Cockpit stretches for pilots: Keeping fit and comfortable during flight

Even short flights can take a toll on the human body. While sitting in a chair for hours at a time may sound relaxing to some, any pilot knows how stiff and uncomfortable it can be. Even larger aircraft may offer little room to truly stretch out. Combining that with multiple flights per week, month, and year, the toll on joints and muscles can really add up! That’s why regular stretching, good posture, and an ergonomically-friendly cockpit are so important.

While a pilot generally cannot control seat ergonomics, proper posture can ease many ills. When at the controls, endeavor not to slouch or slump either forward or back--sit up straight with your back against the chair. Adjust your seat so that controls can comfortably be reached with your arms in a relaxed position. Keep your back straight, your shoulders loose, and ensure you do not have to strain your neck to look outside or around the cockpit.

While single-pilot operations without automation afford little opportunity to stretch, if operating with a co-pilot or an autopilot in lieu of, take regular opportunities to stretch during cruise. Ideally, stretching should occur every 15 minutes, with flight-related activities always taking precedence. Before stretching, be sure that no part of your body will accidentally touch a manipulatable control, and maintain good CRM by letting your co-pilot know what you are doing.

Here are some simple, easy stretches you can do from your pilot seat:

Roll your neck

Sit up so your head has room to move, and relax your shoulders. Allow your head to gently fall to one shoulder and rest it there for several seconds. Then, slowly roll your head backward across your spine to the opposite shoulder. Stop, hold it there for several seconds, then roll it forward to the starting shoulder again. Repeat this several times, swapping direction halfway through.

Roll your shoulders

Keeping your shoulders relaxed, slowly raise one shoulder forward and up toward your ear. Once raised as high as you can, pause and rest your shoulder there momentarily before slowly bringing it back down toward your shoulder blade, and finally to a resting position. Repeat several times for each shoulder, as well as several times with both shoulders together.

Stretch your arms

Raise one arm to shoulder height, then bring it across your chest, keeping the arm straight. Use your opposite arm to gently push the stretching arm against your chest and hold it in place for several seconds. Don’t press too hard--just enough so you feel the stretch. Repeat on the opposite side.

You can also stretch your wrists by moving your hands in small circles while keeping your wrists steady. This is helpful if your wrists are fatigued from manipulating controls.

Stretch your legs

Sit up straight, and raise one knee to your chest. Use your hands to secure the knee as close to your chest as you can do comfortably while still feeling a stretch, and hold it there for several seconds. When you release, slowly stretch your leg all the way out. Hold it straight in the air for several more seconds, then bring it to a relaxed position flat on the floor. Repeat with your other leg.

There are many more stretches you can find to help maintain comfort and physical health while in the cockpit. If flying single-pilot sans autopilot, you can still gain some benefits through shifting your position every so often, flexing your fingers or legs, rolling your shoulders gently, or stretching your neck from side to side.

Finally, enhance your personal fatigue countermeasures through keeping physically active outside of the cockpit. Maintain a regular exercise routine suited to your body type, personal needs, and interests. Eat well-balanced meals, drink lots of water, and consult with your doctor to ensure your food intake and activity are appropriate for your lifestyle. Maintaining good health in all aspects of life will help ensure you can stay flying for years to come.

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