6 Post-Cardio Stretches to Release and Rebalance Tight Muscles

avatarJessica Gouthro

Don’t skip the cooldown! Finish each and every cardio workout with these essential stretches to rebalance your body.

The moment you finish your workout, you breathe a sigh of relief and head for the door. But hold up a minute! If you’re skipping your cooldown, you’re missing out on a world of benefits – and quite honestly, the best part of working out.

Cooldowns are more important than you think and are especially crucial after a cardio workout. That’s because almost every cardio workout uses the same muscles and tendons on repeat.

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For example, look at some of the most popular forms of cardio: jogging, running, cycling, elliptical training, and stair climbing. The primary movers for all of these motions are these muscles:

  • Quads (front of your thighs)
  • Hip flexors (crease of your hips)
  • Tibias (front of your shins)

When we do a lot of cardio, even if we mix up the types of cardio we’re doing, we still tend to overwork the same muscle groups over and over. The main risks of muscle overuse include:

  • Tendonitis
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Postural imbalances

Cooling down with these essential stretches immediately after each cardio workout is the easiest way to increase flexibility, relieve tightness, and prevent injury from overworked muscles.

Follow these six essential post-cardio stretches after your cardio workouts for immediate and lasting relief. You can also follow these stretches after weight training or any other form of exercise.

This routine should take you no longer than 10 minutes to complete and requires no equipment, so it can be done anywhere you are! Even shoes are optional.

Tip: Beginners may modify by completing each stretch only once, or holding the stretches for only 1 to 2 breaths each.


6 Post-Cardio Stretches for Tight Muscles

Kneeling Butterfly Back Arch | 3 reps

Kneeling-Butterfly-Back-Arch.jpg

This stretch is a great way to open up tight hip flexors, and you’ll also feel a tremendous stretch across your chest.

  1. Kneel on the ground with your knees about hip-width apart. Place your fingertips gently behind your head and engage your glutes and core.
  2. Like a butterfly spreading its wings, open your elbows back and arch your chest forward. Lean very slightly backward to feel the stretch down the entire front side of your body and lift your chin. Stay here for five breaths.
  3. Come back to the center to relax a moment, then repeat two more times.

Low Lunge Hip Flexor Stretch | 2 reps per side

Low-Lunge-Hip-Flexor-Stretch.jpg

Use a chair to hold onto if you’re struggling to reach the floor in this stretch. Focus your attention on lengthening your hip flexors rather than lowering your upper body as much as possible. As you become more advanced, you may be able to lower your elbows to the ground.

  1. Kneel on the floor and rest your fingertips down in front of you.
  2. Lift your right foot up and place it to the right side of your hands. Press your hips forward to stretch your hip flexor.
  3. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to do the same on the left side.
  4. Repeat twice on each side.

Down Dog Calf Pedal | 3 reps per side

Down-Dog-Calf-Pedal.jpg

This inverted stretch helps redistribute the blood back into your upper body after cardio workouts. Make sure to keep breathing during this stretch and come down to your knees and pause a moment before standing up to avoid any dizziness.

  1. Start in a down dog position, with hands and feet on the ground and hips in the air.
  2. Press your right heel into the ground as you bend your left knee. Push with your arms to get a greater stretch in your calf. Hold for three breaths.
  3. Alternate to stretch the other side.
  4. Repeat for a total of three times on each side.
  5. Come down to your knees and pause a moment before standing back up.

Seated Figure 4 Tibia Stretch | 3 reps per side

Seated-Figure-4-Tibia-Stretch.jpg

The front of your shins can be a tricky area to stretch, but it’s important, especially after cardio workouts that have you repeatedly flexing your ankles. As a bonus, you’ll feel a good stretch in your outer hip, especially if you lean forward.

  1. Sit on the ground with your legs extended out in front of you.
  2. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh.
  3. Use your right hand to pull the right toes towards you to stretch your tibia (the muscle along the front of your shin). Rest your left hand on your left knee, and if you wish, press down just slightly to increase the stretch in your hip.
  4. Hold the stretch for three breaths, then switch and do the same on the other side.
  5. Repeat for a total of three stretches on each side.

Half-Seated Quad Stretch | 3 reps per side

Half-Seated-Quad-Stretch.jpg

Keeping one foot on the ground helps you ease into this hip and quad stretch, which can feel intense. As you become more advanced, you can try straightening your front leg and perhaps even lowering down onto your elbows.

  1. Kneel down on one knee, keeping the opposite foot pressed into the ground.
  2. Lean back to place your hands on the floor behind you. Lift your chest and look up towards the ceiling. Press your hips upward and tighten your core to feel a stretch across the front of your thigh and hip flexor. Keep your neck neutral and shoulders rolled back and down. Hold for three breaths.
  3. Lower your hips to reset, then repeat on the other side.
  4. Repeat for a total of three times on each side.

Kneeling Lunge Quad Stretch | 3 reps per side

Kneeling-Lunge-Quad-Stretch.jpg

This stretch requires good balance and flexibility. If you need extra support, hold onto a wall or chair for support. If the pressure of your knee on the floor is uncomfortable, try padding it with a towel or a pillow.

  1. Start in a low lunge position, with your front leg at a 90° angle and your back knee on the ground.
  2. Find your balance and reach back to catch your right foot with your right hand. Place your left hand on your left knee for balance and support.
  3. Pull your right foot in towards your hips, stretching the front of your foot, your tibia, your quad, and your hip flexor all at the same time.
  4. Breathe deeply for three full breaths, then switch to do the same on the other side.
  5. Repeat three times on each side.

6-Post-Cardio-Stretches-to-Release-Rebalance-Tight-Muscles-infog.jpg

(Your Next Workout: 3 Biggest Cardio Mistakes. Plus HIIT Metabolism-Boosting Workout)

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