5 Rejuvenating Moves You Can Do in the Cramped Quarters of an Airplane Seat (Even in Economy)

Photo: Getty Images/SDI Productions
The sadly ironic truth of travel is that before you get to experience the freedom of vacation or exploration, you have to make it through the cramped confinement that's typically involved in getting to wherever you’re actually going.

That means sticking it out in one position for a long time, likely with very little room for your limbs if you’re stuck on an airplane seat. That’s not the greatest thing for your body to go through: Staying in the same position—particularly one that can put stress on your low back and cause tightness in your hips and hamstrings—can lead to trouble with pain and posture down the line (and put you at risk for dangerous blood clots on particularly long flights). Not to mention that being stationary for hours isn't the most fun or comfortable way to start off your trip.

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That’s what inspired Studio Qila founder Bridget O’Carroll to get moving on a recent flight she took—putting together a series of airplane seat stretches she could do even from a window seat in row 29.

“I went on my first flight to Asia earlier this year, and I was so nervous about my first 15-hour leg," says O'Carroll, who adds that she gets tight and swollen after even a quick flight. “As a Pilates instructor, I started brainstorming different ways I could stay mobile while cramped on a plane.”

O’Carroll created a series of five stretches you can do right from an airplane seat, which she posted in a recent Instagram reel. The moves are designed to keep your blood flowing, and reduce tightness and cramping. The series includes an overhead tricep stretch, a clasped palms press, wrist stretches, an ankle over knee stretch on both sides, and a cervical spine opener (which involves bending your head forward with your hands on the back of your head/neck).

O’Carroll chose these moves because “the most common areas we hold tension are shoulders, hips, and wrists, and these movements target each of these.” O’Carroll adds that you can also try out some ankle stretches or walk up and down the aisles to get some blood flowing to your lower extremities.


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If you’re feeling intimidated about making use of your airplane seat like this—especially if you’re, you know, stuck in a middle seat between strangers—O’Carroll recommends taking on whatever feels comfortable for you personally.

“Do what works for you in the space you have,” O’Carroll says. “Physical proportions and airplane space is going to be different for everyone. My goal is to help inspire you to move—take modifications and adjustments to make it work for you.” She also recommends wearing comfortable clothing so that nothing on your body is constricting your ability to stretch.

But remember: The need to send some love your muscles’ and joints’ way doesn’t end when you touch down. “Do a light workout to get your blood moving and re-center once you get to your final destination,” O’Carroll says. You can find moves like those on Studio Qila, or try packing along some portable exercise equipment so you can turn your home away from home into a home gym, lite.

Wherever you’re going, drink water, stay active, and be comfy. Bon voyage!

Once you land, try this 10-minute workout from Bridget O’Carroll to re-energize after a flight and fire you up for your adventures.

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