Sure, flexibility is part of our everyday lives, and it’s crucial for preventing injuries, making sure we stay mobile, and keeping our muscles strong. Being flexible is especially important when you’re involved in sports with a high level of risk, like competitive cheerleading. Essentially, if a cheer athlete’s muscles can’t stretch and relax sufficiently, it will limit their range of motion, and lead to injuries.
Strength training can also improve cheerleaders’ mobility and flexibility. However, both flexibility training and strength training go hand in hand and require practice. Check out these tips on safely improving your flexibility. And discover that the secret to reaching your goals of becoming a successful cheerleader is through consistency, perseverance, and hard work.
PRE-WORKOUT AND POST-WORKOUT STRETCHES:
Q: The question of whether to stretch before or after training or cheer practices is a recurring one among cheerleading coaches and athletes.
A: Both pre- and post-exercise stretches are important as both stretching sessions serve separate purposes.
DYNAMIC VS. STATIC:
Anne Rex, DO. Exercise and Sports Medicine Physician at Cleveland Clinic explains that dynamic stretching simulates the activity you will undertake (during cheer practice). It’s like jumping-starting your movement patterns so that they become active earlier and faster (thereby increasing your power and coordination). On the contrary, static stretching, which boosts flexibility and range of motion, doesn’t really warm up the muscles, but simply relaxes them; it is therefore recommended as part of the cooldown. Additionally, static stretching offers faster recovery and reduces post-workout stiffness.
So, now that we’re clear on what’s what, let’s get to it!
DYNAMIC STRETCHES ARE IMPORTANT BEFORE CHEER & TUMBLING
These movement-based stretches stimulate blood flow, increase tissue elasticity, and lengthen muscles. Just 10 minutes of dynamic stretching can prevent injuries and enhance your athletic performance. So, dynamic stretching leads to dynamic flexibility (the reason you’re here)- moving muscles and joints through their full range of motion, which helps you move like you’re meant to!
Do two or three rounds of 10 reps each of these movements for a well-rounded warm-up:
- Arm Circles
- Plank Walk-outs
- High Knees
- Standing toe reaches (alternating hand to foot)
- Butt Kicks
- Hip Circles
- Leg Swings
- Cheer Jacks
Okay, now that you’ve warmed up, let’s get into it and nail your cheer practice/tumbling sesh!
COOL-DOWN WITH STATIC STRETCHING AFTER YOUR CHEER/TUMBLING PRACTICE SESSION
It’s one of the most effective ways to improve flexibility. Unlike dynamic stretching, which is based on movement, static stretching is still. This involves moving a joint as far as it can go and holding it for an extended period. Depending on your ability, it can range from 10-60 seconds to 30-90 seconds or longer. Static stretches slow down the body, relax tired and constricted muscles, and help them recover.
Stretch the major muscle groups, such as your shoulders, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Because these types of stretches involve little or no movement, take your time and don’t worry about speed. Keep your movements gentle and smooth. Avoid rushing or bouncing through pain or discomfort as this could lead to injury.
You should only do static stretching after training, or after cheer and tumbling practice, as static stretching before a workout can increase your risk of injury.
It’s not necessary to stretch every muscle, however, you should stretch the muscles that are tight from your workout or daily posture activities. While holding the stretch, it’s ok to feel discomfort, but never pain. Listen to your body. The following are recommended static stretches:
- Shoulder Stretch
- Knees to Chest
- Toe Touch (bend from hip)
- Seat Butterfly/Groin Stretch
- Quad Stretch
- Cat Stretch
- Bent Knee Quad Stretch/Samson
- Downward Dog
- Side Bend
- Calf Stretch
KEYS TO REACHING AND MAINTAINING YOUR FLEXIBILITY GOALS
Breathe deeply and intentionally. While it may sound silly to keep reminding yourself to breathe, it actually signals your body that it is ok to relax and go deeper into the stretch. Go ahead, breathe!
Keeping your body balanced means stretching both sides. Muscle flexibility imbalances put you at risk for injury. You should always alternate stretching – if you stretch one side, make sure you stretch the other side too.
Challenge your body with new movements. Changing up your routine can help you break your rut of doing the same thing over and over. Try some yoga or Pilates.
Be careful not to overstretch. That can damage your muscles and tissues. Be intuitive, listen to your body, and don’t overdo it. Pain is a natural response to too much exertion. You can lengthen your muscles and ligaments with resistance bands.
Stick to your goals and be consistent. Will you maintain or increase your flexibility? For maintenance, stretch for 20 minutes 2 to 3 times a week. Leveling up and stretching at least 5-7 times a week leads to increased flexibility. Create an exercise calendar and stick to it! You can start by holding stretches for 10-30 seconds and doing 2-4 repetitions, then increasing each week until you’re holding them for 90 seconds and 10 repetitions.
YOUR MINDSET IS KEY. AVOID COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS.
No comparisons, mmm-kay? Understand, we’re all different and have different goals. When you watch one cheerleader effortlessly execute a needle or a hyperextended toe touch, it’s easy to forget the hard work that went into mastering these skills. You can do the same- it just takes time and consistency.
Water keeps muscles elastic. Did you know 70% of your muscles are water? Totally! So drink water even if you don’t feel thirsty to avoid dehydration and keep your joints and muscles hydrated. When your muscles are parched, they can’t extend and contract as well as when they’re hydrated. What? Not a fan of water? Add a lemon or your favorite fruit to make your water tastier. Check out 5 Delicious Ways to Stay Hydrated!
Recovery is super important! A foam roller is a great tool for reducing tightness and tenderness while relaxing the muscles. Keep in mind that what you do when you’re not training is just as important as what you do when you are. Go for a hot bath, get a massage, and rest up. This routine requires a sincere commitment but combining dynamic stretching exercises, static stretching exercises, and breathing exercises can result in increased flexibility. The rewards are well worth the effort.
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**Please note that the content on Level Up Cheer is not intended to replace professional medical advice. For any questions you may have, you should always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.