, stop what you’re doing.
A nice, strong stretch is normal, but pain is not. Try an alternative hip flexor stretch, but if you’re still experiencing pain, talk to your doctor to see if there’s a more-serious underlying cause.
Before you begin
One important thing Holt emphasizes is that because this is a strong stretch, it’s best performed after a good warm-up, like this dynamic stretching routine.
Do the couch stretch after you’ve spent a few minutes walking, doing jumping jacks, or moving through full-body exercises that work the hips, like squats, lunges, or even downward dog.
(Give the scorpion stretch a try to loosen up your hips and back.)
Courtesy Laura Williams Bustos, M.S.Ed., ACSM EP-C
How to perform the couch stretch
To perform the kneeling version of the couch stretch, position yourself in a tabletop position close to a sturdy couch, chair, bench, or even a wall. (It’s a good idea to place a mat close to the couch so your knees are well-supported.)
Your body should be perpendicular to the couch, facing away. Keep your feet flexed, touching the base of the couch.
Check your form to make sure your core is engaged and your posture is straight. Your hands should rest under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
Keeping your core engaged, move your left knee backward, positioning it as close to the couch as you can.
Your left foot and shin will rest against the couch, and your lower left leg will point toward the ceiling.
Keeping your hands on the ground to offer support, step your right foot forward. Plant your foot on the ground to enter a kneeling position. Your right knee should be bent at roughly 90 degrees, with your ankle positioned beneath your knee.
In this position, you may already be feeling a stretch through the front of your left hip.
Keeping your core engaged, lift your torso. You can place your hands on your right knee to help press your torso upright.
Come to an upright kneeling position. It’ll sort of look like you’re about to propose to someone.
Place your hands on your hips and press your left hip forward.
Squeeze your shoulders back toward your spine to attain good posture. Make sure your ears are stacked over your shoulders, hips, and left knee.
Make sure your left foot is pointing straight up and both hips are squared, pointing straight ahead. You don’t want your hips to rotate to one side or the other, or to angle up or down.
Hold the position for 20 to 30 seconds. Release and relax for 10 seconds. Repeat two more times before switching sides.
A beginner modification to the couch stretch
If you struggle to perform this stretch in a kneeling position, give it a try from a standing position.
It can be helpful to use two sturdy objects for the modified couch stretch—a chair, bench, or couch to stretch against (as you’d do in the kneeling pose) and one to hold onto for stability.
Stand in front of the couch, your body facing away and your feet roughly hip distance apart. Place one or both hands on a separate object for support.
Engage your core and check your posture. Your torso should remain upright and tall.
Bend your left knee. Lunge back slightly to place your knee on the seat of the couch. Your kneed should rest close to the back of the seat, with your shin and foot against the seat back. Your toes will point straight up.
From here, press your left hip forward and check your posture. You should be able to draw an almost straight line from your ears to your shoulders, hips, and left knee.
Make sure your hips are squared and pointing forward.
Hold the position as you would for the kneeling version. Breathe deeply for 20 to 30 seconds before releasing.
Complete three sets on each side.
Looking for more hip stretches? Try the frog stretch to loosen your hips.
- Pamela Holt, a 500-hour kundalini yoga instructor and founder of coaching service Pamela's Essentials