Magic floor exercises to shape your lower body
No need for lower-body gym equipment
Gliding Body Movements and these floor exercises are perfect companions
The 4 Magic Exercises
These floor exercises are so easy to do that even a couch potato can do them! Any of these exercises can be adapted for use in a bed, chair, or bath. Amazingly enough when you are doing these floor exercises, you won't feel as though you're working hard, or even really exercising. The next day you'll feel all the benefits of a good workout, but without the stiffness that often follows a new exercise. You'll feel the budding of the underlying layer of supportive muscles—the infrastructure that supports us in all our movements. These magic exercises satisfy all of your stretching, warm-up, and cool-down requirements; they invigorate and shape your body, and they improve posture and symmetry.
Denise Crichton, former member of Canada's National Ski Team, enthusiastically and gradually worked up to three sets of 15 to 20 “reps” of each exercise. Denise said that two sets of five reps at the end of her day were enough to put her back into shape from her day and get her out of pain.Doing these floor exercises or any other exercise routine in the morning will set you up for the day. The "magic" floor exercises prepare you for the day in the morning, or save you from the ravages of it in the evening — or both.
By focusing on form and the DEER (Difficulty, Effortlessness, Efficiency, and Results) factors, the results are better from fewer “sets and reps” (even one or two is enough to keep your body from atrophying) than from carelessly rushing through a fixed number of sets and reps. By the same token, slow and easy is far more effective than brusque and vigorous.
I used to work out regularly in a gym. I did 60 minutes of stationary bicycle, plus 60 minutes of ineffective weight-resistance training, all of which inflated my thighs (instead of fine-tuning them). This changed after I met and trained under Glen D. Cunningham who taught me effective upper-body weight training and all but one of these "magic floor exercises". Read more about Glen and C.O.R.F.I.T. I replaced those 2 hours of fruitless effort with 1 hour of effective training: 30 minutes of upper-body weight training followed by 30 minutes of these floor exercises (so-called because they are done lying, sitting, or standing on the floor, without weights or equipment). I continued working with Glen, and became a certified C.O.R.F.I.I.T. trainer.
1 The Form Is the Work
When I asked Keith to lie on his back, with his hands under his sacrum, with knees up (calves at right angles to thighs), he took the position shown at left. To turn this position into DEER-in-action (photo, right), Keith had only to relax his neck, make active (and unwonky) feet, bring his knees together, and adjust the leg angle. When I asked him how he felt, he replied, “Like I am doing something”. Keith is both fit and active, yet this simple adjustment felt like work to him. He even experienced muscle-building tremors from doing nothing more than assuming the position that delivers results. Getting into position (breathing, adjusting your form—“doing nothing”) is an effective exercise!
During all of the floor exercises, acknowledge and breathe through muscle-building tremors. Other universal DEER factors are: assuming the position; relaxing the neck (controlling military neck); keeping the chin down (not jutting out); making active feet.
Continuous, even breathing goes well with all of the floor exercises, especially in combination with “Ocean Breathing”. During those exercises where the body is being used as its own weight-resistance gym, add contraction-cycle breathing to the mix (as described in “Contractions”). While bending (closing) the body or bringing knee to chest, exhale (inhaling into a compressed torso would be nearly impossible). While opening the body, inhale.
3 Check Your Neck
Check your neck. Check your neck. Check your neck. The neck often tries to do the work for the rest of the body, which results in over-zealous neck, as both Keith and Pascale are demonstrating. Maintain space around the neck at all times.
Trying to compensate for an over-zealous neck can result in military neck (as shown, at left). The ideal neck position is shown at right: chin down, neck relaxed. Gently pulling the chin down elongates the back of the neck.
4 The Sacrum Towel
A rolled towel can replace your hands under the sacrum for back support and stability, especially if there is any discomfort using your arms and hands. Simply lying there with the support of the towel, maintaining right angles and active unwonky feet, is an enjoyable ab workout.
