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Summer is coming, and that means roadtrip season. Traveling around the country is one of my favorite pastimes. But as I get older, I find long drives take a larger and larger toll. This often shocks me because, in my mind, I was “moving” all day long. I got up early and my brain was alert for hours on end. So the next day I’m not only mentally fatigued, but physically stiff. Last summer, I found roadtrip stretching breaks are a great antidote. But the most important stretches surprised me.

First, let’s talk about your driving position. When you sit, you spend hours essentially folded in half. This is not a position our ancestors evolved to stay in all day. It can really tighten up your waist and hips. Second of all, unless you drive a convertible, you can spend all day driving without reaching overhead at any point. And this isn’t great for your shoulders.

Worse yet, I discovered I have a bad habit of hunching forward as I peer out through the windshield. I also recently borrowed a friend’s car and found that the seat bolsters folded my shoulders inward uncomfortably. The combo left me shuffling around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame the next day.

The Breathe and Flow yoga channel on YouTube recommends stopping every 60-90 minutes during a roadtrip and doing a very intuitive first stretch when you first get out of your car. In fact, you may already be doing it. Reach both hands above your head and stretch up as tall as you can. This is good for your shoulders and your back. If you want you can also look up or lean back to stretch your spine in the opposite of a sitting position.

A second stretch for your spine is the one that I would never think of. But remember, you are shooting for the “opposite” of sitting. While standing, put your hands on top of your car or an open car door. Then tip your hips forward to arch your back. This is one you may need to do several times.

Woman demonstrates "Pigeon Pose" in front of a white brick wall
Pigeon pose | fizkes via iStockPhoto

If you still feel your spine is tight, you might want to stretch your neck. You can do this by looking up or carefully rolling your head. This simple one is a stretch you can do even while seated, say at a rest area picnic table.

A final important stretch is “opening up” your hips in some way. How the heck do you do that? Well that completely depends on your current flexibility level. A yoga master may splay out on the ground in “pigeon pose.” But certainly not me. We mere mortals can lunge forward with one foot, bending at the knee, and bringing our hips down. We could also do some variation of a “figure four” pose: Slightly flexible folks can cross an ankle over their knee while laying on their back, then pull their leg toward themselves. I prefer to do something similar while standing, crossing my leg in front of my body and laying it on a park bench or bumper, then leaning forward gently to stretch my hips.

One way to cathc a lot of different joints at once is just to walk. When you let your body stand up and move, it’s pretty good at working out all the tension from sitting. So think about parking farther away from the bathroom and hoofing it.

Next find out whether you’re truly ready to change a flat tire on a roadtrip, or see a much longer stretching routine you can follow along with during breaks in your next roadtrip: