Cheerleading Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Cheerleading stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with cheerleading injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published November 7, 2008 | Updated July 16, 2017
Cheerleading started in the 1880’s with the crowd chanting to cheer on or encourage their team at sporting events. In 1884, the first organized yell occurred on the sideline of a Princeton football game. This cheer was led by Thomas Peebler.
It wasn’t until 1898 that University of Minnesota cheerleader, Johnny Campbell, jumped out in front of the crowd and led them in an organized cheer. Campbell became the first official cheerleader and November 2nd, 1898 became the birth date of organized cheerleading.
In the early years, cheerleading was an all-male activity. Today, about 97% of all cheerleaders are females.
In 1948, Lawrence “Herkie” Herkimer formed the National Cheerleading Association while the 1960s saw the birth of professional cheerleading squads in the NFL.
Soon, cheerleading spread to other sports as well. While basketball and football were traditional sports, cheerleading squads began popping up on the sidelines of many different games.
Collegiate Cheerleading Championships became popular in 1978 and there was a sudden spurt in high school and collegiate cheerleading competitions.
Cheering requires a great degree of flexibility and strength. Balance is essential to the cheerleader, as well. Muscular endurance, to perform repeated stunts and avoid fatigue, is also important to successful cheering.
Strong legs and hips are a must for the cheerleader, due to the jumping and tumbling performed in many routines. The dancing also requires a strong lower body. Overall conditioning is required to complete many of the activities expected of a cheerleader. Many squads have a minimum conditioning standard that must be met to make the team.
The major muscles used by the cheerleader are:
- The muscles of the upper legs and hips; the gluteals, the hamstrings, and the quadriceps.
- The muscles of the lower leg; the gastrocnemius, the soleus, and the anterior tibialis.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the shoulder girdle, chest and back; the deltoids, the pectorals and the latissimus dorsi.
A good conditioning program that focuses on strength, endurance, and especially flexibility, will keep the cheerleader performing at peak levels.
Most Common Cheerleading Injuries
Cheerleading is a non contact sport, but the body is still subjected to a great deal of violent impact. The impact occurs with the floor during stunts, jumps, and tumbling. The danger of traumatic injury increases with faster, higher-flying, energetic routines.
Cheerleading as a sport has taken steps to reduce the number of major injuries, however, like any sport, injuries do occur. The cheerleader may succumb to ankle fractures, muscle and tendon injuries (Strains), knee sprains, neck and/or back injuries, and head injuries (although the last two are rare, they can be severe if they occur.)
- Ankle Fractures and Sprains: Jumping, tumbling, and fast movements are a part of most cheering routines. These can all lead to excessive force being placed on the ankle joint. If the joint is not aligned correctly when the force is applied it can lead to a fracture of any of the bones in the joint (most often the lateral or medial malleolus.) A popping or grinding may occur with a fracture of the ankle. Inability to bear weight, swelling, pain and discomfort in the joint, and decreased range of motion, may occur as well. Cessation of activity and application of ice should be the first treatment. A fracture cannot be diagnosed without an X-ray. Anyone suspected of having an ankle fracture should seek medical attention. Usual recovery time for a fracture is 6 to 8 weeks, depending on severity. In some cases surgical intervention may be needed to ensure stability of the joint.
- Muscle and Tendon Injuries (Strains): The same forces that can lead to fractures can also cause strains of the muscles and tendons. Sudden, explosive movement can cause tearing of the muscles or tendons and lead to stiffness, soreness, and weakness in the muscle. The repetitive movements can also lead to muscle strains if adequate rest is not given between workouts. Rest, ice (for the first 72 hours) and NSAIDs can be used to speed recovery. Gradual re-entry into activities, as tolerated, will also help with overall recovery.
- Knee Sprains: The ligaments that hold the knee together (the lateral collateral, medial collateral, anterior cruciate, and posterior cruciate ligaments) are constantly under stress during jumping, running, and tumbling activities. Force applied to the lateral or medial sides of the knee, or force on the knee as it is twisting can cause tears (sprains) in any of these ligaments. The severity of the sprain will be determined by the amount of tearing present. Pain, tenderness, swelling, inability to bear weight, loss of structural integrity, and decreased range of motion may be present with a sprain. Ice, rest, immobilization, and NSAIDs may help. Knee sprains generally take 4 to 6 weeks for full recovery.
- Neck and/or Back Injury: Falls during stunts or tumbling account for most injuries to the neck and back. Any injury to the neck or back should be taken seriously. It is important not to move a person with a neck or back injury, due to the possible spinal cord involvement. Emergency medical help should be contacted. Spinal immobilization is the most important precaution in this type of injury.
- Head Injury: The same mechanism of injury listed above can cause head injury, as well. Anytime the skull comes in contact with a hard surface it causes the brain to move inside and can cause bruising and swelling. This may lead to injury to the brain matter. As with spinal injuries, this is a medical emergency, and because the mechanism of injury is the same, spinal injury should always be suspected. Never move a victim of head injury, unless safety is a factor.
Injury Prevention Strategies
Proper training in the safety standards, use of mats, and good overall conditioning will help prevent many of the injuries associated with cheerleading.
- A proper training environment during practice and competition, including the use of mats and protective equipment will help prevent some of the head, neck and back injuries.
- Good warm-up and conditioning prior to moving into advanced stunts is also important to prepare the body for the demands that will be put on it.
- Flexible muscles and tendons respond better to minor misalignment of the body during activities. They also recover faster and can move in a wider range of movement, reducing injury during routines.
The Top 3 Cheerleading Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for cheerleading; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Elbow-out Rotator Stretch: Stand with your hand behind the middle of your back and your elbow pointing out. Reach over with your other hand and gently pull your elbow forward.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.
Standing High-leg Bent Knee Hamstring Stretch: Stand with one foot raised onto a table. Keep your leg bent and lean your chest into your bent knee.
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Get back to the activities you love. Whether it’s enjoying your favorite sport, or walking the dog, or playing with the grand kids. Imagine getting out of bed in the morning with a spring in your step. Or being able to work in the garden or play your favorite sport without “paying-for-it” the next day.
About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.