The 10 Simple Floor Exercises
Between each set of these exercises, pause just long enough for a couple of Ocean Breaths.
1 Overhead Stretches
Form is everything during this head-to-foot stretch (lats down, arms straight)!
- Lying down, with arms over your head (or as far as they will go comfortably), while exhaling, move a same-side hand and knee towards each other. Keep the other-side leg stable and straight, and its active (flexed) foot in contact with the floor. Pull the knee gently and smoothly towards your chest.
- Inhaling, slowly return the arm and leg to their starting positions, using the same deliberation and control as a weight lifter replacing a weight, at half the speed of the lift. Do not let them drop. The work is in the resistance.
- Using the other leg and arm, repeat.
To concentrate the work in the buttocks and abdomen, leave your arms by your side. With active foot and bent knee, raise, and then lower, one leg at a time.
This variation allows you to work the same muscles and derive the same benefits, even if you cannot raise your arms over your head, or if you have a stomach that gets in the way. Press hand against knee, and knee against hand. If you cannot get your arms over your head, then leave them by your side. An intrusive belly may cause you to allow your leg to rotate outwards, in the name of getting your knee closer to your chest, which is not the goal of an overhead stretch.
All of the benefits of this exercise are results of form and resistance, not how fast or how far anything moves.
Good! Underside (back) and
getting worked. Nice straight leg,
but foot could be more active.
This weight-resistance exercise works the love handles by “slicing (no more than) 1/8 of a pie”. The short distance travelled maintains a curve in the back, hip, and buttocks that is responsible for the love-handle workout. Slicing 1/4 of a pie lifts your leg too high, which positions it to move through a larger arc, which destroys the curve, and does nothing for the love-handles.
- Lie on floor, with arms out to sides, palms facing either up or down.
- Exhale, while lifting one leg approximately 45°.
- Inhale briefly to refuel.
- Exhale, with both feet active, stable leg straight, and in contact with floor; cross the lifted leg over the stable leg. Pascale is able to touch the floor with the foot of the top leg, but this is not the object of the exercise. Form is more important than how far you can reach.
- Inhale, without squirming, maintaining a dynamic position, and return top leg to 45° position.
- Exhale, while replacing the leg. Replacing the leg, as opposed to letting it flop back to its original position on the floor, is the DEER factor. Pay attention to breathing through the movement (do not hold your breath).
- Repeat, with leg roles reversed (top leg becomes bottom leg).
This variation affects hips, buttocks, and back, and is good for those who are injured or who have been advised not to do exaggerated twisting motions: raise leg to 45°; tilt and reach only slightly (about one quarter of the distance of a full crossover). I also use this variation as a warm-up before doing Crossovers.
The physical visualization is that of a child throwing a tantrum, but very slowly—a slow and easy tantrum. Keep your shoulders down and your neck relaxed; maintain continuous, even breathing throughout.
- Lie on your back. Place hands under sacrum. Raise your knees (keep thighs and calves at right angles; maintain active feet).
- Touch one heel to ground, as close to buttocks as possible. Using a scissor motion, raise the heel that is touching the floor, at the same time as you lower the other heel. Repeat (pay attention to right angles and active feet).
Keith is very body-conscious, athletic, and in good shape, but during his first attempt at doing the Tantrums, his natural inclinations and wonkiness won out. In making his feet active, they bent off to the side. He raised his leg beyond vertical, and he lost the right angle of thighs to calves. His neck became scrunched. Doing it all precisely for only a few reps is far more valuable that doing many reps with bad form.
Variation: Pivot Knees
Keep your knees on the same horizontal plane, as if the backs of your knees were resting on a bar. Do not touch feet to ground. Instead, raise one leg to vertical. As you lower the raised leg to its starting position, raise the other leg to vertical. This variation works the abs, hamstrings, quads, knees, and calves.
