Sitting on the floor probably isn't your first choice, but sometimes you need to get down there to clean, play with grandbabies or make space for someone else to sit on the couch. No big deal — until getting down on the floor becomes too tough to manage.
"As we age, our muscles and joints often become more stiff," says Theresa Marko, DPT, owner of Marko Physical Therapy. "They lose lubrication and range of motion."
This lack of mobility makes it tough to get down onto the floor. Unlike sitting — when you only need to bend your knee to 90 degrees — lowering yourself to the ground requires you to bend them at least 120 degrees, Dr. Marko says, and this can be painful for people with limited mobility.
People also lose muscle mass and become weaker as they get older, Dr. Marko says. "Lack of mobility with decreased muscle strength is a poor combination and makes it difficult to get down on the floor."
If you've been struggling to get down on the floor: Dr. Marko and Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, of Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy, pinpoint common causes for this struggle, plus exercises to make it easier to get down to the floor.
If You: Feel Like You Might Fall
You Might: Have Limited Eccentric Control
There are two phases to every movement: concentric and eccentric. These phases describe what happens to a muscle when you move it. The concentric phase involves shortening a muscle while the eccentric phase involves lengthening a muscle, Dr. Jeffcoat says.
To visualize, picture yourself doing a squat. When you lower down to the bottom position, that's the eccentric phase. Standing back up is the concentric phase.
"A loss or reduction of eccentric muscle strength, along with joint limitations, will make getting down to the floor safely a challenge," Dr. Jeffcoat says. Without eccentric strength, you may feel like you always "flop" into your chair or onto the floor.
To build eccentric strength and control your body as you lower yourself to the floor, try slow squats onto a chair.
- Stand in front of a target, such as a chair or Swiss ball. Position your feet about hip-width apart.
- Lower yourself to the target on a 4-second count. If your butt touches the target before you count to four, you went too quickly. The point is to go slowly and maintain control.
- Return to a standing position in 2 seconds. Pause for 1 second at the top before descending into another rep.
- Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
If You: Feel Pain in Your Knees
You Might: Have Weak Glutes, Quads or Calves
To get down on the floor, you have to bend your knees past their usual range of motion. Your glutes, quads and calves all help stabilize the knee joint, and if those muscles are weak, you may feel pain in your knee when bending them and lowering your body, Dr. Jeffcoat says.
Strengthening those muscles helps build stability throughout the entire leg, particularly the knee and ankle. Try slow glute bridges and calf raises.
Move 1: Slow Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Take 2 seconds to lift your hips up toward the ceiling, then take 4 seconds to return back down to the starting position.
- Perform 2 sets of 8 and gradually increase to 2 sets of 20.
Move 2: Slow Calf Raises
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and knees straight. Raise your heels together off the ground, taking 2 seconds to get to the top of the motion.
- Lift your right foot off the ground and slowly lower your left heel to the ground with a 4-count.
- Raise both heels again, then lift your left foot off the ground and slowly lower your right heel to the ground with a 4-count.
- Do 8 reps on each side, gradually increasing to sets of 15 reps.
If You: Feel Pain in Your Hips
You Might: Have Limited Hip and Spine Mobility
Adequate joint mobility is essential for all things, but especially for complex movements like getting down on the floor, Dr. Jeffcoat says. Getting down on the floor without pain or risk of falling "demands functional range of motion," which is harder to come by as you get older, she says.
The solution? Stretch it out. Stretching is — and probably always will be — one of the best ways to increase your range of motion. This gentle stretch will help you achieve hip and spinal flexion, which makes getting down on the floor easier.
- Lie on your back and bring one knee to your chest. Hug your arms around your thigh, trying to touch your thigh to your belly.
- If you can't wrap your hands around the back of your thigh, you may prefer to support your foot against a couch, physioball or other object to assist hip flexion.
- Repeat on the other leg.
- Once you are able to achieve full range of motion in both hips individually, bring both knees toward your chest at the same time and clasp your arms across your shins.
If You: Feel Super Wobbly
You Might: Have a Weak Core or Poor Balance
Getting down on the floor is a rather unstable activity by nature. If you feel wobbly or can't get down without holding onto something, you likely need to improve your core strength and balance, Dr. Jeffcoat says.
Core strength is essential to just about everything, and good balance reduces your risk of falling over as you try to get down on the floor. Try this single-leg balance to simultaneously improve your balance and core control.
- Stand on your right leg and time how long you can stand with controlled balance.
- Repeat on your left leg. You should be able to stand with control on each leg for 60 seconds, Dr. Jeffcoat says.
- If you're able to do so, try the exercise again with your eyes closed.
- If you're unable to maintain your balance for 60 seconds, accumulate 3 minutes of balancing (in short sets, such as 15 seconds at a time) and gradually increase the length of your sets.