Riding in a car is tough on your body.
But I bet you already know that! Especially if you spend a great deal of time in your car. You may find it more difficult to “unfold” your body after taking a ride in the car. Read on and learn what you can do about it!
There are two main things going on when we sit in the car that make it hard to stand up straight when we get out and try to move.
The very muscles we need to get out of the car and stand up are doing the exact opposite when we sit in the car.
When we sit in the car, our glutes and hamstrings get “squished and stretched.” And our back muscles are locked in an “overstretched” position. And because our muscles are “slightly older,” they don’t have as much resilience as they used to switch from inactivity to activity. It takes awhile for them to wake up and get to the work of getting us out of the car and standing upright. You are probably experiencing this as “stiffness.”
Our car seats and seat belts “lock” us into position for safety; they are designed to discourage movement.
When we sit in our cars, we are locked into position. And unfortunately, that position promotes stiffness and lethargy in our muscles. We may be ready to get out of our cars, but our muscles aren’t! It takes what seems like an eternity for our bodies to adjust to the fact that we want them to move again.
Here are five tips for you to alleviate this stiffness.
Tip #1: While driving, use your muscles to support a neutral sitting position and try to move regularly.
- Use the lumbar support in your car seat to promote a neutral position for your spine, particularly your lower spine (the lumbar area). If your car is not equipped with a lumbar adjustment, you can purchase a lumbar support for your car. (Google “lumbar support for car,” and you will see various options.)
- At regular intervals, wiggle your legs and squeeze the muscles on the back of your legs (e.g. glutes and hamstrings). If you are the driver, do this when you are stopped and your car is in park. As a passenger, do this as much as once every 30 minutes.
- Wiggling your toes and ankles at regular intervals (every 30 minutes) will help them stay limber and also promote better circulation in your legs. Again, drivers only do this when you are at a stop and your car is in park.
- Activate your core muscles to support your sitting. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together and “slide” them down your back. Then pull in your stomach, particularly below your belly button.
(Thank you, Lynne Gunn, Occupational Therapist, MSOTR/L, for a number of these suggestions!)
Tip #2: Plan for more frequent stops.
- Stop every 60-90 minutes to do some gentle stretching and walking. This keeps your muscles warmed.
- Switch drivers, if you can, every few hours.
Tip #3: Before getting out of the car, warm up your muscles and prepare them to move.
- Moving your muscles will help wake them up so they can help you stand up.
- Gently squeeze your leg muscles (front and back) at least 3 times, holding for a count of 3 each time.
- Squeeze your back muscles by pretending to pinch a pencil along your spine. Do this 3 times for a count of 3 each time. Then wiggle your ankles in circles, about 5 times each way.
- And don’t forget your toes – wiggle them too!
Tip #4: Once you are out of the car, take a moment to stretch and activate the muscles on the backside of your body.
- Gently squeeze all of the muscles on the backside of your body. You will likely feel a slight arch in your body (which helps open up the front body, which gets tight when you sit.)
- Roll your shoulders. Stretch your arms up to the sky and do a little mini back bend.
- Twist your torso from side to side.
Tip #5: Enhancing your overall strength and flexibility can help prevent stiffness from your long car rides.
- The healthier your muscles and joints, the more suppleness your body will have. Check in with a personal trainer to get ideas on exercises that can counterbalance the time spent in your car.
- Check out our YouTube video for stretches to do if your sit for long periods of time here. Doing these 3-4 times a week (if not daily) will keep your body supple and more able to withstand the demands of sitting in your car.
Please note: Only do these exercises and stretches if your muscles and joints are healthy. Ask your medical professional before starting any exercise program.
Bring more joy to your ride!
Learn how to relieve tension in your muscles and stiffness in your joints.
Give Pam a call at 630-653-8152 to set up a visit to our Downtown Wheaton Personal Training Studio.
Our complimentary fitness consultations can help you put together a plan for less stiffness and more mobility in your body and in your life.