Air travel is a modern-day wonder that lets us do awesome things that before were unfathomable. Like wake up in NYC at 6 A.M. and be on the beach in Miami before noon. Yet, despite all of its glory, flying kind of sucks. I fly probably five or six times a year, and I’ve never once gotten off a flight and thought, Wow, that was comfortable! Unless you’re shelling out the big bucks for first class every trip, chances are your flight experiences are the same as mine: cramped and uncomfortable, with a side of neck pain and butt numbness.
The one thing I have found that helps to mitigate this a bit? Moving a little before and after my flight. Now, I’m not talking full-on workout. I, for one, am of the camp that enjoys the rush of getting to the airport as late as possible (I’m often in the security line when my flight begins to board). I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d have time to do a full workout right before I head to the airport. Plus, it’s not really a good idea to do a tough workout right before you’re about to sit for hours, says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and nutritional advisor to Promix Nutrition. “Do something that gets you moving,” he suggests, “but don’t push anything to max right before travel. Airplanes are no place to recover.”
There are a few reasons for that, but the main one is that blood flow after a hard workout is important to give your muscles the nutrients they need to repair themselves and flush out various waste products that develop as a byproduct of exercise. Sitting for a long time immediately after a hard workout decreases blood flow and can slow down recovery a bit, Matheny says. That, combined with the altitude, dry air (hello, dehydration), and increased stress overall that many of us feel when flying, creates a subpar recovery environment and makes it more likely you’ll feel stiffer and sorer, adds Matheny.
Which brings us to your best pre-flight option: light stretching and bodyweight exercises. “One of the best things you can do prior to a flight is to open your body up and get your blood flowing,” Matthew Kite, C.S.C.S., director of education of D1 Training, tells SELF. Specifically, “mobilizing your hips and lower back the morning of or right before flying will help prevent those aches and stiffness that stem from flights.”
New York City-based certified personal trainer Bianca Vesco notes that she doesn’t do well on planes because she’s not used to sitting down for so long. “My spine locks up and I have a ton of low-back pain from tight hips.” Because of this, she focuses on spinal and hip mobility work before and after a flight. “Yoga is a must.”
The key, every expert I spoke with notes, is to get in some light movement both before and after your flight if you can. “I’m a big believer in somehow moving after flying,” says Ava Fagin, certified personal trainer and fitness instructor at BodySpace Fitness in NYC. “I’m not picky about what type of movement that is, but I’ve recently started to go on a short run after a flight to get the blood flowing and it feels amazing!” (Before a flight, she suggests hydrating to prep for the dry airplane air.)
Here, Vesco, Fagin, and other trainers share their go-to pre- and post-flight exercises to stave off soreness throughout a grueling in-flight sitting marathon.
Quick note: You’ll notice below that some of the movements come with a suggestion for pre- or post-flight, but others don’t. While some of the trainers I spoke to differentiated between what they like to do before vs after, many didn’t differentiate, saying that they do the same things both before and after flying. You should choose which movements from this list you want to do when you want to do them, based off what feels best for your body. There’s really no right or wrong way!