Cheerleading is a sport that is often plagued with injuries. The constant jumping, tumbling, and stunting can put a lot of stress on your body, so it is important to do everything you can to condition and protect yourself from injury. One of the most important things you and your team can do is a consistent stretching regimen both before and after practice. Being able to purposefully target the muscles you are using in practice will not only make it easier to execute your skills, it will also help keep you and your teammates safe from serious injury.
Types of Stretching
While there are many modalities, most stretching falls into two basic types. These are static and dynamic stretching. Static stretches hold positions for a minute or longer to help increase core flexibility, but can be detrimental to athletic performance. Dynamic stretching is active stretching that incorporates movement into the stretching process. It is a good choice for warming up before athletic activity, but it only incrementally increases core flexibility. An ideal stretching routine for your team should maximize the benefits of each of these types of stretching but beginning practice with dynamic stretching and ending with static stretching. Doing this will help your team perform at their best during practice and competitions, while also helping to increase overall mobility.
Practice should begin with some sort of light aerobic activity, like a slow jog, star jumps, backwards jogging, or other low impact exercises which help to get the body warm and get your joints moving. This aerobic activity should not be part of conditioning, but should merely help you and your squad get to a point of gentle perspiration and looseness. Ten minutes of light cardiovascular activity is ideal for preparing your muscles for practice.
Once those muscles have warmed up, it is time to transition to dynamic stretching. These stretches should incorporate movements which mirror the activities you will be doing in practice. Aim to extend your range of motion slightly beyond the point of comfort, but without any pain. Most teams focus largely on the lower body, with high kicks, twisting lunges, and knee to chest exercises to help stretch out the hamstrings and quadriceps. However, lower back exercises like good morning, and upper body exercises like T push-ups should also be part of your stretching regimen.
Most coaches and athletes know that stretching before practice is important. However, a lot of teams do not actively engage in stretching at the end of practice. While dynamic stretching is very important to prepare for practice, static stretching is ideal during the cooldown part of practice. With static stretching the goal is to move your muscles as far as you can without pain, holding it for a minute or longer. Dynamic stretching helps to warm your muscles for practice, but static stretching is focused on increasing your core flexibility.
Static stretching is important for every member of your team, but it is especially important for fliers. Make sure to engage all the major muscle groups in your static stretching routine. Upper back stretches, shoulder stretches, and calf stretches are as important as hamstring and adductor stretches. Creating a 10-minute cooldown static routine is not only a great way to increase flexibility, and thus avoid injury, but also a time where you can focus on mindfulness and meditation.
By incorporating dynamic and static stretching as part of your practice routine you will find that fewer of your teammates suffer injuries during the season. Including those static stretching exercises at the end will have a huge impact on your team’s jumps and flexibility positions. Trying incorporating high-energy cheerleading music during the dynamic stretching, and calm, meditative tracks during the static stretching to create a holistic experience. Being able to improve your skills in a safe, supportive environment is central to having a successful season. Consistently using pre and post-practice stretching routines can be an opportunity to bond with your team while protecting yourself.