A Stretch Therapist’s Top 6 Stretches After Traveling

Having been “caught up” since March 2020, it’s time to get our well-being back by experiencing new places and activities. Whenever you step outside your front door, feel confident, safe, and energised with expert-backed insight from Ungrounded.

When you travel, you are likely to encounter a whole host of new experiences, such as sleeping in a different bed, being in a different room, and even being in the wrong time zone. Not to mention, your body itself may be harboring all sorts of travel-related tension (thanks to hours spent stationary in a car, plane, or train), which could make finding a satisfying sleep position that much trickier. Practice a few stretches after traveling to both relieve physical stress and calm your mind.

As stretching promotes the release of endorphins, which may reduce pain and elevate mood, says Jeff Brannigan, program director for Stretch*d, a New York City stretching and recovery studio. Thus, stretching before bed is a simple way to downshift after an exhausting day spent hauling luggage through an airport or crammed into the backseat of a car.

Brannigan suggests stretching the neck and shoulders after travel, since people commonly hold tension in these areas when nervous or uncertain-perhaps while navigating new lands or coping with inevitable travel mishaps. Stretching can help you sleep better when your neck is cramped and you have an unfamiliar pillow, both of which are likely to send you down the rabbit hole of tossing and turning.

The muscle groups in the hips, lower back, and upper legs can become tense and stale if you stay seated for long hours.” – Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d

Unlike the rest of the body, the lower body is also commonly forced to sit still for a prolonged period of time during travel. “Remaining in a seated position for long hours can cause the muscles in the upper legs, hips, and lower back to become tense and stale,” says Brannigan. “Actively stretching those regions can unwind that tension by lengthening the muscles, and will also reduce inflammation by pumping blood throughout the area.”

To help you sleep better after a trip, Brannigan shares his best stretches, wherever you are in the world.

You can relax and doze off with these six stretches after travel:

1. Yes (neck extenders)

You may want to perform a gentle extensor stretch to regain alignment if you feel stiff in the back of your neck – or if you dozed off in a seated position tilting your neck to one side or the other.

As the chin drops toward the chest, gently pull the hands behind your head while keeping the spine straight. Float your head back to neutral for two to three seconds, then hold for two to three more seconds. Repeat up to ten times.

2. (scalenes) “Maybe”

To un-kink and alleviate the scalene muscles along the sides of the neck, try the following stretch.

You should sit with a straight spine and tilt your head toward the shoulder, so your ear points toward your shoulder. Assist by gently pulling with one hand over the top of the head, and hold for two to three seconds at your furthest flexion before bringing the head back to neutral. Repeat up to 10 times on each side.

Would you like to stretch your neck more? With this eight-minute routine, you can ease any tension from travel (or from anything else).

3. The trapezium (trapezius)

Afterward, you can tap the trapezius stretch to release your upper-back and shoulders if you’ve been slouching while traveling.

Put your hand on the shoulder opposite your spine and sit with your spine straight. With your other hand, grasp that arm’s elbow, and assisting that arm backward, travel the elbow that is at your shoulder blades down your back to your lower back. Repeat on both sides until you reach the end of your range and hold for two to three seconds.

4. Quadriceps stretching (“Stretch*d Squad”)

Quad stretches basically flex your hip at a 90-degree angle, the opposite of the hip movement typical of sitting. Doi​ng so can relieve stiffness along the upper leg.

It can be done by lying down on your side and lifting your lower leg toward your chest. With your top arm, reach down and grab that top leg at the ankle. Then, kick that leg back and gently pull to stretch it. (Brannigan suggests that you rest your foot on something heavy if necessary.) Swing the leg forward from the end range for approximately two to three seconds before returning to the starting position. Before switching sides, repeat the exercise up to 10 times.

5. Gluteus maximus (gloating Glutes)

A stiff back can result from sitting all day in a seated position-especially if one leg is crossed over the other. Your seat can be effectively released with this stretch.

The method involves lying on your back, bending one leg and gently pulling the calf and shin toward your chest using your hands. Once the leg is turned at the hip, the knee and ankle should move toward the shoulder (and vice versa for the left). Several times on each leg, hold for 2 to 3 seconds at the end of the range, then release and bring the leg back into your starting position.

6. (quadratus lumborum) “Twist & Dipp*r”

You are bound to have knots in your lower back after a sedentary day, which this twisting stretch will gently unravel.

Lie on the end of the chair with your feet narrower than your shoulders. Keep your elbows back as you interlace your hands behind your head. Twist, keep your elbow pointing forward, outside the opposite knee, and then move your upper body away from the floor. Hold for two to three seconds at the end of your range before sitting upright to reset, and then repeat up to 10 times on each side.

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