Floor Exercises, The Easy-Magic Exercises
Once I realized how well these floor exercises were shaping my lower body, I began to
Topics in This Chapter
The Magic Exercises
During the period when I worked 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.
Doing these floor exercises, I did not feel as though I were working hard, or even really exercising—they are so easy to do that even a couch potato can do them (any of the floor exercises can be adapted for use in a bed, chair, or bath). The next day I felt all the benefits of a good workout, but without the stiffness that often follows a new exercise; I felt the budding of the underlying layer of supportive musculature—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.
After I had shown the floor exercises to Denise Crichton (former member of Canada's National Ski Team), and I had enthusiastically and gradually worked up to three sets of 15 to 20 “reps” of each exercise, Denise and I compared notes. Denise told me that two sets of five reps at the end of her day were enough to put her back into shape from her day (and out of pain). I find that doing the floor exercises (or any other exercise routine) in the morning sets me 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.
This made me realize that, by focusing on form and the DEER 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.
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.
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.
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 Floor Exercises
This table tells you which body parts each exercise affects (where you will feel it, and in what order) and the DEER factors for each. The instructions for each exercise follow immediately after the table. The photo at right demonstrates three of the DEER factors simultaneously: knees close together, active feet, and right angle at knees.
Between each set, pause just long enough for a couple of Ocean Breaths.
Form is everything during this head-to-foot stretch (lats down, arms straight)!
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
upper side (nice curvy hip) both
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 butt 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.
Don’t go this high, even if you can!
Arc is too large; the curve is gone.
This variation affects hips, butt, 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.
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.
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 butt 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.
Wonky Right Foot.
Unlike the old butt-hoisting bicycle exercise where we used our hands to support our butts off the ground, this more gentle version also works abs, thighs, and calves, but with far less stress and effort.
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).
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.
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 butt muscles. The movement and instructions are the same as “Touch Towards Knees, Sitting”, with a few considerations related to standing.
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.
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.
This gentle, easy squat can be done even by those who cannot squat. It starts in Tae Chi’s first position, the same as “Touch Pinkies”, which is done twice before starting “Squats”. After each squat cycle (one lift and one drop), do two more “Touch Pinkies”. This squat exercise uses the heel-butt connection to give you a butt workout (without breaking your back); it also works legs, abs, and hips.
You need two small, light objects. Pascale is using cans of soup, but you could use shoes, 1-pound weights, or anything similar. While picking up or putting down the weights, keep your arms relaxed and straight. While rising, keep your chin down, but look upwards (eyes only). Looking up while standing up improves posture and form.
Do not let knee
cave in while
Touching Pinkies between the squats gives you a break. Over time, with practice, you will know whether you are ready to do a series of squats without touching the pinkies.
If you have trouble doing the squat in perfect form, there are less-than-perfect, but still effective ways to do it. If you feel your knees caving in, then stop, spread your feet (allow them to point outwards if more comfortable), and bend to pick up the weights in whatever manner works for you. The important parts to remember are to not let your knees cave in while bending and to dig in your heels while rising. With some practice, you will gradually be able to bring your feet closer to parallel.
Ideally, your back should be vertical, but if it is not, do it as well as you can, which develops the heel-butt connection that allows you to do it properly and gracefully. Over time, your back positioning will improve.
This anti-wonky exercise (you cannot do it and be wonky at the same time) develops the psoas muscles, and is a combination of a knee lift and a martial-arts slow-motion technique, with yoga active feet. It looks like a slow-motion can-can kick. Doing it in slow motion is more difficult and therefore more beneficial. Remember to use the psoas muscles to lift your leg, as described under “The Leg Connection”.
Adapt for chair. Dig your heels in to emulate standing. Keep feet parallel.
To isolate and identify the psoas muscles, relax the leg as you press against it with the same-side hand (in an agonist-antagonist fashion). Doing this also increases the DEER factor.