Restricted Body Movement – 10 Exercises To Revive Yourself

Several hours or days of restricted body movement can create havoc on the human body and soul. If you have ever been cooped up inside a small dome tent for a couple of days or have spent several hours sitting in some form of transportation, you know what I mean.

Trying to stand up, making quick exit moves, or just going to the john can become a stiffened and painful experience. I have found the older one gets, the worse the condition gets.

There is a way to help beat the problems of pain and discomfort related to lack of physical activity, be it on a plane, in the back of a 4×4, or within a snowbound tent. It is nothing more than a few exercises which will “stir up” the blood and relax the unused muscles. Exercises will also help one think better and quicker.

Being confined for a long term

The absence of physical activity can cause the body to “get stiff” and to feel tired and lifeless. This is usually caused by poor blood circulation and muscle tension. Headaches, low back pain, with or without muscle spasm, mild disorientation, and “sleepy feet” are additional signs of cooped-up fatigue that you should be aware of.

Being confined and dealing with restricted body movement

There are times, such as being caught in an unexpected snowstorm while backpacking in the wilderness that a long-term period of restricted body movement may become necessary. Planned travel conditions, such as auto, boat or aircraft can create travel fatigue when it extends over long hours of just sitting. Even in a bugging-in scenario, you may have to deal with a restricted body movement. With a little forethought, research and training, you can overcome the pains and sluggish feeling from the cooped-up periods.

Changing clothes when dealing with restricted body movement

Having the body wrapped in tight-fitting clothing during the inactive periods can slow down blood circulation and restrict breathing. If you know you are going to be restricted in movements for several hours or days, wear lightweight and loose-fitting clothing. This is one of the major mistakes made by people when traveling.

Tight jeans, heavy wool suits or coats, tight, pointed-toed shoes, and ties can cause more problems than they are worth. I have found that it is far better to dress comfortably in a cotton bush suit and lightweight walking shoes than to wear a business suit on a plane.

I find time to change clothes after arrival, if necessary. I may not look as business-like as the guy in the vested suit, but I will be able to survive the strain and stress of traveling far better.

When having to sit for long periods, unlace your shoes or take them off. Walk up and down aisles or just wiggle your toes as often as possible. I have found that walking sock-footed up and down the carpeted aisle of commercial aircraft can really help prevent cooped-up fatigue. Unless you have a foot odor, no one will know you are shoeless, or in most cases, not even care. The walking will help body circulation and stretch just about every muscle in your body.

A low-sodium diet is a must (in general)

Some medical doctors recommend a low-sodium diet during a restricted period. I try to maintain a daily low-sodium diet, so a lower amount of sodium does not affect me as it might someone else. Most airlines and trains serve food that is heavily salted during cooking and preparation.

If you are unable to order low-sodium food from the travel firm, then I suggest you brown-bag your meals, especially on long-term trips. The amount of sodium intake can really make the difference in the way you feel upon arrival.

Exercising when dealing with restricted body movement

Clothing and food alone will not cure a severe case of restricted body movement. Exercise is the real key to a more enjoyable restricted period, be it in a tent, pickup truck, or airline seat. Regardless of where there are some good exercises that can help overcome weariness and aid in promoting alertness.

The exercises that I recommend for restricted body movement situations are the same ones used by our little band of outdoors diehards when we travel by any of several means of conveyance. The exercises are simple, yet effective, body/muscular stretching and isometrics (resistance). Our group has learned to do the exercises in spaces no larger than a canoe or while riding in a van down an interstate highway.

Stretching the muscles can be a good muscle builder, as well as a relaxer when properly executed. Resistance of muscle against other muscle power or a stationary object is an excellent form of muscle building and a great way to increase your blood circulation and breathing capabilities.

When performing these exercises or any exercises for that matter, it is best to move slowly, smoothly, and breathe as naturally as possible even during the extreme levels of activities. Holding the breath during the exercise program will not help the blood circulation or breathing.

En-route exercises became popular with our group several years ago. We found that people traveling in confined areas without a plan of exercise were less than 100 percent effective at their jobs upon arrival at the destination. Those men who frequently exercised during the travel period were very effective and able to perform their responsibilities in a more professional manner.

The exercise provided them with less stiffness and sluggishness after dealing with restricted body movement. The two things that can slow both the body and mind when attempting to do a job of any kind.

Exercises for the neck

My neck is usually the first part of my body to start hurting when I have to sit around for long periods of time. It could be caused by a lack of activity or general stress.

Either cause can be corrected by sitting up straight, relaxing the shoulders and stretching the neck upward for a count of 10 or so. Then, slowly attempt to lay the left ear on the left shoulder without raising the shoulder to meet the ear. It is not likely you will get the ear on the shoulder, but go as far as you can, hold for a count of 10, then back to the upright-stretch position.

Exercise for the neck

Do the right side next. After completing the right side, go back to the upright position, tilt the head down, with chin towards your chest and hold for a count of 10. Back to the upright position. Move the head directly back as far as possible. Hold for the count of 10. Back to the upright.

Now repeat all the motions and hold for the same counts. Repeat at least three times. Do not roll your head and neck in an attempt to make a circle. Many doctors feel that rolling the neck may cause undue damage by putting pressure on the vertebrae.

Breathe naturally, move slowly, maximize the stretch and hold for the count. The more often you do this neck exercise on a day-to-day basis, the less painful it is to do when confined.

Read next: Psychology Of Survival And Coping With Stress

Mental Well-Being

There are times, while confined to a seat or dealing with restricted body movement for a long period of time, that I might do all the exercises at least once per hour. Normally, I do them all prior to destination arrival. This gives me the get-up-and-go to make the mad dash to the front of the bus, or whatever. Not only will exercises help your physical condition, but will do wonders for the mental part of you, too.

