By Alton Skinner.
Picture this, you’re at practice and coach says you need to get more flexible in your heel stretch and you need to stretch more often. Do you know the best type of stretching program to follow?
Or, you’re a coach and you want to make sure your squad has the optimum range of motion in their stunts and aerials for maximum points. Do you know the fastest and safest way to reach this goal?
First, let me warn you this article is long. It’s long for a reason it’s full of information and not a glorified sales pitch. Most people suggested I could and should divide this up over 5 or 6 days. Well I ain’t going to do that. I what my athletes and those that take care of other squads to have this information in their hands now! I care about this sport and the athletes and coaches that make up all-star cheer. So, I get off my soap box and on to the mat.
Follow the principles I’m going to share with you and soon your stunts, jumps and aerials will be flawless.
This article will reveal eight types of stretching, how to perform them and when to use them to maximize your performance.
1. Static Stretching
2. Passive Stretching
3. Dynamic Stretching
4. Ballistic Stretching
5. Active Isolated (AI) Stretching
6. Hold Relax(HR)
7. Contract Relax(CR)
8. Contract Relax and Antagonist Contraction (CRAC)
It is essential to have excellent hamstring flexibility for most stunts and jumps in cheer and dance. I will use an example of each type of stretching method using the single leg lying hamstring stretch for the left leg.
1. Static: This is the type of stretching most all stars are most familiar. In this example, you would slowly bring your left leg straight back towards your body, trying to increase the angle until you reach the floor. When you reach the maximum range of motion, you pause and hold it in that position for 20 to 60 seconds. This is a smooth motion with no jerky motion. You should feel the stretch along the full length of the muscle. Then you release the stretch. New research suggests that the ideal length of time to hold a stretch is no more than 20 seconds. It seems that most of the change in length happens after about 4 cycles of a stretch. It also seems that most of the relaxation occurs with the first 12-18 seconds of a stretch.
The best time to use static stretching is after a training session as a warm-down and to increase range of motion. Static stretching prior to training or competition reduces power output (you can’t jump as high or as quickly), increases the risk of injury, and interferes with stored motor patterns in the central nervous system (you are more likely to make mistakes in the execution of fine movements due to an unfamiliar range of motion).
So to maximize the effectiveness of this type of stretching perform 5 to 10 cycles with a 15 to 20 second hold.
2. Passive: This type of stretching is very similar to static stretching; the key difference is the force used to stretch your hamstring will be provided by a partner or some sort of stretching machine. Picture the old fashion seated straddle contraption in the corner of many gyms and dojos across the world. Passive stretching should be performed in the same manner as static stretching. So to maximize the effectiveness of this type of stretching perform 5 to 10 cycles with a 15 to 20 second hold.
3. Dynamic: In dynamic stretching you would take your hamstring through a full range of motion, slowly starting with a small range of motion gradually increasing to your maximum range of motion. For example, you would slow lift your leg off the floor until you reach a comfortable range of motion, lower back to the floor and slow lift your leg up again. This time going a bit further. You would repeat this pattern until you reach your maximum range of motion. This is a controlled motion performed without any jerky motion.
Dynamic stretching is an excellent method of warm-up prior to training, conditioning, practice or competition. It increases core temperature, increases mobility, increases range of motion and wakes up the nervous system while minimizing the stretch reflex.
Boring science alert! The stretch reflex is governed by a long thin receptor in muscles called a ‘muscle spindle’. The spindle’s role is to let our feedback systems know about muscle length and the rate of muscle lengthening. When a muscle is rapidly stretched, the spindle (via a loop of nerves) triggers a reflex contraction of the muscle undergoing stretch. A high-speed stretch will therefore trigger the spindle and a reflex contraction of the muscle will limit its ability to stretch.
To maximize the effectiveness of dynamic stretching perform 4 to 10 cycles until you reach your full of range of mobility before or after training or competition to reduce injury and speed recovery.
4. Ballistic: Ballistic stretching is a form of dynamic stretching, but in this method the motions are rapid and fast and through a larger than normal range of motion, because of the momentum created by the speed of motion which over time will minimize the stretch reflex. Overtime this will allow a greater range of motion at competition speed. Our sport of All-Star cheerleading is a ballistic sport (picture a triple toe touch) and we need to include this method in our conditioning program to prepare the body for the rigors of practice and competition, but with a few parameters.
