Whether you're on the road to tryouts or just another cheer season, one of the most important traits of a cheerleader
is flexibility. Without flexibility, your stunts, tumbling, motions, and dance skills will be severely limited. As important as flexibility is, many don't enjoy the work it takes to get there. Find out solutions to flexibility complaints and the common stretching mistakes people make.
Let's start with flexibility complaints:
One of the biggest complaints about flexibility is that it takes too long to achieve the splits. The unfortunate truth is that, yes, it can take a very long time to learn the splits (and even longer to hyper-extend).
Change up your stretches. Don't do the same stretches every time. Research new ways to stretch your muscles
and give your body some variety.
#2: Invisible Improvement.
Since the splits and other flexible poses can take a long time to master, many people get discouraged, thinking that they aren't improving. If you're stretching correctly, you are
it just might be hard to tell each week.
Measure your progress with a ruler or measuring tape. Every week, measure how many inches your center is above the floor (for side splits) and even with your feet (for center splits).
#3: The "good" and the "bad" side.
It's not unusual for someone to master one side splits but have trouble with the other side. Even if you're doing the same stretches for the same amount of time on each leg, you may master your right side splits much sooner than your left. Your muscles on each leg aren't identical to one another. In fact, most people have one leg that is naturally more flexible than the other.
The only way to fix this is to spend more time on the less flexible leg.
#4: Center splits are so much harder than side splits (or vice versa).
Just like left and right leg flexibility, it's typically much harder to learn the center splits than side splits (or vice versa). This will mainly depend on your hip and hamstring flexibility. For center splits, your hips need to be flexible; for side splits, the focus is on the hamstrings.
Don't rely on the same stretches to achieve your side and center splits. You'll need to focus on hip stretches and exercises for your center splits and focus on hamstring exercises
for your side splits.
Now, let's look at a few stretching mistakes:
#1: Not stretching the right muscles.
Depending on what you're trying to learn, there are specific muscles you will need to stretch. To improve flexibility, most cheerleaders want to work on their splits. As stated above, this means you should work on your hamstrings and hip muscles. Whatever you're trying to learn, talk with a fitness trainer or your coach on what muscles you should focus on.
#2: Not working on your entire body.
While you do want to focus on specific muscles for specific skills, like the splits, you can't forget about the rest of your body. For your splits, while you can focus on your hamstrings and hip muscles, don't forget to incorporate into your workout exercises for your lower back, groin, calves, and quadriceps. Working on your entire body
will help keep you limber and help prevent injuries and soreness.
#3: Not stretching consistently.
When it comes to your flexibility, it's more effective to stretch more often for shorter amounts of time as opposed to the other way around. Don't stretch for an hour once a week. Not only will you be sore the next day (and the day after that), but it will also take longer to improve your flexibility. Instead, stretch every day for 10 to 15 minutes. Or, stretch twice a day (in the morning and at night) for 10 minutes.
#4: Not stretching slowly.
Don't rush through your stretches. This isn't a sprint; it's marathon. You want to hold poses and stretches
for as long as you can. Moving too quickly can cause injuries and reduce the effectiveness of the stretch.
#5: Not warming up first.
If you stretch in the early morning or when you first wake up, warm up your muscles. Jog in place for a few minutes or do jumping jacks. Stretching cold muscles can cause injuries. Also, it'll be harder to stretch if your muscles aren't warmed up.
#6: Not breathing.
A bad stretching habit
is holding your breath. By taking deep breathes during a stretch, your muscles can loosen and extend more.
#7: Not stopping when it hurts.
While it's normal to feel your muscles tightening, don't ignore any sharp pains. You could pull a muscle, or worse. Listen to your body; it will tell you when it's being pushed too far or needs a break. Never force a stretch, thinking your body will respond.
#8: Not wearing the right clothing.
Never underestimate the power of good practice wear
. Your clothing needs to be able to stretch and move with your body. Don't wear anything baggy or loose and never wear jeans. Go for stretch shorts and a form-fitting top, like a Lycra racerback.