The Best Stretches You Can Do on a Cramped Airplane
Fight travel aches and pains without looking like a complete psycho person.
Unable to tolerate one more dismal week of winter, perhaps you sought to fight the blues by booking yourself a trip to some faraway sunny destination, where the plan is to do nothing but sip tropical drinks, expose your skin to natural light, and remember what it it feels like to wear shorts again. The bad news: It’s a five-hour flight to get there, and you, dear traveler, are sitting in coach.
To prevent the cramped quarters, bulky tray tables, and epic armrest battles from getting in the way of the relaxation you deserve, we’ve asked Dana Barquin, a certified massage therapist at the Manoma Spa, to go over the best stretches for keeping you loose and pain-free on the plane—some of which don’t even require you to climb over strangers to reach the aisle.
Twist it out
“To improve circulation in your lower back on long-haul flights, be sure to twist it as often as your body requires,” says Barquin. Use whatever leg room you have at your seat to plant your feet firmly on the floor. Extend your left arm and place your left hand on the outside of your right knee, and slowly twist to the right. Feel that crack? Good. Repeat on the other side, and always include your head and neck in the twist to get the most out of the stretch.
One leg at a time
Another in-seat exercise beings with you taking off your shoe and placing your ankle on top of the opposite knee—for example, start with the left ankle placed on the right knee. “For most people, simply being in this position is a significant stretch,” says Barquin. If it’s not, deepen the stretch by leaning forward and placing your forearms on top of the crossed leg. To improve circulation in that position, flex and point your raised foot, and squeeze and spread your toes.
If your travels have you feeling achy and stressed, give yourself some love by wrapping your arms around your body and squeezing, aiming to touch your shoulder blades with your fingertips. The self-hug targets your upper back, says Barquin, and can be done while either sitting or standing. From there, you can stretch your neck by pressing your right ear to your right shoulder before repeating on the other side. Be sure to do two versions of this stretch—one with each arm on top.
On your feet
You should be drinking more water than you think during air travel, so don’t wait for the cart to come to you. Besides, getting up for another glass is a great opportunity to loosen up. Barquin recommends a shoulder stretch to address rounded shoulders and that tight upper back. Reach behind you with both arms outstretched until your hands meet, and then interlace your fingers and squeeze your shoulder blades together. While holding your hands in this position, lift your chest slowly and then bend over as far as you can while still keeping the legs locked.
Get in line
Is there a wait for the bathroom? Lucky you. Grab each elbow with the opposite hand, suggests Barquin, and fold over at the waist, allowing the rest of your muscles to go limp. (You can also fully extend the arms here if you’d prefer. Wiggle them around. Go crazy.) Holding this position helps ward off the back and leg aches that come with extended periods in seat 23B. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings while attempting this one, though. The beverage cart doesn’t have a lot of give to it.