Test out your cheer knowledge with this quick trivia question: what is critical to tumbling, stunting, jumping, and dancing, and also helps to keep you injury-free? The answer is quite simple . . stretching!
Stretching, as previously stated, serves multiple purposes and is essential in many sports, but is especially useful in cheerleading. Cheerleading demands not only strength and endurance, but flexibility from top to bottom. If you are jumping, it is critical to have flexible hips and legs. Tumbling requires a flexible back and shoulders. The list of demands on a cheerleader’s body is nearly endless.
Stretching serves as a good way to warm up your body before a workout or practice, and an equally good way to cool down. But the best thing about stretching is how easy it is to accomplish from the comfort of your own home. Most stretching can be completed equipment free, which allows you the freedom and convenience to stretch while watching your favorite television show or while reading your favorite book.
The most simple and effective stretches to do in the at home or during practice are straddle and pike stretches. These two stretches will directly contribute to your jumping and tumbling abilities.
To straddle stretch properly, begin by sitting on the floor with your legs fully extended in a V shape. Your knees should be pointing straight up and your toes should also begin pointed (you will switch from pointed toes to flexed feet when the stretch is repeated). Be sure to avoid rotating your legs during this stretch. You will know if you are rotating your legs if your knees are no longer pointing straight up. This mistake is typically made when stretching forward. Once you’ve positioned your legs, you want to spend anywhere from 30 seconds to a full minute stretching toward each side and the middle. The goal is to be able to eventually lay your chest and head flat on each leg when stretching to the side (or flat on the floor in front of you when stretching toward the middle) without bending your knees or bouncing. This stretch is very steady and should never be completed by bouncing. If you find that you have reached a point where you can rest completely flat on your leg or the surface in front of you, it is now time to widen your straddle. Remember to complete this stretch with pointed toes and then repeat in each direction with flexed feet. Alternating the position of your feet/toes will allow all the muscle groups in your legs to be adequately stretched.
When stretching, you want to push yourself to the point where you can actually feel the stretching of your muscles. You should never be in excruciating pain. Many people think if you push yourself as low as possible you will gain the most from stretching. However, holding your stretch at your personal threshold and increasing as your threshold increases will yield the best results. Pushing beyond your personal limits can result in injury.
So now that you’ve finished your straddle stretch, slide those legs together into the pike position to complete our second stretch. The pike stretch, like the straddle stretch, will be completed twice… once with pointed toes and a second time with flexed feet. While your feet are flexed, if you are able to place your chest flat on your legs (without bending your legs), then you can enhance this stretch by grabbing your toes and lifting your heels off the ground. Your legs should always remain straight during this stretch.
These stretches are two of the most basic stretches, but also two of the most convenient and effective. You should be able to complete both of these stretches in a short fifteen minute time frame, and if done correctly and daily, you will undoubtedly see improvement in your flexibility and overall durability.