You sat down on the floor to cuddle your dog, hang with your kid or work in your garden. All was well until it was time to get up… but you couldn't.
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Struggling to get up from the floor is "not common for a functional, healthy human, but it is common in our modern culture where most people have adapted to a sitting lifestyle," says Chad Walding, doctor of physical therapy and founder of NativePath.
"This chronically hunched position and stagnant lifestyle causes our bodies to negatively adapt as we lose strength and mobility in key areas that make natural movement like getting up and down from the floor possible," he says.
Fortunately, you can regain your ability to get up off the floor. It'll take a bit of practice, but it's definitely doable. The first step is determining the reason you can't get up from the floor. A good starting point is the list below. None of these are diagnoses, though, so you should see an appropriate healthcare professional if you need help with movement.
If You: Don’t Feel Strong Enough
You Might: Lack Full-Body Strength
Do you tend to "plop" when sitting down, whether on a chair, in your car or on the floor? Do you also find it tough to get up once you've sat down? If you answered yes to one or both of those questions, there might be a simple fix: strength training.
For some people, the inability to get up from the floor is simply a matter of muscular strength. A consistent resistance-training routine can help you gain the strength you need to get up from the floor with ease.
Walding and Danya Douglas Hunt, physical performance coach and co-creator of Back on Track, recommend these exercises for building strength to properly get up from the floor.
Move 1: Lunge
- Start with your feet hip-width apart and step forward.
- Hold this position, then lower your body to the ground, as low as you can go comfortably. Over time, you want your back knee to kiss the ground.
- Straighten your legs to stand back up.
This is a static lunge, and after you master this, you can do a walking lunge, moving forward and bringing your back leg forward into the next lunge.
Move 2: Sit-to-Stand Squat
- Set up a chair facing away from a wall.
- Sit down, then stand up. Focus on lowering your body slowly to the chair (no plopping!) and driving through the heels to return to standing.
- As you get comfortable at that height, you'll be able to lower the chair over time.
Move 3: Glute Bridge
- Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, gently rock your pelvis upward as if you're tilting a bowl of soup toward your head.
- Begin to lift the hips off the floor as you continue to roll up the spine segment by segment.
- Lift your hips as high as you can and squeeze your glutes. then hold.
- Gently roll down the spine and bring your hips down to the floor for one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps for 2 to 3 sets.
Move 4: Wall Push-Up
- Stand 6 to 12 inches away from a wall and place your arms on the wall. Your arms should make a 90-degree angle with your body.
- Bend your elbows to lower your body toward the wall; careful not to go too fast.
- Press back up so that your arms are straight.
- Aim for 2 sets of 10 reps.
Once wall push-ups are easy, you can move down to a kitchen table, then down to a chair, then lower until you get down to the floor.
Move 5: Plank
- With your elbows and forearms on the floor and feet together, lock your legs straight and squeeze your glutes. You should be holding yourself in a straight line from head to hips to heels.
- Brace your core as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach.
- Apply a "pull" force with your elbows where you bring them toward your toes.
- Breathe and stay stable as you continue to breathe.
- Try for 3 rounds of 20 to 30 seconds.
If You: Feel Too Stiff
You Might: Not Have Sufficient Mobility and Flexibility
If you can't assume the position you need to get into in order to stand up from the floor, you likely have several joints that need mobility work. It's also possible that you have stability limitations.
"Getting off the floor relies on good ankle mobility and knee mobility to get from the deep bend to standing," Hunt says. "Our neck, lower back and knees are meant to be stable, while our upper back, hips and ankles are meant to be mobile. When there's an imbalance in any of those parts of the body, that's when a breakdown happens."
If you fall into this camp, you'll likely need to do a variety of exercises to revamp your ability to get up from the floor. Our experts recommend the following exercises.
Move 1: Hip Flexor Stretch
- Stand tall, then take a medium step forward.
- Tilt your tailbone forward to gently stretch your hips.
- To enhance the stretch, you can squeeze your back glute.
Move 3: 90-90 Stretch
- Sitting on the floor, extend one leg in front of you with your knee bent at 90 degrees.
- Position your other leg to your side, also bent at 90 degrees.
- Keep your torso facing forward and bend at the hip toward the front knee to create a gentle stretch in the hip.
- Try for 30 seconds to 2 minutes on each side for 2 to 3 sets.
Move 4: Hip Internal Rotation
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat and hands behind you with arms straight.
- Gently move your knees side to side.
- Exhale as you take your knees down to the ground and try to keep your hips level on the ground.
- Continue moving back and forth for 2 to 3 minutes.
If You: Feel Off-Balance
You Might: Have Weak Core Muscles or Limited Body Awareness
Balance and proprioception (your ability to understand where your body is in space) are critical to your ability to get off the ground. As you might guess, strength and mobility both play a role in balance skills — or lack thereof.
"If we don't use our full range of motion, our muscles get weaker and our joints get stiffer," Hunt says. Your body is adaptable, so any stimulus you give it, negative or positive, impacts your functional abilities, she says.
Your muscles have to be strong and your joints have to be supple to maintain balance, Hunt says. Some great exercises for improving balance include all of the strengthening and mobility exercises above, as well as the single-leg balance and single-leg toe touch.
Move 1: Single-Leg Balance
- You can start by using external help, like holding onto a chair or a wall.
- Lift your foot just an inch off the ground, and once you get comfortable, you can work up to balancing while your hand just hovers off that external object.
- Work up to balancing on each leg for one minute at a time, but you can start with just 10-second increments.
Move 2: Single-Leg Toe Touch
- Assume the single-leg balance position and hinge at the hips, reaching down as far as you can. You can hold onto a wall for assistance if you need to.
- Only reach as far as you can go without pain in your hamstrings. If you're really flexible, you should be able to reach your toes, but it's alright if you can't.
- Do 10 toe touches on each leg for 2 sets.
If You: Feel Pain in Your Joints
You Might: Have Arthritis or Impingements
Many people struggle to get up from the floor as they get older due to joint problems, specifically arthritis, says Theresa Marko, doctor of physical therapy at Marko Physical Therapy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints and can cause moderate to severe pain when pressure — such as pressure from pressing into the floor to stand up — is placed on the joints.
However, arthritis isn't the only explanation. Impingements can cause pain, too. These occur when connective tissue such as tendons rub on bones or joints, causing a sharp pain or pinching sensation.
If you think you have arthritis, you should talk to your healthcare provider about a diagnosis and treatment options. If you know you have arthritis, you can ask your primary care provider for a referral to a physical therapist who can help you learn how to get off the floor with less pain.
And treatment for impingements typically involves rest and physical therapy.