After completing a cycle of the neck exercises, continue to sit straight. Place your hands behind your head, with elbows pointed out and up as far as you can with your fingers interlaced. You should feel the spine and shoulders stretching to meet the demands of your upward and outward push of the elbows.

Push out and up for as far as possible, count to 10, and release. Do this at least three times.

Continue to keep your fingers interlaced and push the elbows forward, causing the forearms to wrap around the head. Push as far forward as possible, hold to count of 10, relax and repeat three or more times. Now the hard one.

For the “advanced”

With the fingers interlaced, hold the elbows as high as possible and slowly move the elbows backward. You will not be able to move them very far, but once you reach the furthermost point, hold the position for a count of 10, relax and do again. Three to five times will do a good job of relaxing your neck, shoulders and upper back. This exercise comes in handy after riding in an open 4×4 all day. It is a very good relaxer when dealing with restricted body movement.

The second worst pain for me, when traveling or dealing with restricted body movement, is the lower back. Probably, this area of the old-bod creates more pain for more people than anywhere else. Long periods of sitting and lack of movement kicks in the low back pain mode very rapidly for a lot of people.

To help reduce the pain in the lower back, you must stretch several muscles. Most, if not all, can be stretched safely by performing one exercise. I have seen lots of travelers on aircraft do the leg-lift-to-cheek. It works well for me, and it must do well for others, too.

Sit with your body straight and feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg as far as it will go without assistance from your hand. Hold for a 10 count, then gently pull the knee upwards and toward your chest, using your hand or forearm. Don’t get in a big hurry and no jerking. Pull to the maximum and hold for the 10 counts.

Relax and repeat several times with each leg. Frequent lady travelers that perform in-travel exercises know to wear slacks. About once per hour on the knee lift will keep the lower back in decent shape.

The loss of blood circulation in the lower legs and feet is a common effect of long periods of travel and/or restricted body movement. This problem can be helped by sitting straight and lifting your feet off the floor or deck about six to eight inches. Hold for a 10 count, relax and repeat several times.

You can enhance the exercise by keeping the feet off the floor while rotating and wiggling your feet and toes. After completing several of the lifts, try to do a little walking. If this is not possible, you might be able to do a few knee bends. If neither is possible, repeat the leg lift and wiggling for additional times. Taking your shoes off will help in this exercise.

Another variation that I do with the leg lift is to add an ankle cross-motion while rotating my ankles and wiggling my toes. It sounds confusing, but that is what you do Great for restoring circulation to a foot that has “gone to sleep.” The lift, rotation, and wiggle should be done for as many minutes as you can do it. Your circulation, legs and lower back will improve.

Leg crossing is a good exercise that will help lower leg and foot circulation, too. Sit straight with feet flat on the floor. Lift the leg and place the ankle over, but not on the opposite knee. Do not let the ankle touch the knee. Hold for a 10 count, then do the other leg the same way. Five repetitions of this exercise will help the circulation and lower back, too.

Restricted Body Movement and back pain

Exercises for back pain

When driving or sitting for long periods of time, you can help reduce any back pain by simply squeezing your buttock muscles tight, hold for 10 seconds, and repeat at least 10 times. You can also squeeze your abdominal muscles tight, holding for a 10 count and repeat at least 10 times. These exercises can be done without anyone knowing that you are doing them.

For the arms, chest, and shoulders, the isometric exercises are good. By using your own muscle power or a stationary object, you can get your pulse rate up and offset the blahs at the same time. Muscle pressure against muscle pressure exercises are used often by office workers that must sit at their desk for long hours.

A few seconds of isometrics can relax, yet stimulate a person that must remain inactive, such as the desk worker. The desk can become a resistance object and help in your exercise program.

For the abdomen, arms, shoulders, and lower back, you can hook your hands together at the fingers, keep your arms and elbows level in front of you and pull. Your pulls should be steady and firm so that you feel the muscles strain. Firm up your stomach muscles and hold tight as you pull the hands against each other.

Reach maximum point, hold for 10 seconds. Repeat at least three times. However, five to 10 is better. If you have completed the exercise correctly and for a long period, your arms, shoulders and abdomen muscles should be fatigued and your face a little red.

Placing your knuckles against each other with your arms level in front of you and pressing right against left, etc., for a count of 10 and then repeat for three to five times, is another good method of giving your shoulders, arms and chest a workout.

Another good upper body stimulator is the seat pull. Sit straight with feet flat on the deck, grab the lower edges of your seat/chair and lift up as hard as you can. Hold maximum point for a count of 10 or so, then repeat for at least five times.

This exercise is a real “red facer” if done correctly. If you want to do the seat pull in a tent or where there is no seat available, use a towel or strong belt. Sit on the towel or belt and try to lift your own weight. Also, I might warn you that this exercise, in particular, may cause a bit of embarrassment if you have a severe case of flatulence. Be careful.


Your local gym can provide you with additional information on exercises that can be performed while traveling or just dealing with restricted body movement for several hours. By having a good daily routine of exercises, you can be prepared to exercise while traveling without fear of soreness from overdoing.

Dress properly, watch your diet, reduce your smoking, and exercise regularly. Meet that little criterion and you will be mentally alert and physically capable of performing 100 percent upon arrival of your destination or when you finally crawl out of the snow-laden tent. Alertness is one of the building stones of survival. Don’t fall victim to the traps of restricted body movement.

This article has been written by James H. Redford MD for Prepper’s Will.

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