How One Essential Stretch Can Improve Your Running
The "Couch Stretch" can reduce pains from your feet to your back, plus improve performance.
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Known as the “Couch Stretch,” or, the “Death Stretch” (you’ll know why when you try it), this one stretch can improve your running on many levels.
Made famous by Kelly Starrett, CrossFit trainer and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, the stretch is often recommended by physical therapists to help mitigate patellofemoral syndrome, or what’s commonly known as “runner’s knee.” It addresses tight muscles—hip flexors, quadriceps, and the tensor fascie latae (TFL)—that can pull a knee out of alignment and cause swelling and irritation.
But the Couch Stretch can also help ward off other common running injuries, like calf strains, iliotibial band syndrome, and low back pain. “The anterior [front] hip can be a silent killer,” says Boulder, Colorado-based physical therapist, Charlie Merrill. “Most people won’t know it’s stiff but they’ll have problems somewhere else. Doing this stretch can minimize strain on other joints and allow you to run with healthy biomechanics.”
Merrill goes on to explain how opening the hip can also improve performance, allowing a wider range of motion for a long enough stride to fully toe-off. “This is more important for mid-foot strikers than heel strikers because they’re dependent on that type of stance,” says Merrill. That said, if you heel-strike too heavily and need to reduce braking, opening the front of the hip is an essential step in moving your stride more below and behind your body.
“The typical person is already really tight in the quads and hip flexors from all the sitting we tend to do throughout the day,” adds Kirk Warner, past coach at The Run Experience. This stretch can help combat that tightness, and improve your stride mechanics and efficiency.
HOW TO DO THE COUCH STRETCH
- Place a pillow or towel on the floor, close to and in front of a couch or wall. Facing away from the couch or wall, place your right knee on the pillow or towel and bring your right foot behind you (as if you’re doing a standing quad stretch) and place the top of the right foot against the couch or wall with toes pointed.
- Step forward with your left foot so it rests directly beneath the left knee and your leg makes a 90-degree angle. Lift your upper body so it’s as upright as possible, trying to keep a flat back.
- Hold for 1-2 minutes, feeling a deep stretch in your quad and hip flexor (don’t forget to breathe, because this will hurt).
- Switch sides and repeat.
Like all static stretches, the Couch Stretch is best done after a run or workout or on non-running days.
Adapted with permission from Running That Doesn’t Suck by Lisa Jhung (Running Press, 2019)