4 Knees to Chest
With hands under sacrum, legs raised towards chest (right angles are not important, but the closer together the knees, the better), roll your torso at the back of the hips (everything from your buttocks to your feet moves together, without changing their positions relative to each other), in a small (no more than 2 inches), controlled, gently rolling movement. This is not about hoisting the hips up but about feeling the gentle working of the abs.
5 BicycleWonky Right Foot.
Unlike the old buttocks-hoisting bicycle exercise where we used our hands to support our buttocks off the ground, this more gentle version also works abs, thighs, and calves, but with far less stress and effort.
- Lying on your back, with knees close together and neck relaxed, place hands under sacrum.
- With active feet, and legs almost straight (knees slightly bent), raise your legs perpendicular (right angles) to the floor (physical visualization: soles smiling at ceiling); make small bicycle-pedaling circular motions (but smaller than actual pedaling).
|Good! soles smiling at the ceiling;|
tiny movements of the feet.
legs and feet.
|Lazy legs, not raised|
6 Three Small Crunches
This exercise is so simple, yet so delicious, and so I added it to the floor exercises (all of the others were taught to me by Glen).
- Keep elbows open.
- Lying on your back on the floor, with hands behind your head, lift shoulders off ground, elbows open. Hold to count of four; repeat three times, exhaling while lifting, inhaling while lowering.
- Lift shoulders and rotate torso three times in each direction, with elbows open. Maintain Ocean Breathing throughout. Optionally, increase to five times in each direction.
7 Touch Towards Knees, Sitting
Using both hands to touch your knee prevents you from torqueing one arm behind you, as the old touch your toes exercise would have you do (as shown at left, sitting, and at right, standing), and which throws the 4-Corners out of alignment.
Even if you cannot reach your knees or toes, moving towards your knees with both hands far more effectively develops abs, hamstrings, hips, and obliques. When done correctly, the body looks and feels as if it is folding over itself on the diagonal.
- Seated, with active feet, spread your legs only as far as they will go with the backs of your knees touching the floor; inhale.
- With shoulders down (keep them down), extend straight arms to the side; while exhaling, touch one knee with both hands.
- While inhaling, return to the center starting position; pause briefly (keep arms straight and shoulders down). All of the work is done during this return to center, so do not rush through this step.
- While exhaling, touch the opposite knee. Repeat. I enjoy 2 to 3 sets of 1 to 20 reps.
Touch Towards Knees, Standing
The only difference here is that it is done standing (with toes pointed slightly out, 2 to 3 feet apart); this delivers more work to the buttocks muscles. The movement and instructions are the same as “Touch Towards Knees, Sitting”, with a few considerations related to standing.
- As you exhale, bend one knee (bent knee does not cave in, but remains above its toes); keep the other leg straight; touch the knee of the straight leg with both hands.
- To return to the center starting position, drive from the heel of the bent leg (the heel-buttocks connection takes strain off the back, and directs the work to quads and buttocks).
8 Touch Pinkies
Touch Pinkies works the whole upper body, especially the shoulders. Do this exercise for 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions before you do the next exercise, “Squats”. While doing “Squats”, you will touch pinkies again. If injury or locked shoulders prevents you from doing this exercise, then try the variation.
- Assume Tae Chi’s first position.
- With shoulders down and arms as straight as possible, exhale as you raise your arms, and touch the back of one pinkie finger with the back of the other, above your head, as Keith is doing. It is not necessary to raise your arms all the way. Even if you can only raise them a few inches, do not abort the attempt. At the point where the arms lock, flex your wrists in coordination with the contraction and breathing cycle; visualize your pinkies touching, and feel the muscles in your shoulders working.
- Inhale as you lower your arms to the starting position.
Variation (for Injured and Problem Shoulders)
If you cannot raise your arms at all, you can still derive the benefits of the movement. Keep your elbows near your waist, palms relaxed, and facing forward. Raise only your forearms, towards your ears, forming a relaxed “W” with your arms. You should feel shoulder muscles stretching, and dormant muscles budding.
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