- This type of stretching will lead to injury if not performed in the proper manner.
- This type of stretching should only be used by highly conditioned athletes.
- This type of stretching should only be used on injury free muscles and joints. You risk tears to tendons, ligaments, and muscles on these already weakened areas.
- This type of stretching should only be performed after a complete dynamic warm-up.
To maximize the effectiveness of ballistic stretching perform 4 to 10 cycles until you reach your full of range of mobility after 5-15 minutes of a dynamic warm-up including similar stretches prior to going into your full practice session.
5. Active Isolated: In this method of stretching, you would raise your left leg to its maximum range of motion. While there you would contract the opposing muscle group, in this case your quadriceps. This will allow your hamstring to relax and increase the range of motion in the next stretch due to your Golgi Tendon Organ. Boring science alert! “The Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) is the important receptor to consider in ‘autogenic inhibition’. The role of the GTO is to provide information on tension increases in muscles. This tension can come from contraction or stretch. The GTO connects with a small nerve cell in the spinal cord that inhibits or relaxes the muscle where the GTO is found. The GTO will trigger if a stretch is sustained (for longer than six seconds) or if the muscle contracts forcefully.”
So what does this mean to our fearless all-star’s search for the perfect heel stretch? AI stretching is an excellent tool for development stretching. Perform 3-4 cycles with a 6 second contraction at the end of each rep for a total of 20 to 30 seconds. It can be included as a part of a dynamic warm-up/down or a stand-alone stretching program.
Next, are three examples of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Remember all the science alerts about Golgi Tendon Organs, muscle spindle fibers and stretch reflexes? Well, PNF is designed around the idea that relaxing your muscles is the best way to lengthen muscle tissue. It uses your bodies system to maximize your ability to become more flexible faster. I have found these methods to be very help in achieving the extreme flexibility required for All-Star cheerleading.
6. Hold Relax This method is referred to as Hold Relax or HR for shorthand. This method usually requires a partner. Your partner would slowly lift your left leg to the end of your range of motion. You press your leg as hard as possible against the resistance provided by your partner. You will hold this for 6 seconds. This will allow the GTO we discussed above to allow your hamstring to relax. You stop pressing for a second or two, then you move you leg to an even larger range and held for 15 to 20 seconds. To optimize your results repeat 3 to 4 times. This method is best used as a developmental stretch or as warm-down at the end of training, conditioning or practice.
7. Contract Relax: This is similar to HR except your hamstring is allowed to shorten/contract after you reach your maximum range of motion then is relaxed before moving to a larger range of motion. At this point you hold the stretch for 20 seconds. You should repeat it 3-4 times for best results. In this example, your partner pushes your leg back to your maximum range of motion. While maintain a constant tension against your partner you bend your knee bringing your heel towards your gluteus, you then relax and straighten your leg. At this point your partner will take your leg in to a larger range of motion closer to the floor. Repeat this 3-4 times.
8. Contract Relax Antagonist Contraction: Mercifully, this is referred to as CRAC most of the time in discussions. This method combines the best of both worlds, it use the inhibition of the Golgi Tendon Organ and the fact that contracting the opposing muscle group relaxes the muscle you are stretching. In this example it works as follows. Your partner takes your left leg into your largest range of motion, at this point you push against your partner as hard as you can for six seconds(causes GTO to relax the hamstring), then you relax your hamstring. The next step is to powerfully flex your quadriceps (causes the hamstring to relax). You release the contraction of the quadriceps, and then your partner takes your left leg into a new, larger range of motion. Hold this for position for 20 seconds. You can do this 3-4 cycles.
PNF stretches should be performed after a dynamic warm-up or at the end of a training session as a method to increase the flexibility of an All-star cheerleader.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you made it to the end, you now know the best type of stretching program to use and when to use it so that you can stunt bigger, fly higher and reduce injuries fast.
Alton Skinner is the author of “Winning Workouts for Competitive Cheerleaders” book series. Alton is a strength coach and athletic performance nutritionist specializing in competitive cheerleading and dance teams. He has spent near two decades helping athletes across a wide variety of sports to achieve their athletic goals. If you would like to learn how to start a fitness program that can help you stunt bigger, fly higher and reduce injuries visit www.Altonskinner.com.
Skinner Athletic Consulting
“Winning Workouts for Competitive Cheerleaders” Stunt Bigger, Fly Higher and Reduce Injuries in 15 Minutes.