Car Ergonomics

Commuters, weekend warriors, road trippers – If you’re someone that spends more than 20 minutes in the car per week, listen up!

Car trips can be brutal on your body. And if you’re like us, you’ve felt achey and sore after a long ride.

Modern cars provide a much smoother ride, but passengers are still subjected to quite a bit of vibration. Ergonomically, vibration can be helpful (think massage tools), or harmful (think an 8 hour shift on the jackhammer). Think of vibration as intensifying the effects of your position. If you’re in a good position, hours of small vibration in the car might relax and loosen your muscles. But spend those same hours in a bad position, and you’re likely to lock in some nasty muscle knots or worse.


Adjust your driver’s seat

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to get set up for a pain free ride, and it all starts with the correct position of your seat.  So go ahead and…

  • Adjust your seat to the lowest possible seat height and farthest back from the steering wheel. It’s easiest to work from this position to find the right adjustments for your body.
  • Move your seat forward until you can comfortably reach and depress all the pedals while your back still touches the seat back.
  • Your seat should be adjusted so that with fully depressed pedals, your knees will be slightly bent.
  • When you start driving, both of your feet should be extended an equal amount. Most cars have a left foot pad so you can extend that equally in comparison to your right, driving, foot.


Seat Height

  • If you’re driving a car that allows you to adjust seat height – slowly raise the seat until your knees and hips are as close to the same height as possible. Try to keep your knees off the seat to encourage more movement.
  • Most importantly – you should be able to comfortably see all controls, mirrors and angles.


Once your seat is at the right height, move on to the seat back.

  • Prop your seat to 90 degrees and move 10-20 degrees back to reach 100-110 degrees.
  • 110 degrees is the recommended angle for seat backs but you can adjust that depending on what’s comfortable for you.
  • A slightly reclined seat promotes natural lumbar lordosis, or the natural S-shaped curvature in your back. It’s also a good idea to grab a rolled up towel, and create your own lumbar support. Even though some cars have built in lumbar support, it’s usually never enough.
  • Maintain your visual on all the controls, mirrors and angles.


Adjust your steering wheel

  • In most cars, you can adjust the steering wheel by pulling on a lever underneath it.
  • When adjusting, think of two things.
    • Do your hands comfortably rest at 9 and 3? Some ergonomists also recommend 8 and 4 if that feels more natural for you.
    • When you have your hands straight out with no bend of the elbow, the steering wheel should reach to your wrists.


Some other no-brainers to keep in mind.

  • Take your wallet or phone out of your back pocket so that you don’t slouch to one side. Even when you don’t have something in your pocket, it can be easy to slouch to the side so don’t make it harder on yourself.
  • Stretch every time you stop, or any chance you can while you’re in the car.
  • To get into the seat, sit down first then bring your feet in. When getting out of the car, bring your feet out first then stand up from the seat.


Stretches in and out of car

In addition to being set up right with the correct driving position, it’s also important to stretch every 30 minutes while driving, and stop every hour for a big stretch if you’re on a road trip. This will promote blood flow, and leave you feeling more alive when you arrive to your destination.

Here are 4 stretches you can do while driving, and 4 stretches you can do when you get out of the car. It’s important to keep in mind that you want to feel safe driving over getting a good stretch in, so proceed with caution.


Hip Stretch While Driving

  • Tight hips are almost a given with a long drive. While driving, move your right knee towards the center console until you can feel a stretch in your hip. Hold for 5 seconds. Switch sides. Move your left knee towards the left door, hold for 5 seconds. Repeat both sides 3 times.


Shoulder Stretch While Driving

  • Bring your shoulders up in a shrugging position, move them back and down. Repeat 3 times.


Calf Stretch While Driving

  • Stretch your calves with toe raises. Simply bring toes forward and back. You should feel a stretch in your feet and calves. Repeat 3 times.  Warning: Only do this stretch with the left foot if you are in cruise control.


You can also promote blood flow while driving by tensing up any area, and releasing. Tense your glutes and thighs, release. Tense your abdomen, release. Tense your shoulders, release. Try to tense for at least a few seconds before releasing so you really get the effect you’re looking for.


After drive stretches:

Chest Stretch After Drive:

  • When you’ve had your hands on the wheel for a while, your chest closes up and gets pinched and stiff.
  • When you stop or arrive at your destination, find a doorway, or the back of your car trunk if your car is tall enough. Put your arms in a high five position, and lean into the doorway or trunk. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.


Neck Stretch After Drive

  • Your neck and shoulders will be cramped from the position you’ve held for hours. When you’re stopped, or in a car at your destination, grab the side of the seat to straighten your arm. With the other arm, try to reach over your head and to the top of your ear. Gently pull your head to the side. You will feel a stretch on the straightened arm side. Switch sides and repeat twice.

Hip Stretch After Drive

  • Lying on your back, bend both knees and bring your right foot across to your opposite knee. Move your right knee back and forth to warm up your hip, and then use your arm to push the right knee back to create a bigger stretch. Switch sides and repeat. Bonus: You can also do this stretch standing.


Calf Raises After Drive

  • If you’ve read our post on Vascular Hemodynamics, you know how important it is to prevent blood pooling with movement. Calf Raises are one of the best ways to move the blood that pools at your feet. Simply raise your heel and push through the ball of your foot.


Almost any stretching will be good after driving, but these are some essentials to start with. Keep moving and feel better!


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