Workout Exercises After Air Travel: Get Back in Action

Key Points

  • Remaining sedentary for extended periods promotes pain, fatigue, reduced blood flow, altered walking patterns, and risk of blood clots and cramps. 

  • Workout exercises before and even during air travel are essential for the body to maintain normalcy after a long time of no movement. 

  • Knowing how to implement workout exercises after air travel makes the transition back to land easier. 

Ahhh, vacation — it's like a dream. Something about being on holiday just makes the worries melt away. A great vacation makes it seem like your daily problems don't even exist. As an avid exerciser though, getting back in the swing of things when your routine is off is challenging. Despite your typical activity levels, it's beneficial to complete workout exercises after air travel

Traveling is exciting, but it's also hard on the body. Usually, traveling involves a lack of sleep, eating poorly, and sitting for hours on end. Cramping muscles in a small airplane seat doesn't help either. Before your next departure, discover the benefits of workout exercises after air travel

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Does comparing the negative effects of sitting to the negative effects of smoking sound a little extreme? Unfortunately, it's not as far-fetched as it might initially seem. Both sitting and smoking too often lead to increased blood pressure, heart rate, and decreased energy levels. 

The Heart Foundation found that people who sat for long periods had higher chances of death and disease than those who were active. Smoking also contributes to several conditions and early death. See how they're related? Both contribute to poor circulation and oxygen blood flow, which leads to tight muscles.

Back pain from sitting

Tight Muscles

Tight muscles are unable to effectively operate. Tightness significantly impairs muscle performance and causes you to be unable to perform normal movements as well as you typically can.

When you've been sitting too long, your hip flexors get tight. Hip flexors are the muscles in the front of your thigh, up towards the torso. Being compressed for an extended time in a seated position causes the hip flexors to draw up. Tight hip flexors amplify pain, poor posture, and altered walking patterns.

Muscle stiffness occurs when you engage in minimal movement for an extended period. Have you ever felt the need to stretch after a long car ride? When cramped up while sitting, your muscles lack proper blood flow and oxygen. The muscles signal the brain to communicate that they're uncomfortable and need movement. 

Planes Prevent Movement

One common area where people sit for an extended period is on a plane. Flying to your getaway is exciting but usually involves sitting for at least an hour. Sitting too long increases the chances of leg cramps and blood clots. These negative health effects rapidly multiply for more vulnerable populations, such as elderly individuals, folks in poor health, or those with disabilities. 

Long periods of little movement also lead to restlessness. It's difficult to rest with your legs twitching and jerking. You might feel the urge to run down the airplane aisle but please don't do that! Moving around allows the muscles to expel extra energy but there are more appropriate ways to get your activity in. 

Woman sleeping on airplane

More Movement

Co-director of Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center Dr. Edward Laskowski notes, "Research seems to point to the fact that less sitting and more moving contributes to better health." This research also demonstrates that one hour of moderate physical activity daily counteracts the issues that sitting for too long causes. 

Sometimes it's impossible to squeeze in an hour of exercise into a full day of traveling – especially if you’re spending most of the day in an airport. However, there are some great exercises to combat the physical problems of traveling. You can even do some of these movements while in an airplane!

Exercises for Airplane Travel

Some exercises require sitting in a seat, while others need standing room. Complete standing exercises in the terminal before boarding the plane, or even in the terminal restroom if you’re feeling self-conscious about other travelers watching you.  


Squats performed in the bathroom are beneficial because of the toilet. Place your hands on your thighs and squat down like you are sitting on the toilet, but don't go all the way. Hover above the seat a few inches before standing back up. Repeat five to eight times. 

Calf Raises

Perform calf raises while sitting or standing. A calf raise is simply raising the heels off the ground and resting your weight on your tiptoes. Pressing your body up with the toes engages the muscles in the calves and ankles, promoting blood flow and preventing blood clots. Repeat five to eight times every hour or so. 

Toe Spreads

Did you know the foot and ankle house 29 muscles? It's easy for them to constrict when relaxing for too long. To complete a toe spread, spread your toes as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat as many times as desired. 

Knee Highs

Knee highs are more effective when done standing. They're beneficial for loosening up your hip flexors. Raise one knee until it's in line with the hip. Your torso and thigh create an "L" shape. Hold for a few seconds, then lower the foot to the floor. Repeat with the other leg for 10-12 reps on each leg. 

Knee Press Together

Working the muscles on the inner thigh improves and prevents knee pain. Do this by pressing the palms together and resting the backs of the hands on the insides of the knee. Gently press your knees together, squeezing your hands. Repeat 10-12 times. 


Toe-ups are best performed while seated. This exercise targets the muscles in your shin and ankle. Pull your toes up and towards the shin. Rest them back on the ground. Repeat as often as feels comfortable. 

Ankle Rolls

Tendons, like muscles, get stiff and tight. It's easy to roll out the ankle while sitting down and with little space. Lift your foot off the ground and roll the ankle around. Imagine drawing a circle with the big toe. Go clockwise, then counterclockwise. Roll ankles simultaneously or one at a time. 


