Get a good workout in bed

No…not that kind of workout!

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

People who can’t sleep come up with all sorts of crazy ideas — and some great ones, too. For instance, how about a workout that you can do right in your bed? I’m not talking about a gentle routine involving wiggling one toe and then another and taking deep breaths in between… or even an interlude of vigorous romance… but rather a real exercise program that gets your blood circulating, builds muscle and strengthens your core — all without getting out of your bed!

The “Get Fit in Bed” workout is the brainchild of Ted Kavanau, the founding senior producer of CNN. Having a difficult time falling asleep, he did what comes naturally to insomniacs — he tried to find an activity that would make him tired enough to sleep. He began exercising… in bed. An avid fitness enthusiast with a background in martial arts and boxing, Kavanau adapted some of the exercises he did at the gym for the soft surface of a mattress and then added a few yoga and Pilates moves. Before long, he noticed that he had more endurance, his muscle mass was increasing, his mood was good — and, yes, he was sleeping like a baby.

Adjusted By a Chiropractor

Kavanau took his routine to Genie Tartell, DC, RN, a registered nurse and practicing chiropractor, and asked her to fine-tune the routine for safety. Working with patients of different ages and a variety of health issues, Dr. Tartell tweaked the exercise plan, eliminating moves that might cause any injuries and refining many of the others to accomplish practical efficiency.

According to Dr. Tartell, the new workout plan was a hit. “My arthritic patients found that they were getting out of bed in the morning without feeling stiff, while others who hated exercise were now exercising in bed while watching the news,” she said.

Kavanau and Dr. Tartell collaborated on a book, appropriately entitled Get Fit In Bed, which provides instruction on 42 different exercises for a variety of abilities. For readers of Daily Health News, Dr. Tartell offered to share the beginner level program. The routine is organized into exercises to do on your back… on your stomach… on your left side… and on your right side. There are modifications for people with particular physical challenges. The exercises can be done at your own pace and, as you get stronger and fitter, you can increase the number of reps and the speed at which they’re performed.

The Starter Program

Always begin your “Get Fit in Bed” routine with a basic gentle stretch. Lie on your back, arms down by your sides. Open and close your hands several times. Then extend your arms above your head, stretching like a cat… and lengthen your legs, one at a time, extending each from the hip. Fan your toes, one foot at a time, and then point your feet (together) toward your head and then away from it several times. This stretching should feel good, like you’re waking up your muscles.

Minimal crunch: Lie on your back, arms at your sides, and then tighten your stomach muscles while inhaling. Slowly raise your head and shoulders very slightly (maybe an inch) off the bed, exhaling as you do so. Hold this position for a second or two and then slowly drop your head and shoulders to the bed. Repeat five times.

The bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed, arms at your sides. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks while slowly lifting your pelvis toward the ceiling. Aim to bring your pelvis and thighs into a straight line, at about a 45-degree angle to your knees. Hold this position for a slow count of 10 (about 20 seconds) and then gently drop back to the bed. Repeat five times.

Crunch: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the bed, arms at your sides. Using your abdominal muscles, bring your knees up toward your chest and extend your arms so that your hands reach toward your knees, continuing to bring your upper body closer to your knees. Note: Do not pull up with your neck! Lower your upper body halfway down toward the bed. Hold for a slow count of 10 (about 20 seconds). Now repeat five times before lowering your upper body all the way back down to the prone position.

Elbow-knee piston: Lie on your back. Put your hands underneath your head, fingers laced, and bend your knees so that your feet rest flat on the mattress. Raise your bent legs in alternating motions, bringing your left elbow and right knee toward each other — then, as you bring them back down, bring your right elbow and left knee toward each other, raising your upper body to bring knee and elbow as close together as you can. As you get more proficient, increase your speed so that it becomes a pumping motion. Repeat each left/right combination three to six times.

Bicycle with crunches: Similar to the previous exercise, for this one you again lie on your back, arms at your sides. Start with your legs flat on the bed, then raise them and begin moving them as if you were pedaling a bicycle. At the same time, raise your body in a crunchlike position (using your abdominal muscles) and begin “throwing punches” at your feet in sync with your leg movements. Repeat the cycle of left/right punches with corresponding pedaling five times — your goal is to do a total of 10 punches, five with each hand.

For these next two exercises, turn over onto your stomach…

Forearm-supported body lift: Lie on your stomach, palms flat and under your shoulders, elbows bent in an acute angle. Push off your hands and lift your upper body off the bed, eyes facing forward. Hold this position for two seconds then return to the original position. Repeat five more times.

Cobra: Lie on your stomach, elbows bent, and hands placed flat on the bed in line with your shoulders. Straighten your arms to lift your upper body while curving it back like a cobra — if you’re unable to straighten your arms fully, just push up as far as you can. (A soft mattress may limit your ability to get full extension of the arms.) Hold this “up” position for a slow count of 10 and then slowly return to starting position. Repeat just twice for a total of three. Tip: Try this exercise with deeper breathing to improve relaxation.

The beauty of this exercise program is that it can be adapted in a variety of ways to fit into your life and can be done as an early morning and/or evening workout. It provides an easy way to work out while traveling, for instance, or (as in Kavanau’s case) a good way to put your awake time in the middle of the night to good use.

Personally, I’m an early riser, and the winter mornings are cold up here in Connecticut — so I’m finding that these exercises are a wonderful way to start my day!


Genie Tartell, DC, RN, a sports chiropractor based in Kingston, New York, who was team chiropractor for the New York Reebok aerobic team. She has been a guest on The View, CNBC, Fox News, WOR radio and various national radio shows.