Often, when preparing for a cardio workout, our focus is to burn calories, get in a good sweat, hit the shower and move on with our day. Though stretching may not usually be top-of-mind in this process, it’s worth remembering. Stretching can provide you with an effective cardio warm-up and cool-down that works your body in different ways to prepare and protect your muscles. Taking five to ten minutes to stretch before and after your workout can give you the energy to exercise longer and recover properly afterwards, too.
There are certain types of stretches that complement a cardio routine best. Consider these before-and-after workout options the next time you gear up for a heart-pumping exercise session.
Cardio Warm-Up Stretches
Dynamic stretches—as opposed to static stretches—require an active range of motion, making them optimal pre-workout movements. This type of stretching raises your core temperature, which improves blood flow and oxygen supply to your muscles, allowing them to contract and relax more easily. Performing these initial movements also ups your metabolic rate—the key to efficient calorie-burning—and increases the elasticity of your ligaments, tendons and other connective tissue. Plus, doing them gives you a few moments to focus and set your intention for your workout.
What It Does: Stretches your abdominals, glutes, hips, quads and shoulders
How to Do It: On your mat or rug, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Engage your core and, while shifting your weight to your left side, slowly reach forward with your right arm and right knee and plant them on the floor. Reverse this, this time shifting your weight to your right side and pulling yourself forward as you lift, reach and plant your left arm and left knee. Alternate the crawl from side to side 10 to 15 times.
Be careful not to…go too fast. Taking the time to reach and extend on each side of your body allows you to stretch effectively.
What It Does: Stretches your abdominals, back, glutes and hips
How to Do It: On your mat or rug, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Engage your core and slowly lift and extend your left leg behind you until it is parallel to the floor. At the same time, raise your right arm off the floor and straighten it out in front of you until it is also parallel to the floor, keeping your head in line with your spine. Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly lower your leg and arm back to your starting position. Switch sides. Perform three to five reps on each side, alternating sides between reps.
Be careful not to…arch or sag your spine, which can cause back pain. And avoid any hip rotation by keeping your lifted leg at or below hip height.
What It Does: Stretches your glutes, hips and abdominals
How to Do It: On your mat or rug, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Engage your core and slowly lift your left knee off the floor and raise it out and up to the side. Hold here for a few moments and then slowly lower your knee back to the floor. Perform 5 to 10 times before switching sides.
Be careful not to…lean to the opposite side while lifting your knee. Maintaining an even, steady position allows the movement to properly stretch your body.
Cardio Cool-Down Stretches
Just as warm-up stretches stimulate the heart and lungs, cooling down with some static stretching allows your blood pressure and heart rate to return to normal. These types of movements, which are done when your muscles and joints are warm and pliable, also help improve your posture and flexibility.
What It Does: Stretches the hips, arms, shoulders, back
How to Do It: On your mat or rug, start on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Sit back on your heels and spread your knees wider than your feet. Lean forward over your thighs and extend both arms straight in front of you, palms and forehead on the floor. Hold here for 30 seconds. Walk your fingertips to the right and hold for 30 seconds. Then walk your fingertips over to the left and hold for another 30 seconds. Come back to center before rising up to a seated position.
Be careful not to…force your bottom down on your heels if it feels uncomfortable as you stretch forward on the floor. If your gluteal muscles lift a little, you can still benefit from the stretch.
What It Does: Stretches arms, core
How to Do It: Stand with your legs hip-width apart and slowly reach your right arm overhead, tilting your torso to the left until you feel the stretch along your right side. Slide your left hand down toward your left knee and hold. Breathe here for 30 seconds and slide back up to center before switching sides. Repeat once more on each side.
Be careful not to…lean back while stretching to your side to avoid lower back pain or injury.
What It Does: Stretches abdominals, back, core, shoulders
How to Do It: Start by lying flat on your back with both knees bent. Lower both knees toward your right side until they touch the floor and your hips are stacked. Place your right hand on your top leg and apply light pressure to deepen the stretch and hold for 30 seconds. Return to center and repeat on the opposite side. Repeat once more on each side.
Be careful not to…force your knees all the way to the floor if it’s not comfortable. As long as your hips are stacked, your knees can hover above the floor and still give you a good stretch.
Thread the Needle
What It Does: Stretches hips, glutes, legs
How to Do It: Start by lying flat on your back with your legs extended out straight. Cross your right ankle above your left knee. Grasp the back of your left thigh, interlacing your fingers, and draw your left knee toward your chest and hold for 30 seconds. While you hold the stretch, circle your left ankle in both directions and point/flex your left foot. Switch sides. Repeat once more on each side.
Be careful not to…lift your head and neck while holding the stretch to avoid a strain.