5 Easy Exercises to Do When All You Feel Like Doing is Lying Down (While You’re Lying Down)
Exercise can be a great way to help manage your mood and make the prospect of getting out of the bed feel a little less impossible. Even a small amount of movement done regularly enough for long enough can make an improvement in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and the general blahs and make the world outside of your bed seem a little less awful.
The problem is that most forms of exercise require you to get out of bed to do them.
When I started working on my forthcoming book Work It Out: A Mood-Boosting Exercise Guide for People Who Just Want to Lie Down, I knew that I wanted to include suggestions for moves and workouts that bypassed that step. As a former personal trainer, I had the knowledge to take moves performed in more traditional settings and tweak them for use in beds and on floors. And as a depressed person, I’d spent plenty of time testing out my ideas for myself while I was flailing around in the pits of despair. This was my chance to share what I’d learned with other people who might be struggling. (And maybe it gave my self-loathing, catastrophizing brain a little boost to know that all of those hours I spent grumbling my way through my little depressercize routines had mattered after all.)
Here are five of my favorite exercises you can do while lying down that made the cut.
1. Barrel Rolls
I love this one because it can be both an effective core exercise and a tantrum. If you do enough of them back and forth, you can also get a nice little cardio workout out of your exasperating flailing at the state of the world/yourself.
How to do it: Lie on your back in the middle of your bed—or on the floor with a couple feet of clearance on each side—with your legs straight and your arms reaching overhead. Roll to one side and then to the other. Repeat whatever amount of times you want. If you don’t want to get out of bed, I’m not going to make you worry about numbers or hard minimums.
2. Shoulder Bridges
The good old shoulder bridge has a lot of practical things going for it. It’s a tried and true way to work your glutes and hamstrings when you have no equipment and very little motivation. It can also be a gentle stretch for the front of your hips, which can feel really nice if you’ve spent too much time sitting in a chair, hunched over in anxiety, or curled up in the fetal position. And if that’s not enough, you can always try telling yourself that no matter what else is going on in your life, at least you are making your butt more powerful. That usually works for me.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat, and arms at your sides. Engage your butt and lift your hips off the bed. Then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat whatever amount of times you want.
3. Weighted Blanket Bench Press
Here’s a move that can make you feel accomplished because you did it and resourceful because you’ve MacGyvered random household items into gym equipment.
How to do it: Grab your weighted blanket—or anything with a bit of weight to it that’s within reach of your bed or floor space—and fashion it into a shape you can evenly distribute between both hands. Or grab two items of similar weight and hold one in each hand. Lying on your back and facing the ceiling, push up the makeshift weight(s) from your chest until your arms are straight, then slowly lower. Repeat whatever amount of times you want.
4. Dead Bugs
This is one of my favorite core exercises because it works really well and it looks like depression feels like. Even the name is appropriate.
How to do it: Lying on your back, gently contract your abs to draw your belly button toward your spine until your lower back comes into contact with the mattress or floor. Bend your knees and lift your legs until your knees are directly above your hips and your shins are parallel to the bed. Reach your arms up straight, pointing your fingertips to the ceiling. Keeping your lower back in contact with the mattress, reach your right arm over your head and straighten your left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Return to the starting position and switch sides. Repeat whatever amount of times you want, as long as you do an even number on both sides.
5. Pillow Punches
Many, many years ago, I was a fighter and trainer in a professional pillow fighting league. One of the things that has stuck with me from that period, aside from the random misadventures, is how challenging swinging or punching a pillow for any amount of time is. And how good you can feel after you’ve done it. So here’s an exercise that can give you cardio and catharsis if you’re feeling up to rolling over.
How to do it: Straddle a pillow like you’re in the mount position from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or mixed martial arts. (Or another frame of reference if you’d prefer. You do you.) Start hitting the pillow. Continue for as long as you want to. Or can.
For ideas on how to put those moves together—or what you can do next if you feel like getting out of bed when you’re done them—check out Work It Out: A Mood-Boosting Exercise Guide for People Who Just Want to Lie Down, on sale April 18, 2023.