Gymnastics is one of the most important elements in cheerleading, and it is one of the few things that you can work on entirely on your own. While dance, cheer, and stunting require working with other members of your squad, tumbling is something which must be learned and mastered individually. Tumbling lessons can be expensive, too, with private lessons costing upwards of $75 an hour or more! Becoming a better tumbler is not something that happens overnight. It takes years of practice to hone and perfect those skills. However, there are a few things that you can do on your own that will help you attain your tumbling goals faster. Whether you are working on a standing full or just trying to master a forward roll, these five fundamental exercises will make it easier for you to accomplish what you want.
There are literally thousands of exercises you can do to improve your gymnastics, but most of them require either an experienced coach watching over you while you practice or expensive equipment. These exercises have been chosen because they require little more than a six by six foot workout area, a workout partner, and a wall. No new gymnastics skills should be done without the supervision of a qualified professional, and you should trust your judgement when you start any new exercise regimen. If it seems unsafe, do not do it! If you have medical issues or concerns about your safety, do not try any of these skills until you have consulted with a medical professional.
The Shoulder Stretch
Begin by facing a wall. Place the palms of both hands against the wall and straighten your arms above your head, leaning forward as needed to make contact. Then, slowly, walk backward, lowering your arms to the point where you can feel the shoulder stretching. Be certain to keep your arms by your ears the entire time. This stretch is a basic precursor to the wall walk later. You should be able to bend over to 90 degrees at the waist with your arms extended over your head before moving to the wall walk.
The Hollow Hold
This fundamental gymnastics exercise works the lower abs and the hip flexors (the muscles running from your abs to the top of your legs). Lay on your back with your ankles pressed together and your arms by your ears. Then lift your feet and your shoulder blades off the floor, being sure to press the ankle and arms inwards the whole time. Once you are comfortable with this position, attempt to move your mid back off the floor as well, balancing on your lower back and the top of your glutes. Practice holding this position for up to 60 seconds at a time.
The Tuck Jump
Begin standing with your arms by your side and your feet together. Dip slightly as you take a small back swing with your arms, then attempt to jump as high as you can. At the top of the jump bring your knees as high as you can get them, then extend your legs as you land. When you are executing a tuck jump, focus on the fundamentals: do not dip lower than a few inches to gain momentum, and be certain that your ankles stay completely together throughout the skill.
The Forward Fold
Although most of the tumbling in cheerleading is backwards tumbling, it is important to do forward stretches as well. Begin by standing while holding your arms by your ears, then slowly lower down as far as you can. The increased weight of your arms will make it easy for them to move away from your ears, so it is important to focus on keeping that hollow position throughout this stretch. If you cannot get past 90 degrees don’t worry – just keep working on this stretch every day, holding it for 15 seconds, taking a short break, then stretching again. If you keep doing it you will see results within the first few weeks.
The Wall Walk
This is the most advanced of these exercises, and if you are still struggling with the forward fold and the wall-assisted shoulder stretch you should not move on to this skill. However, if you are new to gymnastics, mastering the wall walk will help you move more quickly through fundamental skills. Begin with your back to a wall, then take a step forward and put your arms up by your ears. Slowly reach backwards until you can put your palms on the wall. Next, very slowly, begin to walk our hands down the wall. Do not go too fast on this skill, and stop at the point where your back and shoulder flexibility make it uncomfortable to keep going. Hold the stretch at that position for about 15 seconds, then walk your hands back up the wall. Keep working on this skill 15-20 times daily until you can walk your hands all the way to the floor. Doing this will prepare you for front and back limbers as well as your back handspring.
One thing you must remember! Gymnastics can be a dangerous sport, and there is a lot of conditioning and training involved to make sure that you stay safe as you begin your gymnastics progressions. However, all gymnastics comes down to fundamentals like core strength, explosive jumping, and back flexion. Working on these exercises every day can help you to shorten the timetable on gaining new skills, especially if you are thinking about starting a tumbling regimen. It is important that you have someone else around while doing these skills, just so you have help if you need it. Besides, working out is more fun if you have a friend!