Have you ever used #carmageddon as an excuse to skip out on gym time? We feel you—not everyone has the time, energy, and willpower to exercise after slogging through rush-hour traffic. If only stop-and-go driving could be considered a workout, right?
Well, it’s actually possible to burn calories and strengthen your body by doing simple exercises in the car. "Any physical activity has a corresponding number of calories burned," confirms Ma. Crisanta Prieto, PTRP, varsity physiotherapist at the UP Diliman Sports Physical Therapy Clinic. "In addition to that, doing simple exercises in the car improves focus and attention, increases blood flow, decreases the feeling of stiffness, and relieves tension and pressure on the body structures."
Prieto has designed this in-car workout that focuses on upper-body strengthening. While this should only serve as a supplement to your regular exercise regimen, it will help you observe the Philippine National Guidelines on Physical Activity, which prescribes at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity for adults aged 21 and older. "To maximize strength gains, exercises for the same muscle groups should be performed at least three times a week for a minimum of six weeks," Prieto says.
If you're the one driving, these exercises should be done only when the car is at a complete standstill, with the gear in neutral and the parking brake engaged—preferably at a stoplight with a timer, or when you have a companion to alert you that traffic is starting to move forward.
Directions: Do a light warmup before you drive, or perform a full set of these in-car stretches. For each exercise, do 10 reps per set and three sets in total, observing proper form at all times. You may decrease the number of reps and increase the number of sets if there is limited standstill time in traffic.
Important note: Do avoid overexertion and stay well within your physical limits, especially when you’re driving alone. Stop the activity anytime you’re starting to feel tired, and don’t attempt the workout if you’re already feeling fatigued to begin with (i.e. hours into a long drive or at the end of a long day).
1) Chin tucks
Targets the neck muscles
Sit tall with your head and neck in a neutral position. Inhale slowly while pulling your chin backward and slightly upward to elongate your neck. Hold for three to five seconds, then release while exhaling.
Targets the shoulder and upper-back muscles
Keeping your neck and back straight, inhale slowly while contracting your traps to bring your shoulders up toward your ears. Hold for three to five seconds, then release while exhaling.
Targets the upper arms
As a safer alternative to traditional bicep curls using dumbbells, you may use the steering wheel to provide resistance. With your palms facing up, grip the top part of the tiller and contract your biceps—the resistance should come from contracting your muscles and not from tugging at the steering wheel. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Make sure the steering wheel is straight before putting the car in gear and driving off.
Targets the lats
Plant both hands on your seat on either side of your thighs. Inhale slowly while pushing your body up from your seat (no need to lift your feet off the floor). Hold for three seconds, then release while exhaling.
Targets the lower back
Sit tall with your core engaged and your spine following its natural curve. Slowly tilt your pelvis backward, tucking your tailbone in to round your back (posterior tilt). Hold for three to five seconds, then slowly tilt your pelvis forward to do a mild backbend (anterior tilt). Hold for three to five seconds, then return to the neutral position. That’s one rep. Do the tilting movements as fluidly as possible.
Targets the mid-back
Sit in a neutral position and put a cushion in between your thighs, squeezing your knees together to hold it in place. Put both hands behind your head and interlock your fingers. Inhale slowly while bending over backward. You should feel a stretch in your mid-back, not in your lumbar spine. Hold for three to five seconds, then release while exhaling.
Again, these exercises should only be done only when the car is at a complete standstill, with the gear in neutral and the parking brake engaged. And if, while doing any of these stretches or even while simply driving, you experience shooting pain, numbness, weakness, an impinged sensation, aches and soreness lasting more than two days, or discoloration on distal extremities, stop the activity and consult a specialist as soon as possible.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been edited for clarification and to emphasize the safety precautions.