You read that title right – increasing your flexibility can actually help you avoid injuries! Flexibility is the amount of movement that is available at a joint. Stretching not only improves your performance in physical activities but it also decreases the risk of injury by helping joints move through a greater range of motion. It also increases the blood flow to muscles that you use during physical activity.
There are many factors that affect your flexibility – the type of joint you are stretching, elasticity of the muscle tissue and tendons, laxity of ligaments, your muscle’s ability to relax, temperature of the joint and surrounding tissues while stretching, temperature of your environment, time of day that you are stretching – flexibility is lower in the morning, if you have a previous or ongoing injury – muscles tighten around an injured area in an effort to help protect it, as well as age and gender. Females tend to be more flexible than their male counterparts and flexibility also tends to decrease with age.
When stretching to improve flexibility is very important that your muscles are warm when you begin – stretching cold muscles does not help to increase your flexibility. In fact, you can actually injure yourself stretching when your muscles are cold! Another thing that is important is to strive for symmetry – you don’t want to end up with one side more flexible than the other! To continue to gain and keep flexibility is very important to stretch regularly. Stretching regularly for a while and then stopping allows muscles to tighten up again, decreasing your range of motion again.
Flexibility is important to cheerleading in pretty much every aspect – jumps, stunts and tumbling all use a certain type of flexibility to perform at a high level. There are tons of flexibility exercises out there, but I have listed a couple of the main joints used toward cheerleading below. Check them out!
1. Standing up with one leg extended on a platform, reach out towards your extended leg. For a more intense stretch, reach with the opposite arm, slightly twisting your body towards your extended leg as you stretch.
2. Start in a high plank on your hands and toes. Without moving your hands or feet, press your hips back toward the wall behind you, pushing heels into the ground. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then return to starting position.
1. Start sitting or standing tall with your back straight. Squeeze shoulder blades together until you feel a mild to moderate stretch. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
2. Start standing with your back to the wall, slightly away from the wall. Holding a light weight (you can use a dumbbell or medicine ball, 5 lbs. or less) out in front of you. Slowly extend arms up and behind you to tap the wall with your hands, then slowly return to the starting position. It’s important that you keep your core tight the entire time, keeping a hollow core position. As it gets easier, move further away from the wall.
1. Start laying flat on your stomach. Bend arms up with hands at your sides, similar to a close arm push up position. Push through your arms, arching your back to a seal stretch. The more flexible you become, you can move your hands closer to your hips in this position and tilt your head back.
2. Stand with feet hip-width apart, slightly bent at the knees. Bend forward slowly from the waist, letting arms hang and reaching down as far as you can. Hold at the lowest point of your stretch for 20-30 seconds then roll back up to a standing position slowly.
1. Lay on your back, then pull legs up in to a butterfly position. Strive to keep your back flat against the floor, trying to get your knees closer to the floor.
2. Starting in a pushup position, pull one leg in front of you at a 90 degree angle, with the outside of your foot touching the ground, turning knee out towards the floor as far as possible. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch to the other side.
Just a few extra tips to increase your flexibility:
Make sure that you are performing through your warm up. The warmer muscles are, the easier it will be to stretch and increase your flexibility level.
Stretching first thing in the morning and after you finish exercising will increase your flexibility quicker.
Strengthen the opposite muscle of the one that you are trying to gain more flexibility in. Remember, muscles work in pairs!
Drink lots of water! Staying hydrated helps flush toxins from your muscles.
Thanks for reading! Happy stretching!
Some of the information found in this article came from:
Stretching: Focus on Flexibility; www.mayoclinic.org