Note: Before beginning any of the exercises described in this article, you should consult a physician and/or personal trainer. By attempting these stretches or any form of exercise without proper training and technique may put you at risk for greater possibility of injury. Finally, don’t forget that stretching and exercise programs are just like people, everyone’s different. Promoting good posture is a task oftentimes more easily said than done and in many cases, our daily activities prevent us from sitting-up straight. Thanks to Dr. Steven Karageanes’ American Cheerleader Magazine article “Straighten Up”, and the Mayo Clinic’s “Guide to Increasing Flexibility”, we’ve discovered several simple exercises that may assist in improving athletes’ posture. The quick and easy stretching exercises in the Mayo Clinic’s guide can be incorporated into your current exercise routine and may allow you to: improve your current level of flexibility, avoid potential injury during the upcoming cheerleading season and recover from grueling workouts more quickly. These are just a few of the perks that come with stretching. Some others include reductions in back pain, better oxygen uptake and blood circulation. According to “Straighten Up”, “Spondylolysis’ – a stress fracture of the lumbar vertebrae – is the most common back injury in teens. What’s more is that cheerleaders and gymnasts are the most prone to incurring this type of injury, largely because their sports’ demand greater flexibility than a number of other sports. Apparently, this widespread problem amongst cheerleaders and gymnasts can – in many cases – be attributed to several factors, most notably: “tight muscles from tumbling and jumping”; continuous hyper extension of the back “while basing a stunt”; spending too much time in front of the computer and developing “weak core muscles”; “spastic muscles”; “poorly-conditioned muscles; “skeletal imbalance – asymmetric bone length, chronic malalignment)”; and, “inheritable factors (scoliosis)”. Dr. Karageanes suggests that great core strength may be one of the most important things athletes can do to promote better posture. More specifically, by strengthening the abdomen and the abdominal wall, athletes improve upon their current flexibility, increase circulation and objectively reduce recovery time it takes after an athlete suffers an injury. Taking the good doctor’s advice, we began scouring the Internet for the best ways cheerleaders can improve their flexibility and eventually discovered the Mayo Clinic’s very comprehensive (and illustrated) stretching guides. On the site, the Clinic articulates ten stretching techniques that can be easily integrated into the warm-up and cool down periods of your exercise routine to assist athletes with staying limber, keeping muscles healthy and improving their overall physical fitness level. Here’s a link to the stretching examples (including pictorial examples). Whether you have poor posture, perfect posture or fall somewhere in-between these two groups, improving your posture and overall flexibility can be achieved by making minor adjustments to an athletes’ current workout schedule. Integrating the stretching techniques detailed in this article is quick-and-easy, improves the bodies’ overall flexibility, enhances circulation and contributes to a much greater level of overall physical fitness – making you and your squad faster, stronger and healthier cheerleaders. Happy stretching.