Traveling can refresh and rejuvenate you mind, body and spirit, but getting there can be a grind. Sitting in planes, trains and automobiles for extended periods can throw your body out of balance. The same thing can happen from hunching over a desk or computer all day. That’s because repetitive sitting postures abuse one muscle group and ignore its opposing muscle group, leading to imbalances that can leave you stiff and achy.
Why Traveling Can Make You Sore
Too much sitting tightens the hip flexor muscles and weakens the opposite muscles, the glutes. Likewise, hunching over can lead to tightness in the chest muscles, and weakness in the opposite muscles of the upper back. Over time, scar-tissue adhesions develop on chronically tight muscles, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, California. These muscle imbalances can eventually lead to pain, stiffness and even joint and disk injuries.
If you’re experiencing a muscle imbalance, you probably feel neck pain, fatigue between your shoulder blades, a tight ache in your lower back and possibly sciatic nerve pain (or tingling from your lower back through your leg). We’ve all heard about the health benefits of getting 30 minutes of exercise a day. Now research shows that too much sitting can actually shorten our lifespan, says Comana.
Not what we have in mind when we’re planning a getaway-from-it-all trip. If this happens to you, try these tips for restoring your body back to balance.
Your Travel Posture Prescription
1. Get out of the seat. Whenever you can, look for opportunities to get out of your habitual position. On a road trip, plan to make frequent stops, and on a long flight, look for opportunities to get up and walk around, however briefly.
2, Pay attention to your posture. When you get off the plane or out of the car, check to see if you’re slouching. “As you’re standing and moving around, learn to be consciously aware of what parts of posture has sort of fallen out of alignment,” says Comana. Here’s a checklist:
- Find the neutral position in your ankles.
- Tighten your glutes.
- Contract your abs to pull your hips back underneath you.
- Pull your shoulder blades and head back.
3. Stretch it out. No matter where you’re going, make time to stretch during the day. And if your schedule permits, look for a Pilates or yoga class. “Yoga focuses on posture, which will help you become more aware of your body in space,” says Kelly Wilson, a personal trainer at On Track Health & Fitness in Vermont. “Once this awareness begins to grow, you will find yourself trying to sit up straighter at your desk, while you’re driving or when you’re standing in line at the grocery store.”
4. Work opposite muscles. If you’re taking advantage of your hotel gym, make sure to work opposing muscle groups, says Wilson. Do squats followed by lunges, for example. Or do push-ups followed by a rowing exercise or a cable pull. At home, she suggests following push-ups with this dumbbell exercise:
- With your back straight, either sit on a bench or stand and lean forward.
- Leading with your elbows, pull both of the weights up toward your rib cage.
- Keep your abs tight throughout the exercise.
5. Get a massage. If you schedule a massage at the beginning of your trip, you’ll be off to a great start. Your hotel may have a massage therapist on staff, or you can ask for a local recommendation. Once home, you may benefit from a series of deep massages or Rolfing to help break up scar-tissue adhesions over your muscles. Each of these strategies supports the others to help you get your body back in balance.