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:
Many of the stunts and jumps performed in cheerleading require extreme lower-body flexibility, particularly of the hamstrings and groin. Performing the following stretches will help improve lower-body flexibility, enabling you to reach farther and kick higher when performing cheerleading jumps and stunts.
Seated Straddle Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs spread out straight to the sides as far as you can spread them. Sit up tall, then twist your torso slightly to the right and lean forward over your right leg, reaching your arms toward your ankle. Pull your head toward your knee, deepening the stretch and hold for 30 seconds. Release the stretch by relaxing your arms and slowly straightening your back, starting with your lower spine.
This exercise will stretch out your hamstrings, glutes and lower back, preparing you for better hurdler and side hurdler jumps. After performing the stretch to the right side, do the same stretch on the left side, then finish it up by stretching down the middle, between your legs. When you stretch toward the center, really work on getting your legs as far out to either side as you can. This will help you enhance your splits and prepare you for better toe touch jumps.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
Sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet together. Sit up tall, then bend forward from the hip, reaching your hands toward your ankle as you lean your head toward your knees. Stretch as far as you can and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release the stretch by relaxing your arms and slowly straightening your back, returning to a seated position. This will enhance your hamstring, glutes and lower back flexibility for jumps and stunts that incorporate a pike or a hurdler motion. Repeat the stretch two to three times.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Your hip flexors run down the front of your thigh, starting at your hip bone and connecting to your quadriceps. Flexible hip flexors allow you to perform scales, scorpions and front splits. Kneel on one knee on the ground with your right foot in front of you, both knees forming 90 degree angles. Shift your weight forward onto your right foot as you press your hips forward, stretching your left hip flexor. If you don't feel a stretch, step your right foot farther forward, and continue to press your hips forward. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
In addition to lower-body stretches, it's important for cheerleaders to have a flexible core. The muscles of your abdominals and back must be able to bend, twist and hyperextend in order to perform advanced stunts and tumbling runs.
The cobra stretch targets your abs and hips as you hyperextend your back. This will prepare you for tumbling exercises like back handsprings as well as stunts like the scorpion. Lie on your stomach on the floor with your legs together. Place your palms on the ground just outside of your shoulders. Inhale, then as you exhale, press through your palms and push your shoulders off the ground, rolling your back upward until your arms are straight. Look up toward the ceiling as you hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds, then reverse the movement, slowly lowering yourself back to the floor. Repeat two to three more times.
The bridge exercise targets your back, shoulders, chest and abdominals as you mimic the body positioning required for exercises like the back handspring. Lie on your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat, pulled in toward your body. Reach your hands backward and place your palms flat on the ground near your ears, your fingers pointing toward your shoulders. Inhale, then as you exhale, push up with your palms and feet to lift your torso off the ground as you hyperextend your back. Try to straighten your arms and knees as much as possible and hold the position for 10 to 15 seconds. Slowly reverse the movement, carefully lowering your body back to the floor. Repeat two or three more times.
These stretches are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cheer stretch routines. Talk to a coach or your teammates to get other tips and tricks for stretching. Flexibility is a vitally important part of cheerleading, so set aside at least 20 minutes, three to five times a week, to focus solely on your stretching. You'll be amazed at how much better the rest of your cheer skills will become.