exercises on the floor

This week’s Throwback Thursday piece is “7 Extraordinary simple, hard exercises on the floor”, written by Karsten Jensen in June 8, 2013. 

In the pursuit of world class strength, power, speed or endurance, we can afford to leave no potentially beneficial training method on the table. The best strength coaches and personal trainers embrace the whole spectrum of training methods from extremely simple, no equipment methods, like bodyweight exercises on the floor, to high tech measurement tools like myo test (www.myotest.com).

This article is about one of the simplest, yet most effective, new bodyweight exercises on the floor.

When I teach new personal trainers, I always say that regardless of their background and their personality, there is at least some part of the personal training process, where their strength’s come in to play.

The structured, linear thinking, right brain, accountant type will love the planning process, scheduling out percentages and logging progress. The more left brain, artist type will love the process of creating NEW exercises, as the need comes up. And of course, to reach your full potential, you must be able to easily shift between using both the left and right brain.

As is the case with kids, sometimes the best thing that can happen to our creativity is to have little or no equipment available. You know the saying that “If all you have is a hammer, everything look like a nail”. The creative person does not think like that. The creative person thinks: “If all I have is a hammer, I will find new and not-thought-of-before ways to use this hammer”! 

Since the start of my career in 1993 I have worked with athletes from 20 different sports ranging from figure skating over triathlon to wrestling, serious amateur to world class and Olympic level and 14 to 55 years. I have always experimented intensely with new exercises, often in the gym, but lately also on our living room floor during breaks, when I work from my home office.

Regarding bodyweight exercises on the floor, some of the key parameters to experiment with include:

  • Which body parts that touch the floor?
  • How many body parts touch the floor? (2, 3 or 4)
  • What is the distance between the body parts that touch the floor?

Here are 5 simple, yet challenging exercises, all initiated with the athlete or client lying on his/hers back:

  1. Hamstrings – press your heels into the floor, so that the pelvis is unloaded or lifted off the floor. (Unloaded = if there was a scale under the pelvis, the pelvis would touch the scale, but the scale would show 0)
  2. Glutes and lower abdominals – squeeze the glutes as hard as possible. Then while maintaining maximal glute contraction (think bowling balls!) lift your heels 1 inch off the floor
  3. Neck and back – supported by a towel, press the back of the head into the floor so the ribcage is lifted off the floor. The stronger athlete or client will press the back of the head so hard into the floor that BOTH the ribcage AND the pelvis is lifted off the ground.
  4. Posterior deltoids – with the upper arms placed in 90 degree shoulder abduction press the back of the upper arms into the ground
  5. Lower Trapezius – with the arms in full shoulder flexion, create a fist and press the side of the thumbs hard into the ground to unload the ribcage.
  6. Lats, rhomboids and posterior delts – with the arms in anatomical neutral (palms up) pres the back of the arms into the ground to unload or lift the ribcage of the ground.

Countless are also the exercises, where the athlete or client is in a prone position and here is a favourite of mine that will challenge most athletes or clients.

I have named this exercise the Wide Horse Stance because I discovered it by doing a regular Horse Stance and experimenting with the distance between my two arms and two legs. (The Horse Stance is also known under the name The Bird Dog)


Start position: Place your hands and knees on the floor, with your knees as far apart as possible. Your spine should have its natural curves (= the neutral spine position). Grab the floor with your fingers and “screw your hands into the floor”. Make sure that you don’t “sag”, instead push your shoulders away from your ears.

“Action”: To train the muscles of anterior oblique system (1,2) running from the right shoulder to the left hip, you must lift your LEFT hand and RIGHT knee 1 INCH of the floor. Just by lifting, your left hand and right knee of the floor, you will feel and significant contraction of your oblique abdominal muscles

Hold for 10 seconds each side, alternating sides with no rest for 4-8 minutes.

The Wide Horse Stance is a part of my newly released Ground Based Abs Program – the HARDEST, SIMPLEST, “on- the- floor-no equipment”- program you will find in today’s marketplace.

For more information about the Ground Based Abs Program. Click here.

How do I apply progressive overload to to these simple body weight exercises?

