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Staying fit in the cockpit

by Matthew Martin Personal trainer and trainee pilot

One of the problems that many pilots face is long days in a confined space. The taller (or wider) a pilot is, the more of a problem this can be. Various health issues can arise from this inactivity: poor posture, sore back, aching knees and so on.

Below is a workout suitable for pilots who are in the long-haul cruise and want to go out and stretch their legs while on a rest break, but have limited space and time to complete a quick rejuvenating workout. It is designed to stretch the core muscles that would be used for flight controls and to be completed in less than five minutes, ideally in the galley and not in the way of cabin crew.

Regular stretching in the morning and evenings is recommended. Even if completed for as little as five minutes a day it will make your body more flexible and stronger. I would recommend buying a basic gym or yoga mat (upwards of £12) and placing it somewhere where you can see it so you are encouraged to pull it out and use it (regularly). A more comprehensive stretching programme is recommended before and after a workout at the gym.

Standing up straight, close your eyes and tilt your head down to your chest. Slowly rotate your head clockwise using full movement of your neck all the way round. Repeat this in an anticlockwise direction. This can be completed in your seat.

Sit or stand up. Shrug shoulders up to your ears. Lower and repeat 10 times. Alternatively hold arms out in front of you, arch your back and complete full, slow circles with your shoulders, pausing at the top. Do five in one direction then again in the other.

This can be carried out with one hand on the armrest. Stretch one arm out and from the wrist rotate your hand clockwise 10 times. Repeat the rotation, this time anticlockwise. Swap hands and repeat.

This is best done in the galley. Standing fully straight, put both hands behind your back and bring your fingertips together. Don’t worry if you can’t quite touch your fingers together, whatever you can manage is good enough. Then bend over lifting your arms upwards, keeping elbows straight and fingers together. This has the added advantage of stretching your back.

Standing up straight, step forward with one foot, lowering your hips until your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle – it should be above your ankle. The back knee should be nearly touching the floor. Maintain the stretch for 20 seconds, holding onto something for stability, then move your foot back to the start position. Repeat with the opposite foot.

Best done with shoes off. Stand with feet slightly apart and hold onto something for balance. Stretch tall pushing up onto your toes. Hold for 10 seconds then slowly lower heels to the floor. Repeat a few more times until you feel the stretch. This is best done on a step to get both upward and downward movement, but that’s probably not the safest on a plane!
* this article first appeared in The Log, Spring 2015.