The One Stretching Routine You Need to Know for Long Flights

A leading sports physician offers six go-to stretches for preventing kinked backs, dead legs and locked necks.


The old proverb goes that traveling is about the journey, not the destination. Such a heartwarming quote, isn’t it? Almost makes you want to spontaneously book a cheap flight bound for some far-flung country. But you know better. You know what it’s like to be crammed into a giant metal tube for 10+ hours, tearing across the troposphere at 500 mph. Backs kink, legs fall asleep, necks lock sideways — but there are ways to make the journey less miserable.

So we met with Jess Elliott, a Sports Performance Coach and Biomechanist at the Colorado University Sports Medicine and Performance Center, one of the world’s leading sports science institutes. She taught us six handy stretches for long flights; each will help to save your muscles on those hellish intercontinental flights and, ideally, make them just a bit less hellish. And remember: it’s about the journey.

While Sitting


Anterior and Posterior Pelvic Tilts: Sit as tall as possible, and allow your back to come forward off the back of your seat. Try to sit directly on the base of your pelvis, with the weight distributed evenly between the left and right sides. From this seated position, slowly tilt your pelvis forward and backward, alternating between arching the lower back (anterior tilt) and tucking your pelvis (posterior tilt).

Seated Figure 4 Stretch: From a seated position, cross your left leg over your right by allowing the outside of your left ankle to rest on your right thigh, right above the knee. This will create the “figure-four position.” From this position, sit tall with the back flat, and slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in your left glute. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Rotational Stretch: Sit with both feet planted on the ground and your weight distributed evenly between your left and right sides. Cross your right arm over your body and allow the back of your right hand and arm to slide down the outside of your left leg until you’re in a bent-over, slightly rotated position. Adjust the depth of the bend based on personal comfort. From this bent position, use your right arm to stabilize your torso and keep rotating to the left until you feel a stretch. Do not rotate through the stretch if you feel any pain or discomfort. Repeat on the other side.

While Standing


Heel to Toe Walks: While you’re walking down the aisle, strike with your heel first and roll all the way forward up onto the balls of the feet. Repeat for every step.

Side Bends: If you’re waiting to use the restroom, and you have a little more space, stretch your lower back and obliques by bending to the side until you feel a stretch. For added support throughout the stretch, support your body as you lower into the stretch either by placing your hand on your hip or leg as you bend or by using a wall for support.

Atlas Stretch: From a standing position, take a big step forward with your right leg, keeping the back (left) leg straight. Lower your body into a deep lunge, keeping the back leg as straight as possible. From the bottom of the lunge, bring both hands back behind your head, and pull the torso as upright as possible. The front knee should be at a 90-degree angle, the torso should be straight, and the back leg should be straight behind you. The front foot should sit flat on the ground, the rear foot will rest on the ball of the foot. If you need help balancing, use a seat or wall for support.

More Helpful Advice from Jess Elliot
Beyond just strectching, Elliott offers these helpful tips:
• Get up and walk around every 1-2 hours.

• Keep moving your lower extremities to avoid blood clots and reduce swelling. To keep it simple, try drawing the alphabet with both feet every few hours.

• If you cross your legs, make sure to switch the top leg on a regular basis to avoid remaining in an imbalanced, asymmetrical sitting pattern for too long.

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