Before you start a cheerleading practice or routine, it's important that you warm up and stretch out in order to help prevent injury. When you choose warm up and stretching routines, make sure you target the muscles you'll use while exercising.
Getting Warmed Up
Before you do anything else, you should start your practice with an active warm up. Warm ups will get your blood flowing and help loosen up your muscles, preparing them for an effective stretch. When you cheerlead, your body moves in a number of different directions, so you want to choose warm up routines that move in a number of different planes of motion, too. One of the easiest ways to start a warm up routine is simply to jog around the gym for several minutes. After you've jogged around, start adding other movements that target your muscles in different ways. Options include:
- Jumping jacks
- Sliding from side to side
- Bounding or skipping exercises
- Jogging backward
- Doing the grapevine by crossing one foot in front of the other
- Dancing! Just put on some music and dance your heart out
Your entire warm up should take about eight to 10 minutes to perform, and should make you feel a little tired, but loosened up.
Getting Stretched Out
Youth cheerleaders may not do all the fancy stunts that high school and college cheerleaders do, but they do use just about every muscle group in their bodies during practice. Stretch out all of your muscles from your head to your toes when preparing for cheerleading practice. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise. All-in-all, a stretching routine may take between five and 15 minutes. Stretches may include:
- Chest and Shoulder Stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back and raise your arms as high as you can to stretch your shoulders and chest.
- Triceps Stretch: Stretch the back of your arm by reaching one hand up and behind your head to touch the center of your back while you grasp that elbow with your opposite hand. Pull downward to feel the stretch.
- Back and Shoulder Stretch: Reach one arm in front of your body and across your chest; grasp that arm above the elbow with your opposite hand and pull toward your body.
- Quad Stretch: Bend one knee backward and grab that ankle with the hand on the same side; balance yourself and pull your ankle toward your body.
- Hip Stretch: Spread your legs wide with your feet pointing outward. Next, squat down and balance your elbows on your knees, stretching your hips as you squat as far as you can.
- Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the ground and spread your legs wide. Reach to one side and grasp your ankle with one or both hands, depending on your flexibility.
- Abs and Back: Lie on your stomach and place your palms on the floor just wider than your shoulders. Press up and lift your torso from the ground as you arch your back.
You may find that your coach has different stretches that she wants you to perform, but they will likely target these same muscle groups. If there's a particular stretch that hurts or that doesn't feel good, ask if you can switch it out for a different option. Your coach may also target specific stretches to increase your flexibility for performing specific stunts. For instance, after you learn to perform the ab and back stretch, your coach may ask you to lean your head back farther and to bend your knees, pulling your feet toward your head. This will stretch your abs and back while also increasing your flexibility for jumps and stunts.
Additional Warm Up Exercises
After doing a basic warm up and stretch, you may need to do specific stretches to prepare you for practice. For instance, if the routine you will practice involves doing the splits or particular air-born stunts, you may want warm up by performing those movements on the floor. Do the splits, practice your heel stretch while standing on the ground or do a few half-effort jumps to prepare your body to give an all-out effort.