How Does Stretching Benefit My Cardio Workout?

Stretching is key to good cardio, plus 5 steps to a better aerobic workout

Stretching benefits your body in many different ways, including improved cardio, increased muscle flexibility, extended range of motion in your joints and improved circulation. Fitness ball stretching, yoga and Pilates are all excellent exercises to gain the benefits of stretching.

There are also many benefits to incorporating stretching into your regular cardio workouts. If you need some motivation, here’s an explanation of some stretching benefits to consider.

Increased muscle flexibility

Flexibility is the most well-known of stretching benefits, yet it is often misunderstood. Many people confuse flexibility with range of motion. While range of motion is a stretching benefit, it is not the same thing as muscle flexibility.

Your cardio workout causes your muscles to flex and contract. When your muscles are loose, they can flex and contract more easily. Stretching benefits your muscles by keeping them loose and flexible. That, in turn, makes it easier for your muscles to perform all kinds of tasks, including your cardio routine.

Extended range of motion in joints

Stretching benefits your joints by gradually extending your range of motion. This allows your hips, knees, ankles, feet and other joints to move more freely during cardio workouts. When your joints are tight, they can throw off your gait. That leads to a less effective workout and can possibly lead to injuries. Stretching exercises keep your joints limber and flexible.

Improved circulation

Stretching exercises also improve the circulation of blood through your muscles and joints. This improved circulation brings much needed nutrients to cells and removes waste byproducts from the muscle tissue. Regular stretching helps your muscles recover more quickly after a workout.

Now that you’re sold on the benefits of stretching, here’s some advice on how to do it properly and effectively.

How to stretch

Learning how to stretch properly may involve correcting some bad habits. Stretching exercises should not hurt. You should extend just far enough to feel the stretch without feeling any pain. You should also warm up before stretching and avoid bouncing during a stretch. Breathe steadily, and be careful not to hold your breath during the stretch.

Ball stretching

Using an exercise ball, or fitness ball, can be a great way to stretch your whole body. Lying with the exercise ball under your upper back with your arms out to the sides will stretch your chest, while rolling the ball under your lower back gives your abs a great stretch. You can also stand up and bend forward, resting your head on the ball, to stretch your hamstrings.

Other stretching exercises

Exercises such as yoga and Pilates combine stretching benefits with strength training. Additionally, yoga can provide stress relief, and Pilates is great for building core muscle strength. Both yoga and Pilates will help you increase your muscle flexibility and the range of motion in your joints. By adding either of these into your weekly workout routine, you can gain valuable stretching benefits and more.

How to get the most out of your cardio workout

Stretching is just the first step in realizing the benefits of a cardio workout. Keeping your muscles challenged is what makes for visible results and what gives you the most benefit from cardio. Here are five ways you can get the most out of your cardio workout.

Step 1: Don’t get stuck in a routine

When your muscles get used to doing a certain exercise, they stop responding to it. To keep seeing results, frequently change the type of exercises and the level of intensity at which you work out.

If you usually run, go for a bike ride or swim. If you exercise at home, you may want to try a new cardio DVD  or streaming online workout. Be creative and have fun.

Step 2: Use music to motivate

Make an upbeat playlist and listen to it while you do cardio. Listening to music you love or that has a dance beat can give you an extra burst of energy and push you to work harder when you are starting to get tired or fatigued. For extra fun, you might want to try a dance cardio workout.

Step 3: Vary the intensity of a single cardio session

Intervals — alternating between a brisk walk and sprints — during a 30-minute session on the treadmill will burn more calories than simply running.

Step 4: Stay hydrated

Up to 70 percent of our bodies is water, and muscles are made of up to 75% water. Hopefully you’ll be sweating quite a bit while doing your cardio workout, and that means you are losing water. If you don’t keep yourself hydrated before, during and after your workout you will begin to feel dizzy and sluggish, and could even pass out in extreme cases of dehydration.

Step 5: Leave the magazines at home

If you are able to read a book or magazine while doing your cardio, or even be on your cell phone, then you are wasting your time. If you want to get the most out of your cardio workout, then your level of intensity should be too high to be able to concentrate on those things. Your time is valuable, so use it to the fullest.

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