Archive for category Athletes
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.
12 years ago I stepped into a gym.
9 years ago I won my first national championship in Columbus, Ohio.
7 years ago I had my first undefeated season.
3 years ago I competed at The Cheerleading Worlds.
But now, as I sit here preparing for my last National Championship, I think about the 6 year old, scared out of her mind. Pigtails and a skirt down to her knees. Every time she wanted to quit, to just hang out with her friends, there was something that held her to this sport.
Now I live to perform.
To be blinded by the bright lights.
To hear the crowd scream.
To see your coach jump up and down after you hit. I live to sit in that circle holding my teammates hands waiting for placings. As I enter the closing of my senior year, I am so thankful for this program, these coaches and this family I have been given. Here we go. NCA Nationals 2012.
Hopefully you are involved in a program where you can feel safe for your children to speak to their coach about an issue, or a conflict that is bothering them. If you feel the coach truly has respect for his/her athletes and will listen to the concerns that you or your child will bring up. Unfortunately some coaches do not always put their athlete’s interests first, they do not respect the opinion of their athletes, thus bringing up a conflict and working towards an acceptable resolution might not be a realistic goal.
If the coach is abusive to athletes, you must intervene. Youth sports have no place for a coach who verbally or physically intimidates athletes. You would never allow a teacher to bully or humiliate a student, and you must not allow it from a coach, even one who often gets a pass due to competition success.
Even the smallest of conflicts, if left unresolved can turn into something large and complicated. It is best to try to have open lines of communication with all adults involved with your children, even their coaches.
When a conflict arises it is best to try to solve it quickly, before it is able to brew into something bigger. When caught early it is easier to see the real issue, have some resolve and move on. In any situation dealing with the conflict while either, or both, parties are heated about the topic is usually not productive. Things are often said with emotion, and without thinking them through completely. If there is something going on that is a safety risk, then you must act immediately; however for most other issues it is suggested that you walk away from the situation, take a day to collect your thoughts and schedule a time to have a rational conversation about the conflict.
Right now we are going to focus on conflicts between an athlete and a coach. The first question to ask yourself, “Is this something that my child should do for herself?”
Empowering Your Child to Speak
There are several advantages to having your children, rather than you, speak directly to the coach. Many coaches are more open to suggestions from athletes than from parents. The biggest plus is that this can be an empowering experience for children, even if they don’t get the change they want.
Mustering the courage to talk to the coach can be a great life lesson. Your children may gain important experiences about dealing with people above them in the power structure, at school or in future jobs, by talking with the coach on their own.
*If your child is nervous or uncertain about how to approach this topic with the coach, here are a few things you can to do help empower them. First, have them write a letter to the coach. They may or may not need to know this, this is a letter that will not be sent; the coach will never see it. The purpose of this is to help the athlete organize their thoughts. Encourage them to address the issue at hand, with examples; as well as make suggestions for how the situation could be improved, in their eyes. Finally, ask them to look at the situation from the coach’s perspective to ensure they are trying to see all sides of the situation.
Second, it is good to work with your child with what they will say, and how they will say it. Role playing might seem silly to you and your child, but if you can work with your child to come up with the right words to say it will make it easier for your child to carry out this conversation. I statements are very important. “When you (fill in the blank), it makes me feel (fill in the blank).” Giving your child this statement but ensuring THEY are filling in THEIR words will be empowering and productive for the conversation.
Once your child feels comfortable with what they are going to say you should help them to set an appointment with the coach so they can speak with them in a quiet, non confrontational manner. This should be before of after a practice; but you should request the right amount of time from the coach. Rushing the conversation will only make it more difficult and may leave the situation still unresolved. Teaching them to be respectful of the coach, no matter the final outcome, is very important. You should also instill in your children that the end result may not be them getting what they want, however speaking up is very important.
Once the conversation is completed, try to find a quick moment to review with your child how the conversation went and how they feel about the outcome. It isn’t always as important that the outcome was what they wanted it to be, but that there is some sort of resolution. If the meeting was ended with both parties trying something new, or giving something a chance it is helpful for you to know this to help encourage your child to keep up their end of the agreement. Staying accountable for their actions is a very important life lesson.
As with any competitive sport, all-star cheerleading creates passion and excitement that sometimes errs on the side of negativity. We were all taught the basics of etiquette and sportsmanship when we were kids…”Don’t heckle another team”…”Congratulate the winner”…”Do onto others as you would have them do to you”. However, is there more expected from today’s athletes and fans? Specifically, what can we do in the all-star world to discourage poor sportsmanship and etiquette that has often been associated with cheerleaders of the past?
