Travel can be really tough on a body. Generally we’re not walking or hiking to get where we’re going.
The whole way.
On our butts.
For a long time.
Sitting on your butt is a tough way to spend a day whether or not you’re on a plane or in a car. Sitting allows for some of the biggest and strongest muscles in our body to relax and take a load off. Pleasant for a few minutes but then some things start to fall asleep and other things begin to cramp.
Today I will share with you some of my favorite movements to manage the discomfort and tightness that comes with long drives or airplane rides. All without rolling around on the ground.
First we need to understand the issues: First, Glutes and low back need to be activated since they are naturally in an extended state when we are seated for hours and hours. Second, hips need to have their range of motion restored and reset. Last we need to get our blood flowing. All without getting on the ground so that we aren’t rolling around on the floor of some rest stop or the isle of an airplane.
First let’s find ourselves standing; the simplest antidote for sitting. From here we can get our blood flowing with a few very simple movements. How do we give our heart a little help when we are on a long trip?
The Calf Raise.
This movement is rather simple but it has profound benefits for the whole body. I like to call the calves the heart of the lower body. Our legs have some incredible designs to keep blood flowing against gravity toward our heart. There are valves in our veins that keep our circulation going the right way. These valves work with the muscles in our legs as we walk and run to keep the deoxygenated blood headed back up to the lungs and heart for re-oxygenation. It’s not something you may have ever thought about but it is quite a lot of work to get your blood back to your heart! It’s like pumping water into a water tower. Once the blood is in your upper body, the downhill trip is easy!
Try to do this at a few different tempos, fast and slow and pause at the top and bottom. Try some stuff out. Do this for about twenty to thirty reps or until you get a warm feeling in your calf and/or up the back of your legs. feel free to challenge your balance if you like but to make this movement more approachable, push your hands against a wall in front of you to execute your calf raises.
Ok now we have a little blood flowing and we’re not feeling epically sluggish lets get some muscles stretched out. First we’ll turn our focus to the hips. We all have been asked to touch our toes or reach for our toes to stretch the hamstrings before. This time we’ll be crossing our legs one over the other and reaching for the ground. Whichever leg is in the back is the hip that will be getting the big stretch. If you were using a wall for balance for your calf raises, use that wall again! Start crossing right over left and push your butt up onto the wall behind you. Try to relax your head and neck. Your nose need not point to the ground, rather the wall you’re leaning against.
The same cue in other words: point your narwhal horn at the ground. (Your narwhal horn comes straight out of the top of your head by the way.)
As you stretch this muscle group, try to relax your face and neck and jaw and shoulders
Repeat on the other leg.
Sitting for long periods creates a few sticky situations across and around the hips and glutes. Hip Flexors, located on the front of the thighs, running up into the abdomen will be in a shortened state when sitting. On the opposite side of the leg, our glutes will be resting in a lengthened state. Creating balance between these two structures will help us get a bit more comfort when we come back to our seats.
So we’ll take a lunge position with one leg forward and the other back, our hands can push into the same trusty wall we’ve been using. Now the game here is to engage the muscles internally, with our MIND. Innervating your muscles like this is a great way to keep yourself in tune with your body’s many functions and dysfunctions.
Your back leg is in a perfect position to get a big juicy squeeze out of the glute. Squeeze that puppy and push your weight forward onto your front leg. Feel how the hip flexor lengthens on the front side of your hip. There is no need to spend more than thirty seconds on one side before trying it on the opposing leg. Just get a yummy squeeze in that butt cheek and move on!
Recalling a previous post, we will do our QL activations. QL is a shorthand for Quadratus lumborum, the muscles that spiderweb across your low back. This is a simple movement in theory but is pretty alien to most people when they try it for the first time or first few times.
The movement goes like this: one foot needs to be elevated on a book, a step or a yoga block. A yoga block is perfect for this but who has one when they travel? Not me!
Once you have yourself standing on one leg on your block find your balance or grab a railing or wall and dip the floating leg toward the ground. The trick to making this a move for your back and not your thighs is to keep the knees straight. Your floating foot should approach the floor but it may not reach it. Thats ok. Now reverse the movement, again keeping the legs straight as can be, bring that foot as far away from the floor as you can.
Check in with yourself - are you leaning forward? Leaning back? In a perfect world you should be doing neither. Keep yourself standing tall and feel the work in the low back and upper hip area of your floating leg and the hip joint (like ON the head of your femur) of the standing leg.
There is a way to do this with no step or block or book but it requires some precise coordination and you're feet land further apart.
The final part to this puzzle is the core. Once again keystone of the body, bringing it all together. Your core is an area abuzz with activity when you are hiking, climbing, running or engaging in almost any other standing activity. So, when we sit, our core is allowed to relax. Really the question we have to ask here is, how do we engage the core without getting on the floor?
The March. The standing march is not just a great core activation exercise but also a great way to integrate the hip flexors into your abdominal chain. After stretching out the hip flexors two exercises back, we can now engage them with our abs to keep them healthy and ready to move.
This one is pretty intuitive but the details matter. Raise one knee as high into the air as you can without leaning back. Keep it there for about a second before lowering the foot back to the floor and repeating on the other foot. Do fifteen or so steps with each foot or just set a timer for a minute or 90 seconds and be sure your last step is on the opposite foot from the one you started your march. Be sure you’re taking a beat at the top of each leg lift to ‘let the gravity sink in’. Return your foot to the ground as silently as possible to exercise control throughout the full range of motion. Increase the core engagement by pressing the opposing hand into the raised knee at the top of the march.
If this is feeling too pedestrian for you (haha) try to straighten out your leg at the top of each step. If you didn’t feel your hip flexor before, you’ll feel it now. Just please be careful with your knees! The first few reps you may want to try your knee extension before you reach the tippy top of your movement. Move slowly and listen and heed your body when it tells you ‘no’.
That should about do it! There may be other aches and pains around your body from travel, specifically in the neck area but that will have to be a subject for another day. Take care of your body and it will take care of you! Remember to go slow and practice gratitude for whatever you are able to do with any of these movements. Be sure to check the website if you are interested in private sessions with yours truly! Thanks for moving and reading along with me!