The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Exercise and Stretch for Long Travel Sitting

We have just gotten home to Thailand after over 40 hours of flights. It would have taken longer to walk here, so we are happy. We unfolded husband Paul, just under seven feet tall, from the seat. During the next month and a half we will travel on 14-hour overnight trains and ferries to places we need to be. Paul will practice good bending almost everywhere as he tries to fit under low Asian doorways, roofs, and bus ceilings, bow lower than the old people, and stand and sit with his head lower than the head of the monks, as is respectful.

Most people sit a great deal even without long travel. Sitting puts higher pressure on the back and spine than standing. Long sitting pressures the back far more. Sitting also means keeping the hip bent forward at the crease of the leg. The muscles in front of the hip shorten and tighten. When most people exercise, their exercise is usually more bending forward. The result for most people is that the hip stays bent almost all the time. Much tightness results that prevents normal hip function, and reinforces the same tight, bent positioning that is so hard on the spine.

Long airline flights sometimes provide a video or printed message encouraging in-seat exercise and stretching. Often the advice is forward bending. That is the last thing most people needs. Instead, try the following:


  • Stretch your back and shoulders backward, not forward. Pull your chin in while pushing your upper back backward against the seat back. Stretch arms overhead. Breathe.
  • Lean the back of your head and upper back against the seat, press your feet on the floor, and raise your hips, trying to straighten your hip at the "crease" of the leg. Don't bend your neck forward; leep it straight. You will feel your thigh and hip muscles working to do this.
  • Turn in your seat to each side to brace your elbow against the seat back for the pectoral stretch, shown in Fixing Upper Back and Neck Pain.
  • Stretch the back of your legs by straightening your knees and pulling your toes back using your shin muscles.
  • Increase leg circulation by pressing both feet against each other, then cross your ankles and pull both feet outward against each other, then cross your ankles the other way and repeat. Try it again with both legs out in fron, as in the stretch above.
  • Get out of your seat as often as you can. Restore length to the front of your hip with the hip-tilt quadriceps stretch shown in Instantly Better Hip and Quadriceps Stretch.
  • With one foot far in front of you and the other in back (lunge position) tip your hip under you to stretch the front of your hip. As soon as you tilt your hip under, you will feel the difference. While holding the hip tilt, bend both knees to dip straight down almost to the floor, then up. Do many, then switch legs and do many more.
  • It is easy and unobtrusive to do wall stretches while waiting for the rest room: Rest your head, heels, hip, and upper back against the wall, described in the post Breasts Causing Upper Back Pain is a Myth. Bring both arms overhead, hands touching the wall. Lean your body far to one side then the other. Keep both hands touching the wall. When Paul does this one, his head is often either against the ceiling or he can't stand up fully at all, depending on the type of aircraft. He bends knees and grasps each elbow overhead, keeping elbows touching the wall behind him. For other people short enough to fit standing up, just stand straight.
  • Then stand a step away from the wall and stretch arms overhead and back to touch the wall, fingers pointing downward. Straighten elbows as much as comfortable and keep the stretch coming from your upper back, not lower back.

Click labels under this post for more on each topic.
More stretches in the book Stretching Smarter Stretching Healthier.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.