Flexibility exercises for cheerleaders are the backbone of effective stunts, dance routines and cheers. Without flexible limbs, a cheerleader's repertoire would be severely limited and possibly never advance beyond the realm of stomps and chants. Flexibility is often gauged at cheerleading tryouts and is a determining factor in whether or not a potential cheerleader will make the team. Hence, it behooves all potential and practicing cheerleaders to increase and maintain their flexibility through a solid stretching routine.
Combating Stiff Muscles
Stiff muscles are the antagonists of any flexibility exercises. Cheerleaders need to be strong in order to cleanly execute certain stunts and often strength-building exercises are thrown into their training repertoires. Weight-lifting and strength-building exercises are good for bulking up muscles, but they can often lead to tight stiff muscle tissue if they are not accompanied by flexibility and cardiovascular workouts.
Your first step in achieving maximum flexibility is keeping your muscles loose. Any exercise that promotes movement and aerobic activity will help to increase the fluidity of your muscles, and work acids and toxins out of your system. This, in turn, will aid your body's ability to stretch. Jogging, dancing, or moving around consistently will improve your overall flexibility, and flexibility will also improve your jogging and dancing. These elements work together in an almost cyclic fashion.
Fortunately, inactivity is not the plague of cheerleaders and dancers, so it shouldn't be difficult for cheerleaders to engage in movement activities in order to enhance their flexibility.
Basic Flexibility Exercises for Cheerleaders
Even simple stretches exist on a gradient. The most basic stretches include lunges, hamstring stretches and toe-reaches, amongst others. If flexibility is truly your weakness as a cheerleader, you will want to proceed carefully up the hierarchy of stretches. Your best stretch for your level and condition will always be the stretch that you have almost perfected. Basically, what you want to do is move each stretch to perfection and slowly climb up the chain of stretches.
If you cannot master a side split, a half split (where the back leg remains folded) should be perfected before you continue to attempt a full side split. After all, what is the point of pushing what you cannot do over what you almost can do? The inability of your body to attempt a more challenging stretch will be aided tremendously as you push your body to master the less challenging stretch.
Splits are absolutely foundational for cheerleaders. They are used in many jumps and stunts. The bow and arrow, scorpion and heel stretch all hinge on a cheerleader's ability to master an array of splits. Therefore, an array of splits should be a fundamental part of your stretching routine. Side splits, frontal splits, toe-reaches done while in splits and forward plunges in a split are all necessary elements for increasing the flexibility of your leg muscles.
The cheerleader heel stretch is essentially a standing side split. This heel stretch is a basic element of cheerleaders. Thus, a well-mastered side split is a necessity for cheerleaders, particularly flyers. If your splits are in order, this level of flexibility will streamline your dance routines and jumps.
Holding a Stretch
Flexibility exercises for cheerleaders should be performed in a consistent fashion. Do stretches every day and perform the same array of stretches on this daily basis. Failing to stretch and move regularly will contribute to stiff muscles, and you can soon lose everything you've worked for.
Holding a stretch is very important for increasing your muscle memory, and ensuring that the stretch is effective. Ideally, you want to hold a stretch as long as possible. If you are pushing your system too far, holding a stretch will be extremely painful and you can risk pulling a muscle. Hence, you want to stretch to the point that you are definitely not comfortable, but your body is not completely rebelling. When you've reached a challenging degree within a stretch, try to hold your body in this position for at least ten seconds. If ten seconds poses little difficultly, then increasing the time to the thirty second mark will help to fortify your progress.
A Simple Rotating Stretch Routine
Lower your body into a horizontal split. If you cannot hold a straight horizontal split, allow your legs to form as wide a "V" as possible. Then, try to lower your torso as far as you can onto the ground. Those who cannot descend their abdomen to the floor will need to support their body with their arms. Your goal is to reach as far forward as possible with your arms and hold the stretch for about ten to thirty seconds. After you have completed a long count, try to stretch just one inch further. This will push your body slightly. Hold this stretch for ten seconds.
Next, try and move your horizontal split into a vertical split facing to your right. Lower your abdomen as far towards your knee as possible and try to touch your toe. Hold this stretch for between ten to thirty seconds. Then, again, reach for an inch further as to push your body's flexibility standard further. Hold this stretch for ten seconds. Then, turn your torso and switch your split from the right to left direction so that you are stretching the opposite leg. Complete the previous stretch for this leg as well.
Do this floor routine daily to maintain and enhance your flexibility.
Injury is a common side-effect of a poorly paced training routine. Stretches, like an athletic feat, should be handled carefully and your progress should be even-paced and slow enough to allow your muscles to adjust. The "no pain, no gain" philosophy isn't without its merit, but if your muscles are extremely sore from a prior stretching bout, pushing yourself further is an almost guaranteed path to a muscle pull. Again, your stretching routines should unfold with care and caution.