8 Weeks of Ground Work to Make the Floor Your Friend

Jennifer Pilotti

Coach

Yoga, Personal Training, Mobility & Recovery

Are you a martial artist? Or a yogi? Or perhaps you simply want to be able to interact with the floor a little bit better?

 

The ability to move well on the floor and to get up and down from the floor without looking like you are 85 involves a certain amount of hip mobility. Hip mobility also allows you to do crazy things like get up and down from the ground without using your hands. If you are a gym or studio owner, getting up and down off of the floor for thirty days, in thirty different ways can be a really fun member challenge.

 

 

But what needs to happen in order to find ease and strength on the ground? Let’s break down what you need in order to move your hips with a sense of freedom and ease by working on everyone’s favorite yoga pose to hate, pigeon.

 

The Role of Your Pelvis

Your femur inserts into the pelvis in a deep socket called the femoracetabular joint. Don’t worry, you don’t have to remember that. Just know that the ability to move the pelvis is going to influence degrees of freedom at the hip joint. So before you try and stretch your hip by yanking it into places it doesn’t want to go, you need to address whether you have control over how your pelvis moves. Can you tilt it forward and back in a relaxed way while you are on the floor? Can you roll on your sits bones without letting your knees move in and out, or your shoulders move forwards and backwards? Do you understand how to posteriorly tilt your pelvis in a tall kneeling position? If the answers to any of these questions are no, the chances of you acquiring a high degree of mobility in your hip are slim.

 

The other end of the spectrum are those of you who have a large amount of pelvic mobility. Your pelvis moves easily and moves preemptively for your hip. You need to learn to stabilize your pelvis and isolate movement at the hip. Before lack of movement or lack of control are addressed, your hips will stay stubbornly immobile, lacking the ability to move in a variety of directions.

 

The Role of Your Feet

There is a wonderful phrase I heard a few years ago that went something like, “when the foot’s on the ground, the foot is in charge. When the foot’s off the ground, the pelvis is in charge.” This was written in relation to how the hip functions, and it’s an apt description.

 

Now that you have gotten your pelvis sorted out, it’s important to briefly mention the feet. As noted, when they are on the ground, they influence hip mechanics. This article will focus more on situations where the feet aren’t actively pressing down to create tension, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t an important part of skillful floor movement. Skills such as pigeon require flexion at the ankle in both directions, and as soon as you begin moving in pigeon, the ability to allow the ankle to respond to the direction of movement becomes critical for the health of the lower extremity. In addition, ankles that don’t move make sitting on the floor challenging, so addressing your ankle mobility may be a worthwhile endeavor if you have visions of moving gracefully on the ground.

 

Since we are working on ground work, we’ll take a quick look at ankle function. Can the ankle point the foot evenly? If yes, can it perform this action when the foot is behind you as well? Make sure you look back, and make sure your foot is where you think it is. If the toes are angled in, you may want to work on that first, before you begin exploring pigeon transitions. Foot position influences shin position, which influences knee position. Ankles matter.

 

You should also be able to actively flex the foot the other direction, in dorsiflexion. In pigeon, the outside edge of the foot should be able to rest against the floor with the foot perpendicular to the shin. During transitions, your foot position will vary, but for the work we are going to do to make pigeon accessible, having the outside edge of the foot against the ground gives more surface area to press into during active contractions. Plus, the whole business of the foot, shin, and knee applies here, too. You eventually will be strong on the enough to support a variety of foot positions while doing groundwork, but starting with a good sense of where center is makes it easier to deviate from center later.

 

The Role of Your Hip

Your hip needs to be able to externally rotate, abduct, and flex in the front leg. In the back leg, the hip needs to be able to extend and remain in a more neutral position with a flexed foot.

 

Here’s a simple test: can you sit on the ground with your ankles crossed and your knees out? If the answer is yes, switch the foot that’s on top. Is that still a comfortable position for you? Do you feel any stress on your knees or ankles?

 

If the answer is still yes, you can begin working towards pigeon. If the answer is no, a few of the prep work exercises will do you good, but so will simply sitting on the ground more. If your spine can’t support this position, meaning you either round back or use your hands to keep you upright, work on the deep squat as a resting position. You can set up a really low bench to sit on, let your feet angle out a little bit and let your knees follow the trajectory of the toes. Do something here, like neck mobility, shoulder mobility, or isolated hip work.

 

Work toward being able to sit comfortably in this position, and once you can do that, practice sitting with your ankles crossed with your hips slightly elevated. Just like with the low squat, do something while you are sitting. Maybe move one knee up a little bit and then down, or do a little hand mobility. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you are spending a little bit of time in the position.

 

Hip extension functions a lot like hip abduction and external rotation. If you get comfortable with the hip extended before you begin working more extreme ranges of motion, it makes the work a little more enjoyable.

 

Hip extension is not the same thing as low back extension. A simple check for hip extension can be found in the video below. If the tall half kneeling position is difficult for you, spend a little more time in it. Eventually, it will become more comfortable.

 

 

Here is the thing: it’s not that the back doesn’t arch in pigeon. During upright transitions, it needs to arch in order to accommodate the position of the pelvis. It’s just that if you have limited hip extension, the only place that will bend is the low back. It makes for a less efficient movement.

 

8 Weeks of Pigeon Ground Work

Let’s assume you meet all of the preparatory requirements to begin working on pigeon. This eight-week program will progress you towards using pigeon as a transitional movement by building up strength and mobility. Don’t skip ahead. Start with week one, even if it’s easy for you, and spend time getting comfortable with the movements and interacting with the floor in a thoughtful way.

 

Weeks 1 and 2

Perform the sequence below three times a week for two weeks. Build up slowly, and don’t worry if you can’t do all of the movements right away. With patience and consistency, the strength and flexibility will come.

 

 

Weeks 3 and 4

Perform the sequence below three times a week for the next two weeks. If you don’t feel comfortable with the sequence from week one, don’t move to this quite yet. Spend a little more time with the first sequence. Take the time to get comfortable with the basics in order to maximize the strength and flexibility benefits of the more advanced sequences.

 

 

Weeks 5 and 6

Congratulations on making it this far! Hopefully, you are beginning to feel stronger and more comfortable in a variety of positions on the ground. Perform this sequence three times a week for two weeks, continuing to build towards more dynamic ground movements.

 

 

Weeks 7 and 8

Below is the final sequence. Now that you have built a foundation for strength and mobility in the  hips, use your foundation to explore transitional movements and moving in unconventional ways. The sequence below is just one idea. The beauty of a gradual mobility program is the options for movement are limited only by your creativity.

 

Perform two to four reps per side, twice a week to master the sequence. Once you feel comfortable with the designated sequence, see if you can find alternative ways to use your mobility while interacting with the ground.

 

 

One of the easiest ways to improve mobility in the hips is to creatively move around on the ground. Remember to assess your sticking points, treat your mobility program like you would a strength training program, and use your mobility regularly in different environments for long-term flexibility gains.

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