Not that anyone would ever complain about taking a summer road trip (especially if it looks like this one), but after several hours of sitting in a cramped car seat, your muscles and joints are probably going to protest a little.
To help combat those dreaded limb cramps—and because you’ve got better things to do upon arrival than a full-blown workout—we consulted Heather Andersen, stretching pro (literally!) and founder/head instructor at Manhattan’s downtown scenester-beloved studio New York Pilates (if you have’t been yet, think classes in an all-white loft space, a la The Class, set to a very Y7-esque soundtrack of ’90s hip-hop).
“Stretching is so important for car rides because your muscles can get very tight when stationary for long periods of time,” Andersen explains. “By stretching and flexing your muscles, you will keep your circulation at a healthy pace.”
No matter how long your drive is, the ultra-blonde body specialist suggests pulling over to get up and stretch at least once every two hours. And while we’re not opposed to trying even the craziest of healthy hacks for our trips, Andersen insists that you don’t have to pack your own home gym to stay fit on the road—in fact, your car is the only piece of “workout equipment” you really need.
Here are Heather Andersen’s 5 easy stretches to help you combat road trip soreness (convertible, sadly, not included).
1. Steering wheel wrist stretch
“After hours of driving, those wrists and forearms start to get sticky,” says Andersen. Thankfully, you don’t even need to get out of the driver’s seat to give them some TLC.
1. Pointing all of the fingers down, press against the steering wheel with your palm facing in.
2. Hold for 10 breaths and repeat with the palm facing away. Switch hands.
2. Hamstring stretch
Ever wonder why your lower back gets so sore on long drives? The reason might surprise you. “Your hamstrings get very tight after hours of sitting and begin to pull on the low back, causing discomfort,” Andersen explains. “Stretching them is essential to a comfortable drive.”
If you’re not flexible enough to bring your foot above your head—seriously, that is impressive!—Andersen recommends pulling over and stretching your hamstring outside of the car.
1. Stand facing the open car door, then place your foot on the floor of the car, straightening your leg.
2. Lean over your leg, bringing your hands to the shin or foot, and let the head hang down. Be sure to square your hips toward your foot for maximum stretch. Hold for 10 breaths on each side.
3. Hip stretch
“This stretch is the answer to sciatic discomfort,” says Andersen, who says that if the sciatic nerve in your lower back becomes compressed, it can result in a burning sensation down the side of your leg. “This is caused by the rotator muscles cramping—or just the compression from the weight of your body resting on this area,” she explains.
1. To stretch, stand outside of the car and bring your shin to a flat, hip-height surface (shown here as the window, but the front of the car could also work).
2. You should feel a big stretch through the back of the hip on the bent leg and the front of the hip on the straight standing leg. If your knee is angled up, no problem. You can gently press the knee down as long as you feel no discomfort in the knee. Hold for 10 breaths on each side.
4. Downward dog
Says Andersen: “This is an excellent full-body stretch that loosens the muscles from head to toe on the back side of the body, which is very important after hours on the road.” (Oh, and doing this movement on top of your car is not recommended—find a flat surface instead!)
1. Start in a plank position, then send the hips up and back until you feel a stretch through both hamstrings. You should also feel release through your mid-back and neck.
2. Be sure to press down through your hands to help you activate your lat muscles and keep the pressure out of your wrists. Hold for 10 breaths.
5. Full wheel
“This full-body stretch is a great fascia loosener for the front side of the body,” says Andersen, who adds that it also stretches the hip flexors and abdominals. (Again, don’t try this on top of your car—unless you’ve got a friend to spot you!)
1. Begin by lying on your back, hands next to your ears, knees bent, feet flat on the ground.
2. Use an exhale as you press down through your hands and feet to come into the full stretch. This is an advanced movement, so if you do not make it all the way up, don’t despair! Get up as high as you can, hold for five breaths, then rest. You can optionally add the lift of a single leg for more challenge. Try to do 3 sets.
Your road trip is planned, you’ve got your stretches in place, now comes the packing: Here is the active girl’s guide to every healthy destination. And make sure you’ve got snacks! These are the best healthy snacks wellness experts swear by.