Plane Pilates for pain free travel

Peta Serras

by Peta Serras

Whether it’s a long haul flight or a short trip away, staying seated for a plane trip can be a challenge. You start to ache, injuries can flare up and often the feeling of a tired and tight body can help contribute to jet lag.

This 8 exercise sequence is my top travel tip for pain free flying. It focuses on releasing tight spots created in the body you sometimes get when flying. The exercises are quick, effective and will energise you, so you’ll feel as though you haven’t been sitting in a plane for hours. You can keep your seat belt on and you won’t even disturb the person next to you!


1. Seated Rolldown

This exercise encourages even movement through the spine. It stretches the muscles of the back as we curl forward and strengthens the core and pelvic floor as we sit tall. 

How to do it:

1. Start by sitting tall with your back pressed against the seat and your hands on your thighs. Ensure the legs aren’t crossed and feet are planted into the ground.

2. Exhale and begin to relax the head forward. Slide the hands towards the knees and begin to peel your spine off the seat. Round the back as much as you can for a stretch and ensure the head is completely relaxed.

3. Inhale at the bottom and feel your breath expand the back to further the stretch.

4. Exhale to stack up from your hips pressing each vertebrae into the seat. Allow your shoulders to glide down your back and your neck and head being the last to stack. Repeat 8 times.


2. High Release

Having great posture on a flight is tough as we tend to slump forward and end up sore right between the shoulder blades. This exercise focuses on opening up the back and stretching us out in the opposite direction. You can combine the seated roll down and high release into one exercise if you’re feeling fancy!

How to do it: 

1. Start by sitting tall with the hands on the tops of the legs. If you’ve just stacked up from your seated rolldown you’ll begin in that position.

2. Inhale and begin to reach your sternum towards the sky. Feel the shoulders draw down the back and the area between your shoulder blades come away from the seat. Your neck will slightly extend so you’ll be looking forward and up.

3. Exhale to feel the tummy muscles and ribs draw back to the spine, naturally stacking back tall to a seated position. Repeat 8 times.


3. Seated Twist

Healthy spines need rotation. If we are sitting we tend to lean to one side creating tightness to that side of the body. This exercise encourages even rotation through the spine and stretches the muscles in the back and sides of the body

How to do it:

1. Start with the hands on the top of the legs sitting nice and tall. Ensure legs aren’t crossed and feet are planted into the ground.

2. Inhale to prepare and exhale to rotate towards the left. Slide the left hand along your thigh towards your hip. Allow the right hand to reach towards the right knee. Think about being as tall as you possibly can.

3. Inhale to slowly come back to centre. Exhale and repeat to the right. Repeat 8 times each side.


4. Seated Mermaid

We usually favour one side whilst sitting which creates excess tightness through that side of the body. This is responsible those little niggles we experience in our back. This exercise stretches out the sides of the body and helps to release the tightness we can experience through our back

How to do it:

1. Cross the hands across the chest placing the hands on the opposite shoulders.

2. Inhale to prepare, exhale to sidebend to one side until you feel a stretch through the opposite side of the body. Inhale to hold, breathing in through that side, increasing the stretch with your breath.

3. Exhale to stack back tall and repeat to the other side. Repeat 8 times each side.


5. Arm Pretzel

This is possibly my favourite upper body stretch and I recommend it all the time – it was bound to end up in this routine! It stretches through the shoulders and upper back. It’s a godsend for great posture. 

How to do it:

1. Bend one arm taking the forearm in line with the nose. Place the other arm underneath until they lock into place. Ideally we want our forearms to be touching, but if you’re tight this might only be your elbows. That’s okay, it’s just something to work towards. Ensure your shoulders and collar bones are broad and your neck is long. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds.


6. Neck Rolls

We tend to get stiff through our neck and tops of the shoulders. This stretch releases tightness through the neck and shoulders that can lead to pain and stiffness. 

How to do it:

1. Sitting down, hands relaxed on your lap and shoulders drawn down the back. Exhale and relax the head over to one side taking the ear towards the shoulder. Hold and breath, relaxing into the stretch. Then tilt the chin down to the collar bone and feel the stretch radiate down the neck into the back. Hold and breath, relaxing into the stretch. Repeat both sides holding 30 seconds each side.


7. Seated Prances

It’s impossible to get up every 10 minutes for a plane stroll to stretch your legs. We have to take into consider DVT (deep vein thrombosis) for long haul flights so ensure you do your seated prances every 30-60 minutes. This exercise reduces muscle cramps through the calves and feet that we can get from prolonged sitting. It also reduces your risk of DVT by moving through that area. 

1. Start sitting tall with both feet firmly planted into the floor. Lift one foot up so you’re resting on the tops of the toes with the heel lifted. Both feet will move as we switch sides, so one foot will be flat on the floor and the other will be on the toes. Ensure you roll through the foot and you don’t just hinge from the ankle either. Repeat 10-20 times each side.


8. Glute Stretch

We all like a tight butt, but not that kind of tight that feels like we’ve been stabbed in the hip. Our hips take a beating when we sit for long periods of time, so stretch it out. This stretch alleviates the tightness we get through the lower back and hips whilst flying.

1. Lift one leg up, placing the ankle to the opposite knee. Press the knee down towards the floor until you feel a stretch through the hip/glute. To further the stretch hinge forward reaching your tailbone behind you and aiming your bellybutton towards your shin. This will help to keep your spine long. Hold and breath for 30 seconds, repeating both sides.



Peta Serras

Editor of Professional Babe, Peta has a penchant for pretty things, Tom Hardy and ginger kittens. You can find her sipping a long black, creating killer content or making sure her winged eyeliner is even. Peta is a writer, model & Pilates Instructor based out of the Hunter Valley.

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