4 Stretches to Make Your Cardio Workouts Even More Effective

When you're running short on time at the gym, you might be tempted to skip stretches and shoot straight into your cardio workout. Don't! Before you hit the treadmill, hop on your bike or get busy on the rowing machine, warm up those cold muscles with dynamic stretches to maximize your performance.

Don't hop on the treadmill without first doing some dynamic stretches. (Image: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/GettyImages)

Here, Nedra Matosov trainer and owner of the New York City-based fitness studio The P.E. Club, shares tips on how to use dynamic stretches to get the most out of your cardio workout.

Dynamic Stretching and Cardio

First things first, there are two types of stretches: static and dynamic. Static stretches involve lengthening your muscles by holding a stretch for a short period, typically 15 to 30 seconds. The best time to do static stretches is post-workout to help alleviate any muscle tightness and facilitate recovery.

Conversely, a dynamic stretch is an active movement that stimulates muscles for motion, says Matosov. High-intensity exercise like cardio causes stress to your body and stretching in this way preps your muscles to endure the impact of the activity.

"We all know what it feels like to start a run when your muscles are cold," says Matosov, adding, "it's like your body is made of cement." Going from zero to 100 shocks your muscles and joints and can lead to injury. When you warm up with dynamic stretches, you ease your body from rest into motion by stretching the muscles and tissues and increasing blood flow and joint mobility.

What's more, incorporating dynamic stretches into your warm-up can actually improve your performance during exercise. "When your hips are more mobile prior to starting your run, you may run faster. When your quads and hamstrings are warmed up, you may cycle faster and easier up that hill," says Matosov.

In other words, dynamic stretches prime your body to work at its best. So, if you're looking to PR or reach a set fitness goal, you better start stretching.

Best Dynamic Stretches for Cardio Workouts

Ready to get loose? Warm up with these expert-approved dynamic stretches to enhance your performance when doing these popular cardio activities.

1. Running: Hamstring and Hip Stretch

  1. Stand bracing yourself against a wall or tree with one hand.
  2. Balance on one leg and swing your other leg in front of you as if you were kicking something. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring, but don't force your leg higher than is comfortable.
  3. Bring your swinging leg back to a neutral standing position. Be sure not to overextend behind you, as this can stress your lower back.

Reps: 10 on each leg

2. Rowing: Upper Back and Shoulder Stretch

  1. Stand with your back to a wall. Keep a slight bend in your knees, so your lower back touches the wall.
  2. Make a goalpost shape with your arms and place them flat against the wall with palms facing out in line with your shoulders.
  3. While keeping contact with the wall, glide your arms toward the ceiling as if you were making "snow angels."
  4. Return to starting position.

Reps: 10

3. Cycling: Hips and Hamstring Stretch

  1. Kneel on the floor, then place one foot in front, making a 90-degree angle with your leg.
  2. Inhale as you push your hips forward, keeping your front knee stacked above your ankle.
  3. Then, exhale, pulling your hips back as you straighten your front leg and flex your foot.

Reps: 5 on each leg

4. Elliptical and Stairmill: Quadriceps and Inner Thigh Series

  1. Stand and hinge at the hips, then walk your hands out to a plank.
  2. Place your right foot outside of your right hand while keeping your left leg straight.
  3. Extend your right hand toward the sky, exhaling as you rotate your torso.
  4. Return to plank, then repeat on the left side.
  5. On the next rep, instead of returning to a plank, bring your left hand next to your left foot and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand, so that you land in a deep squat.
  6. Fold your hands together in prayer position at your chest and push your elbows into your inner thighs to open the hips while you sit into the squat. Hold for 5 seconds.
  7. Let your hands drop to the floor and extend your legs as straight as you can, then sink back into the deep squat with prayer. Repeat 3 times.
  8. Walk your hands into plank position, push back to downward dog and peddle your heels 10 times. Return to your starting plank.

Reps: 4 rounds of the entire sequence

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