The Best Stretches You Can Do On a Plane

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Long flights can be brutal. Unless you’re residing in business or first class, you’re crammed with everyone else in economy, which means little in the way of leg room.

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Suffering through hours of cramped quarters, virtually frozen in your seat, can take a toll on your neck, back, hips, and shoulders. And if you fly frequently, stiff joints, tight muscles, and disturbed blood flow can translate to chronic pain in your everyday life. Here’s a game plan to fight off some of the most common in-flight conundrums.



If You’ve Been Slumped Over Your Laptop or Lunch: Upper Spinal Extension

After hours of hunching over your tray table, arms pinned to your sides, neck craned, your upper back is probably screaming and your shoulders are stiff. Use an upper spinal extension stretch periodically to open up your back, improve spinal alignment, and take some stress off your neck. Lace your fingers together behind your neck and bring your elbows together. Now lean back into the chair, bringing your elbows toward the ceiling and pushing your sternum up as if you’re trying to chest bump the overhead compartment.

If You Fell Asleep in an Awkward Position: Seated Spinal Twist

Leaving a late work dinner only to catch a red-eye or getting up at the crack of dawn to catch the first flight out leads to a lot of awkward sleeping situations. Since airplane seats offer virtually no lumbar support, your low back is forced into a slumped, flexed position, squashing your joints and stressing your muscles. When you wake up, use a seated spinal twist to wring out your spine and get all those segments moving again. Sitting up tall, place one hand on the opposite knee and rotate from your low back all the way up through your head, reaching your spine long and tall throughout the motion. Repeat on the opposite side. And next time try placing a pillow in the arch of your low back before you nod off.

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If You’re Stuck in the Middle Seat: Seated Glute Stretch

With an economy seat width of 18 inches and shrinking on domestic flights, there’s not a lot of options in terms of leg position. Being smashed in between two people isn’t going to help matters much, either. When your seatmate goes to the restroom, use a seated glute stretch to create some space in your hip joints and stretch out your cramped backside. Place one foot on your opposite knee in a figure four position. (If you’re really tight, you may need to leave your bottom leg extended a little bit.) Sit up tall, and stick your butt out a little bit to tilt your pelvis forward, then lean forward with a flat back. You can use your hand to press your thigh down, but make sure not to torque at the knee joint. If you’re in the exit row or the bulkhead, lucky you! Do this more often. You can also do a standing glute stretch (among other stretches) whenever you head to the bathroom.

If You’re Trapped by the Fasten Seatbelt Sign for Hours: Modified Doorway Pec Stretch

Getting up frequently is one of the best ways to ward off stiffness, so take advantage of it when you can. Once you’re free to move about the cabin, walk to the galley for an extra glass of water (in-flight hydration is super important, too) and grab a small space of wall to open up your chest with a modified version of a doorway pec stretch. Place your hand or forearm on the wall with your elbow at chest height, then rotate your body away to open up the front of your shoulder. You’ll be able to sit straighter when you get back to your seat — just don’t get trapped in the aisle by the cart.

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If You’re on a Long International Flight: Forward Fold to Half Lift

Once dinner is over and everyone’s focused on their devices, you can move a little bit more creatively without feeling like the center of attention. Try this yoga-inspired forward fold to half lift move to release your low back and hamstrings. It’ll engage your glutes and legs to get the blood moving. Find a spot in the galley where you have a little room, then bend forward from the waist, letting your low back round gently and your arms hang. Bent knees is totally okay here. Then, engage your glutes and your hamstrings to pull you into a half lifted position placing your hands on your knees. Keep your legs straight, using your legs not your low back to lift.

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