Stretching is a massive part of relief before, during, and after air travel. Stretching all parts of the body improves mood, digestion, fatigue, mobility, and circulation. Blood vessels in the muscles dilate when spread. More blood and oxygen flow into the tissues, promoting healing, detoxification, and painless movement. 

Stretching during air travel

Doing exercises and stretches on the plane and before your flight keeps you loose and agile for return. Returning from vacation is overwhelming as responsibilities often slap you in the face the second you touch the ground. If you stay somewhat active while traveling, though, you're much more likely to have a smooth transition back to reality.

9 Pro Tips for Training After Air Travel

Traveling offers a ton of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. It requires recovery, though. Getting back in the groove of life is complex, and even more so when you've altered your exercise schedule. Follow some essential tips for an easier transition when returning from air travel. 

Don't Panic

It's easy to panic over how much backtracking you did while traveling. Perhaps you've overeaten or had a few too many drinks. Panic sets in, and you might feel tempted to spend three or four hours in the gym trying to catch up. Binge exercising only leads to injury and more stress. 

Work your way back into the gym. If you usually spend an hour on the treadmill, start at 30 minutes for the first day or two back. Don't expect to hop right in and perform to the usual standards. Set realistic expectations, so you're not discouraged. 


A vacation filled with late nights, fried foods, yummy desserts, and calorie-filled snacks needs recovery time and firm boundaries. Those indulgences need to remain indulgences. Once you're back to normal life, make sure you’re eating well and getting enough rest. You need to recover from traveling; it takes a toll on the body! Muscles require time to heal and recuperate, as well as making sure you are getting proper nutrition. Get in some good stretch sessions, get back on a sleep schedule, and do some meal prepping. 

Grab a Friend or Two

Recruit others to join you for a workout. Sign up for a group class or book a hot yoga session. Meeting up with a friend or two to exercise is often just the right kick in the butt to get you back on track! 

Having friends join gives you something to look forward to. You focus less on the dread of exercising and more on seeing people you enjoy. Pairing up also improves accountability, so you won't cancel those gym plans. 

Add Activity to Your Vacation

There are lots of ways to get exercise on vacation without grueling elliptical sessions. Add activity to the holiday agenda. Plan a hike or explore the area on foot to increase physical activity. Book a surfing class, rent a canoe, or get in on a game of beach volleyball. No matter what you decide, there are sure to be some spectacular memories in the making!  

Workout during travel

Sometimes vacations include more exercise and movement than you're accustomed to. If you notice pain, stiffness, reduced strength or mobility, and fatigue, include time to rest and relax. Hit up the hot tub or schedule a massage to recover. 

Put It in Your Routine

Usually, you'd unpack, head to the grocery store, and get caught up on laundry when touching back down. Try to squeeze some exercise in as part of the routine after vacation. Promise yourself to get in a quick sweat session before taking that much-needed post-travel shower. Making it part of a routine prepares the body to complete the workout.  

Focus on the Positive

What did you miss about your exercise regimen? Your morning run and sweet runner's high? The sweet soreness after a weightlifting session? Focus on the enjoyment of exercising. Look forward to what you like, not what you don't. 

Focusing on the positive also creates a positive association with exercise. Developing a positive mindset improves exercise effectiveness. Mentally connecting exercise with feelings of happiness helps create a habit. 

Woman in airport

Try Something New

Exercising in an unfamiliar way is exciting. Try a Zumba class instead of the treadmill. Take a yoga routine to the beach, jump rope, or even consider pole dancing fitness! Mixing up an exercise routine prevents boredom. 

Think of new areas in the surrounding city. A dynamic routine is more fun. Some gyms and fitness studios offer a free one-time pass or the opportunity to come with a friend. Trying new places is a great chance to do something new! 

Set Goals

Dwelling over what activity you missed is unhealthy and detrimental. Setting goals provides motivation, guidance, and positivity. Reaching a goal evokes a sense of accomplishment. Decide goals and figure out how to succeed. Set realistic standards to stay caught up and feel better than before. 

Practical goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound: These are SMART goals. An example of a SMART goal might be to walk two miles in one hour. The goal is specific due to the fact you know exactly what you're doing — walking. It's measurable because you know exactly the amount you need to perform — two miles. It's achievable because you know that the last time you hit two miles it took you just a little over an hour. It's relevant since you’re working on your physical fitness and it's time-bound because there's a specific time limit. 

Buy a New Outfit

When you look good, you feel good. Buy a new outfit on vacation to anticipate wearing when you return. The outfit also carries meaning and a story, like where or how you purchased it. Plus, it gives you a reason to shop. 

Passengers Prepare for Departure

Returning home is bittersweet. If you're lucky, you're greeted by a dog overwhelmed with joy, but the beach and ocean sunsets are in the past. It's time to dive back into reality, but it doesn't have to be awful returning to your workout routine.

Workout exercises after air travel are especially important for improving and preventing muscle pain, stiffness, fatigue, decreased strength, and poor range of motion. Performing leg and foot movements on the plane significantly reduces the chances of muscle cramps and blood clots during a long flight. 

Air travel

What's worse after vacation: exercising, unpacking, or doing all that laundry? After reading this article, your answer may have changed!

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