A heel stretch is a popular flexibility skill used primarily in cheerleading by flyers. In this skill, a flyer stands on one leg (typically the right leg) and extends the other leg out in front of them holding while holding their own heel. To get a feel for the correct placement of where the stretched leg should be while in the air, hit a high V motion. The outstretched leg should come directly to your hand on the corresponding side as the lifted leg.
It is important to establish good habits from the beginning when performing this skill. There are several common mistakes that you should avoid. First, keep your base leg straight and locked out. Many beginning flyers feel like they have more control when they bend the leg they are standing on, but bending your base leg makes your bases’ jobs more difficult. Locking your base leg helps evenly distribute your weight to your bases. The moment you bend your base leg, your bases will feel a difference in weight and stability.
Your arms are critical to the success of this stunt. You should be in a high V motion with one hand holding your foot. The other arm is equally important. The tighter this arm is the more stable and balanced you will feel. Loose motions are never helpful while flying. Pull yourself up through your high V. Your bases will appreciate you holding your own weight, and the act of pulling up through your shoulders stabilizes you.
Avoid the urge to put weight in the direction of your heel or toe. You must imagine your foot resting on a perfectly flat surface and hold your foot placement accordingly. Pulling your toes up toward the top of your shoe may also help you to balance. The resistance created by this upward force against the downward force of your base’s hand should provide a stabilizing feeling.
Do not bend your leg; grab your foot and then straighten your leg to get to the heel stretch position. You should kick up to the stretch position, and this should only take one count. Be sure that when you kick your leg up to the heel stretch position, you are contracting your muscles during the swinging motion. This will help to ensure that it is a controlled motion. Keep in mind that you are creating momentum with this swing, and you alone will be responsible for stopping this momentum by catching your foot. Slow and controlled is the goal.
Do not look down! This tip is somewhat universal when it comes to stunting, but oftentimes flyers need a friendly reminder when they begin learning this skill. It is tempting to look down to see exactly where your foot is. It gives you a visual connection with the shoe that you are supposed to be catching, but it will cause you to fall! Looking down will throw off the entire balance of the stunt, especially when kicking up to a heel stretch. Spot something directly in front of you if necessary, but do not look down. You will undoubtedly know when your foot needs to be caught.
What can you do to improve your heel stretch? Splits are one of the best stretching techniques that you can use to prepare for a heel stretch. If your split is all the way down to the ground with both legs completely straight, try elevating your front foot (set your foot on a mat, step or a stack of books) and holding it with your nose to your knee. It is also good practice to stand on the ground and practice kicking up to your stretch in one count, but in a controlled manner.
In the end, practice makes perfect. It will take some time to learn what works best for you, but these tips should give you a good beginning foundation.
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