I love travelling, but I don’t love some of the effects on my body and my brain!
One of my favourite ways to manage jet lag and travel stiffness is to keep moving all the way through my trip from beginning to end. As long as you don’t mind people looking at you funny on occasion, you can keep moving just about anywhere!
Thinking ahead…useful props to take with you
A half dome is useful for sitting on to help offset off angles of plane seats, to calf stretch once I get where I’m going and for a number of other awesome exercises. Move in the airport and on the plane (train, automobile)!
Yoga Tune Up balls go with me EVERYWHERE! I use them on the journey to roll out my shoulders, neck and legs to avoid stiffness from sitting for too long. Depending on the available space I will stand up to roll out my feet, or just roll them out right there while I’m sitting.
A stretchy band or yoga strap is small, doesn’t take up much space and has lots of uses. My friend Marta uses a yoga strap around her legs on the plane to keep them within her seat space but without generating any extra tension. It helps her relax and sleep, which is a great help in successful travel. Once you get where you’re going you can use them for arm and leg exercises galore!
On the Journey
One of the challenges to air travel specifically is that the journey usually starts with 2 or 3 hours of waiting before you even get on the plane. It is getting increasingly difficult to find empty floor space, but it’s doable and I always get down on the ground to move around and work my feet. I also walk the halls for part of the time. If you have a Fitbit you can rack up a surprising number of steps!
A calf stretch is a lovely prep for all the sitting you are about to do, and it only takes a tiny bit of floor space which makes it a super airport/train station move.
I take my yoga tune up balls and my half dome on the plane/train/bus with me. I use the half dome to vary my sitting positions so that I don’t end up sinking into my lower back for an entire 7 hour flight (such as on the way from Toronto to London England, for instance!) I use the yoga tune up balls to roll out my back, shoulders, hamstrings and feet. My seat neighbours sometimes look at me sideways, but that’s ok!
Here’s a great finger and hand stretch that you can do on the seat in front of you (or the dashboard if you’re in a car). It feels great, and since there is a lovely connection from your hands to your shoulders, it helps to keep your whole upper body refreshed.
Looking for more ways to stretch your hands? Here’s an easy one that you can do upright or lying down!
If you have enough space in your seat, vary your leg position as often as you can. Rather than doing a regular legs-crossed-over-each-other, try this seated figure 4 shape. (please be gentle with this if you have arthritis or a hip replacement. If it isn’t comfortable don’t do it. The goal is a gentle stretch, nothing too dramatic!)
- Line up your middle toes, ankle, knee and hip of the supporting side.
- Cross the other ankle over your knee.
- After a minute, lean forward.
- Keep your torso in a nice line so you get the motion from your hips rather than your spine (if you don’t feel any extra stretch, check and make sure you haven’t rounded forward instead of leaned).
- Slide your ankle to a different position on your knee to change up which muscles are benefitting from the stretch.
- Hang out for a minute and change sides.
On a bigger plane, there is often a slightly larger empty space near the washrooms. I absolutely go and use that for a standing stretch break. In fact when I went to South Africa a few years ago I ended up running a little class for some of the other passengers who were curious about what I was doing!
Once You’ve Arrived
It’s easy to get absorbed in all the fun stuff on vacation, but you might find you have even more fun if you stay on track with some of your regular movement regime. Unaccustomed beds and pillows, more walking on different surfaces (hello, cobblestones…), jet lag, and carrying heavy gear can all add up to sore feet, neck, back or shoulders. Here are some simple moves to keep you going and feeling great!
Standing Hip Rotations:
The WHY of this exercise is to access the deep muscles in the side/back of your hip joints. I love hip work and this external rotation gives you excellent support for all the walking you might do on vacation.
- Stand with your butt on the wall and your feet a few inches away
- Put your left foot against your right ankle, calf or knee, depending on your mobility.
- Turn your left leg back towards the wall, while you keep your butt totally still. Your right hip shouldn’t come off the wall at all, even if your left leg doesn’t move very far!
- You can either flex your foot OR keep your ankles relaxed, whichever one makes it easiest for you to really feel your deep hip muscles working.
- If you can do all three positions, go for it! Each one works a different part of your deep hip rotators.
Clamshells are a super effective follow on to the standing hip rotations, and you get to use the wall again as a way to keep your pelvis stable. That gives you the biggest benefit for your effort! Use a towel on the floor if you don’t want to lie directly on the ground. The WHY is again your deep hip muscles to keep you strong and ready for hours of action!
- Lie on your side, heels gently pressed together on the wall.
- Focusing on the center of the back of your hip, reach your upper leg towards the wall. Although your knee is the part that moves the most, it’s really your deep hip muscles that are the starts of the show.
- If you feel the work mostly in your hip flexors or thighs, try moving your legs in a smaller range or shift the position of your heels on the wall.
- Do 20 rotations.
Try 3 different positions of your heels on the wall to get all those hip muscles on and firing!
(Here’s a video that show you both those hip rotation exercises, if you want more detail)
Single Leg Extensions
This has more options and modifications than a millipede has legs! Ok, maybe not that many, but lots….
Support your head as much or as little as you need for comfort in your neck and to feel that the bottoms of your ribs are relaxed. If you feel for the bottom of your rib cage and you feel lots of the edges of your ribs, try putting your half dome or a rolled up towel under your head. It makes your core work better!
Keep your head down OR roll up into an ab prep position.
Keep one leg bent and reach the other one up towards the ceiling. Slowly lower the raised leg towards the floor until you find the height where you feel the best: spine and pelvis stable, core engaged, back happy and comfortable and hip flexors working but not strained. That will be the angle you work at (this perfect height will be higher without the band, lower with it).
With a stretchy band (more leg work, less ab work):
- Place the band around your foot with your leg in towards your chest.
- Bend and stretch your leg at that angle you found a moment ago. Really reach into your leg to lengthen the muscles.
- Keep your pelvis stable on the floor and feel for your butt to stay evenly weighted on both sides as you move. No tipping!
No band (more ab work, less leg work)
Repeat the same motion of bending and stretching your leg, but without the resistance and support of the band.
Apart from the band/ no band option, you can make so many other changes to this!
- Head down/ ab prep
- Bend and straighten your leg at the knee and the hip/ lower and lift your leg so you move only at the hip
- Position your leg in parallel/ internal rotation/ external rotation
- Point your foot/ flex your feet
- Go slow/ go fast
- Hold your arms still/ reach your arms back as your leg goes forward
- Do all on one side at a time/ alternate sides.
By the time you’ve done all those you should have a pretty good core session! Here are some other ideas for your arms, legs and core with the stretchy band!
Feeling a bit tight through your neck and shoulders? I don’t have any pictures, but give this shoulder opener a try!
Want a little weight work? Just pick up something heavy and move it. You don’t need actual weights, I promise!
There you go!
While you move about the world in your travels, keep your body moving too. You’ll feel better, sleep better and recover from your trip faster!
I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.