On my first long-haul flight I made every mistake possible, and got off feeling stiff, groggy, and moody.
These days, some simple habits keep the worst effects at bay.
Stretches are key to comfortable flying. They are easy to do and can even reduce the chances of thrombosis or chronic muscle stiffness when done correctly. This page covers five different stretches to do on a plane – then finishes with quick-wins for a fit and healthy flying experience.
There are different ways to keep your neck stretched on a plane. For many flyers, neck stretches are the quickest win to get more comfortable. Roll your head in a circle ten times from right to left, then reverse and go from left to right.
Follow this up with simply turning your head to the right, then the left and holding for around 20 seconds. Finish by tilting your head forward and back, again hold for 20 seconds or as long as is comfortable.
Another stretch on a plane that has outsized benefits.
The shoulder roll also works brilliantly if you have been sat at a desk for an extended period.
Simply roll both shoulders forward in a circular motion for around 20 seconds. You then repeat the motion backwards. You should feel your upper back start to relax, especially when you combine the shoulder rolls with the neck stretches above.
With so little leg room on many modern planes, leg and foot stretches are massively important.
I like to start with my ankles, then move to the calves and knees.
This is an easy stretch, you lift one leg, and make a circle with your ankle. Do this in one direction for 10 seconds, then reverse for another 10 seconds. You then switch to the opposite foot. You can also point your foot forward (try combining this with a full leg extension if your plane seat gives you room).
Calf stretches are often part of a runner’s warm up routine and will work brilliantly while seated on a plane.
Simply point lift your heel, pointing your toe to the ground. You will feel the pressure on your lower legs (calves) as you do this. The benefit here is from repeating the stretch, simply holding it for a period. I recommend at least 10 reps on each leg.
You can combine calf stretches with knee lifts, to get the upper legs involved. Simply lift one knee towards your chest (use your hands as needed) and hold for a few seconds.
It is hard to stretch your core on a plane while seated.
The best option is to use twists, moving your entire body side-to-side. There are two main formats. Firstly, put your right hand behind your head, and twist towards the left as far as is comfortable, hold for 15 seconds, then repeat in the other direction.
You can also put one hand on the outside the opposite knee, and twist from there.
Ideally, you’ll do a set of all these plane-based stretches at least once an hour. The difference is incredible in terms of relaxation in your seat – and less stiffness when you land.
If you can’t do every hour (after all, meals and naps get in the way), then at least make a conscious effort to stretch as often as possible.
Here are some popular ways to make those long haul-flights more comfortable:
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