How can we possibly exercise in the car?
Our urban lives are somewhat sedentary. As a matter of fact, we sit on our butts for way too many hours, allowing them to spread. Sitting in a car can wreak havoc on your body. Sitting is by far the worst position for most people with back pain, especially if you have a bulging or herniated disc. Therefore desk work, driving in a car and traveling in an airplane range from frustrating to excruciating.
Many of our lifestyles require that we travel a lot. Most travel is in a car but some is on the place. The following exercises are designed for either the car or plane. Isometric exercises are muscular contractions that don’t actually move the joint. It is basically just tightening your muscles without much movement. For example, just sitting up straight and tightening your belly would be considered isometric. Maintaining this position gets tiresome and that’s when you realize it IS exercise. Hence… you have your first exercise.
What can we do to avoid this back pain?
As a physical therapist, we hear all too often that back pain is worse while driving in the car or sitting on a plane. We can help by focusing on the mechanical aspects of the spine. It is the one area that we can affect and change. Most people in today’s society have extremely poor posture. Poor posture goes hand in hand with poor core support. (Translate— weak muscles!)
You know that word, core? It has become a very popular term. I like to think of it as all encompassing, abdominal’s, low back and even our thoracic region. Our workouts at the gym cover some of these areas but many times there is little carry over into daily life. For example, FREEZE….. that’s right don’t move! Are you slumped? Is your head forward of your body? Are you shoulders rounded forward? Is your stomach sticking out? Is your low back rounded where it should be curved and concave?
First and most important exercise:
Engage your abdominals (yes, tighten your belly), elongate your spine (sit up nice and tall reaching the top of you head to the ceiling), pull your shoulder blades down and into your spine, and lastly tuck you chin in just slightly. You are now at least 1 inch taller while sitting. Perfect! Now how do you practice this?
Practice in your car, YES… while driving.
Before you drive:
Get into your car and set your seat at a comfortable distance from the wheel. You don’t need to be right on top of the wheel but no slumping while driving. Some people have the seat back so far down that they can actually look out the back window from the front seat. This puts your spine in such a flexed position that you might as well drive straight to the hospital if you have back pain. This gentleman in the picture isn’t doing much better!
Get your seat close enough so your leg doesn’t have to reach for the pedals.
I will repeat it:
*Engage your abdominals
*Elongate your spine
*Pinch your shoulder blades down and back
*Tuck in your chin.
NOW: adjust your rearview mirror!
Keep that good strong posture! If you cannot see out the rearview mirror, adjust your posture, NOT THE MIRROR.
Initially it may be very uncomfortable for you to maintain this posture. That’s because your muscles are not used to supporting your spine and body. You are actually exercising Isometrically while driving in the car! Hang in there, eventually you will feel uncomfortable when you are NOT sitting up straight.
More exercises for the car:
Below are some are other strengthening exercise you can do in the car. These are mainly to be performed while you are a passenger.
Adductor (inner thigh) exercise
Position a yoga block or a rolled up towel in between your knees and give it a powerful squeeze with your inner thighs, holding for 5 seconds with each contraction. Complete one to two sets of 15 repetitions.
Pelvic floor exercises
This is a great time to do these exercises.
Step 1: Pay attention to your pelvic floor muscles.
Step 2: Tighten your pelvic floor muscles like you’re trying to avoid passing gas.
Step 3: Hold for five to ten seconds, then relax.
You can repeat this ten times per set, and complete three sets per day.
Chest exercise (not to be performed while driving)
Interlace fingers together. Raise elbows out to the side in line with your chest. Begin pushing palms toward one another, then releasing. Feel the work in your chest and shoulders. Complete two sets of 15 repetitions to start, working up to four sets over time. Easy peasy chest isometric exercise.
Forearm exercise (not to be performed while driving)
Strengthen your forearms to help with gardening, tennis, mountain biking, opening a jar, or anything that requires a strong grip. Wrap the fingers of one hand around your tennis ball or squishy ball and squeeze using maximum strength for one second, followed by one second of relaxation. Complete 15 repetitions on each side, aiming for two sets on with each arm.
Finger and wrist stretch (not to be performed while driving)
Gripping that steering wheel, especially in bad weather can cause your forearm muscles and fingers to get tight. They may even cramp if you are on a long road trip. Periodically stretch your hand and forearm. Place the fingers of one hand in the palm of the other. Gently use the palm to extend the fingers and wrist of the opposite side. Hold this stretch for at least 5 seconds – repeat this at least 3-5 times and switch hands.
Neck rolls: (not to be performed while driving)
Gently lower your chin as far as you can, hold 5 seconds and release. Move your chin to the left, hold, to the right, hold, then raise your chin as far as you can and hold. Try doing tiny circles with your head both directions. Gradually increase the size of the circle as you move your chin. You do not have to make a large circle with your head in order to get amazing benefit.
Gently lift your shoulders up, roll them back and down while slightly squeezing your scapula together. I like to Always do shoulder rolls in a backwards direction. This encourages us to sit up straighter and works on our extension muscles. 10 rolls a few times a day will feel great- especially if you take a deep breath while rolling the shoulders back and expanding your chest.
Tone your buttocks using a similar technique as you did with the core. Engage gluts while sitting tall in your car seat. That means squeeze those butt muscles! Hold engaged muscles for 5-10 seconds, working up to 2-4 sets.
Good luck, let me know how it goes.