Do you ever say “yes” to a bike ride, day of climbing, run, ski day, or other outdoor activity, and immediately after, notify your friend that you are “coming off the couch”?
Do you think you’re alone? Don’t. It’s a fact that 95 percent of all participants in outdoor activities are coming off the couch. Three out of four dentists on every weekend shop ride are coming off the couch. Unless you climb five days a week, or ride five days a week, or have spent the past six months training for an Ironman Triathlon, you are coming off the couch. [Correction: If you live in Boulder, Colorado, and have spent the past six months training for an Ironman Triathlon, you are coming off the couch.]
If you are not familiar with the phrase “off the couch,” here’s a quick definition: anyone who feels sub-optimally prepared for an outdoor sport is “coming off the couch.” Traditionally, the phrase has been used to describe people who have been away from a specific activity for a number of months; i.e. a climber who has not climbed indoors or outdoors for two months, a trail runner who has been unable to exercise because of 10 straight 100-hour work weeks, or a mountain biker who has just recently returned to the trails after a hiatus to carry and give birth to a baby.
But now, it can be used to describe anyone doing anything outdoors at any time, regardless of time away from the sport. Only one person is not getting off the couch right now, and that person is Alex Honnold. If you look at your driver’s license or passport and it does not say “Alex Honnold,” you are coming off the couch.
When is it appropriate to talk about coming off the couch? Well, the next time you exercise in the company of one or more other persons, you will be coming off the couch. This includes a road ride with a group, a mountain bike ride after work with one or more friends, or a rendezvous at the climbing gym. If you’re out exercising solo, you can also announce your coming-off-the-couch-ness to anyone nearby, such as people bouldering next to you at the gym, or people who pass you on climbs on your favorite mountain bike trail, or trail run.
In this short film, boxer Mike “Machine Gun” Mungin (played by Peter Cunningham) illustrates a textbook example of coming off the couch, albeit to the disbelief of his opponent Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg):
“Off the couch” can also be used to express admiration for someone who seems freakishly talented and/or strong. For example: “Ueli Steck is a mutant. That guy climbs 5.13 off the couch.”
It’s not important to argue about who is “more” coming off the couch; all that’s important is that everyone announce it at the beginning of the activity, just so we’re all on the same page when starting out. Consider it a vital step in your checklist of pre-activity activities. Examples:
“On belay? OK, climbing. Just FYI, I’m coming off the couch.”
“I just need to pump up my rear tire and I’m ready to hit it. You should go first—I’m totally coming off the couch.”
“Wanna do a beacon check before we leave the parking lot? I just replaced the batteries last night—it’s been forever since I used this thing. I’m totally coming off the couch.”
It’s important to understand that even though you are coming off the couch and your friend also is coming off the couch, it’s not a contest. Some people are able to come off the couch and perform at a very high level—as you might notice when you and your friend start up a section of steep singletrack and she or he totally drops you, despite your previously announced, very recent, emigration from the couch.