Here are three ways to apply progressive overload to body weight exercises:

1. Lifting a greater portion of the body of the floor (akin to increasing the intensity of the exercise and increasing the load)

    • Example: Hamstrings – Press your heels into the floor, so that the pelvis is unloaded or lifted off the floor. (Unloaded = if there was a scale under the pelvis, the pelvis would touch the scale, but the scale would show 0).
      • Stages of progression for this exercise include:
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees 45 degree bent.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees almost straight.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees straight.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees straight. Pelvis is unloaded, but does still touch the floor.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees straight. Pelvis is lifted off the floor.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees straight. Pelvis is lifted off the floor. The ribcage is unloaded. This variation requires tremendous neck strength.
          • Press both heels into the floor w/knees straight. Pelvis is lifted off the floor. The ribcage is lifted off the floor.
          • Repeat the entire progression with one leg at a time.

      This simple hamstring exercise (that emphasise the popliteus muscle, responsible for unlocking the knee) has a total of 14 different stages of progression.

      14 different stages of progression is as many or almost as many options for varying the load that the athlete or client has in a machine dedicated to hamstring strengthening!

2. Increasing the volume per set or the total volume

The popliteus muscle is a stabiliser and the hamstring exercise above, works extremely well as the first hamstring exercise in a macro cycle, emphasised in the ISS block and followed in the later blocks with hamstring training using cables or machines.

Sets in the ISS block should be of 90 seconds to 40 minutes in duration. Thus, for this hamstring exercise, where the movement is very short, we are looking at very high reps.

The so called 100 rep death march is the perfect method variation for our hamstring exercise.

The 100 rep death march is characterised by a constant total volume (per workout), but an INCREASING volume of each set.

Train the hamstrings with this protocol 2 or 3 times per week. Rest 10-20 seconds between sets. Progress to the next stage, when all sets can be completed with 10 second rest periods.

20 sets of 5 reps
18 sets of 6 reps
16 sets of 7 reps
15 sets of 6 reps
12 sets of 9 reps
10 sets of 10 reps
8 sets of 12 reps
7 sets of 14 reps
1 set of 100 reps

One set of 100 with this variation “Pres both heels into the floor w/knees straight. Pelvis is lifted off the floor” performed one leg is world class.

3. Increase the voluntary intensity of the contraction.

Here is the description of the lower trapezius exercise that I wrote about the in our last EZINE three days ago

Lower Trapezius – with the arms in full shoulder flexion, create a fist and press the side of the thumbs hard into the ground to unload the ribcage.

You can create VARIATION with the exercise by, alternating the degree of abduction in the shoulder, so that the arms may either be a direct extension of the body (full shoulder flexion) or form a Y with the body.

Progressive overload can be applied by increasing the volume per set (in this case, mainly time) OR by increasing how hard the fists are pressed into the ground.

Voluntary contraction can be quantified on a 1-5 scale:

1 = The arms are just resting on the floor.

2 = Low pres into the floor.

3 = Medium pres into the floor.

4 = Strong pres into the floor.

5 = Maximal pres into the floor.

The lower trapezius is a tonic stabiliser of the scapula and when trained isometrically a protocol of 10 second contraction alternated with 10 seconds of relaxation, 4-8 minutes total, works well.

Any athlete or client, who needs to improve posture or wants to improve shoulder stability for throwing, punching, striking or batting, can benefit from this simple exercise.

You HAVE to try these exercise yourself, to understand how challenging they truly are and if you have tried these exercise, you will need no more convincing that simple body weight exercises, when done correctly is TOUGH.

Applying progressive overload by increasing the intensity of the voluntary isometric contraction is a key strategy of our Ground Based Abs Program – the HARDEST, SIMPLEST, “on- the-floor-no equipment”- program you will find in today’s marketplace.


  1. Chek P. The Outer Unit. http://www.coachr.org/outer.htm
  2. Garcia-Vaguero MP, Moreside JM, Brontons-Gil E, Peco-Gonzales N, Vera-Garcia FJ. Trunk muscle activation during stabilisation exercises with single and double leg support. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. Mar 19. 2012. Epub Ahead of Print
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The FPO Crew is made up of a number of skilled, fit, intelligent, and beautiful people who love overall wellness as well as helping people. Everyone in The FPO Crew has a true passion for working with Fitness Professionals all around the world to help grow the industry and thus help more people on a larger scale.
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