As a cheerleader, you are the front person for your gym. What you say or do will represent the gym as a whole whether that is at the gym, at a competition, or on online public places like Facebook, MySpace, or cheerleading forums. At your gym, be sure to encourage all athletes on your team and other teams. There will always be someone on your team that isn’t meeting expectations or maybe doesn’t even care as much about the sport, or the team, as you. However it is your job to keep encouraging this person to be the best they can be. Maybe you feel this person should not be on the team at all, however this is not your decision to make. Only your coach can make this decision and they know what is best for the team. Your positive support and attitude is the only thing you can control.
During competitions it is imperative to remember you are a representative of your gym at all times, even when not on the competition floor. If given the chance during warm-ups, clap or offer praise for another team that just hit an amazing skill. After seeing an impressive routine, make a point of going up to one of the athletes and telling them “Good job” or praise a specific part. How you look during the competition is important as well. After you perform make sure you are still in appropriate attire or wearing your uniform as it is meant to be worn. It only takes one person walking around a competition in curlers, a sports bra, and spanks to negatively label a gym.
Awards can often be the hardest time to keep your composure but is definitely the time when it is most needed. Clap and praise each time a team name is called. When the second place team is called, hold your enthusiasm for your first place win until your name is announced. Getting second place is a great accomplishment for many; let them enjoy that moment too! Afterwards congratulate the winning teams and hold any negative comments you may have to later vent with friends in a private setting. Please remember that awards are often recorded and all eyes are on you. Do not let a few careless comments diminish the reputation your gym has worked hard to build. Lastly, always remember that even after you leave the competition you are still representing your gym at hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The last thing you want is people saying “XYZ Gym was running around the hallways at the hotel and kept us up all night!”
Online places are some of the worst displays of bad sportsmanship and etiquette. There seems to be a feeling of power when a person can post something from relative anonymity and often these comments are unsportsmanlike. First, it is rare that anyone is truly anonymous on any online place. Most people can figure out gym affiliations between usernames, pictures, comments, or tracked IP addresses. You can’t take those comments back once they have been made public even if you edit/delete afterwards. Usually someone has seen the comments within minutes of you posting it. If you aren’t worried about how you personally are perceived then at least worry about the reputation you are creating for your gym. One comment made while angry may have just ruined the name of hundreds of other cheerleaders at your gym.
Parents can unfortunately be some of the worst sportsmanship and etiquette offenders. For some there is a feeling that because we pay lots of money for our children to compete we can do whatever we want. Most of us know that bad behavior is not okay in any situation regardless of the costs of the sport. Many of the issues addressed above also apply to parents; however there are some specific ones that we encounter as parents of all-star cheerleaders.
Some gyms allow parents to sit in a viewing area during practices. This can be a great place to see how your child is doing and a good time to catch up with friends. It also is a place that can lead to some of the worst comments by parents. Try to limit your comments to the positives of the team. There are always going to be struggles on a team but this is not the place to vent them. Also please see the viewing area as a completely closed and separate area from the practice floor. This is not a time to give instruction to your child, talk to the coach, or make suggestions. The cheerleaders and coaches need complete attention to make the best use of the time.
During competitions there are several areas that parents fail to represent themselves or their child’s gym well. First, we all want a good seat in the arena. Saving a seat or two for a short time is okay; saving 30 seats all day when they are barely used is disrespectful and rude. Also, when a team is performing make sure you stay seated or wait until the routine is finished to find your seat. There is plenty of time between performances for any moving around. Lastly, during competitions, priority seating is provided for friends and family of the team competing. There is an unwritten rule that front row seats in priority go to parents and close friends. If you are there to support the team but are not as closely related then choose the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rows. Signs, banners, and flags are a fun addition to the priority area but make sure they are lowered once the routine begins. Not only does it impede other spectator’s views but can distract the judges. There is a place for all to support the team; just be aware of others while there!
Awards can also be as stressful for parents as they are for the cheerleaders themselves. This is a parent’s time to show the kids what true sportsmanship is all about. Clap for every team called in addition to the winner. This can be especially hard when you have been beaten by a huge rival. In addition, absolutely DO NOT cheer, clap, jump up and down, yell, scream, high five, or otherwise celebrate when a team is called second and yours is therefore first. This is probably the hardest thing to do as a parent but one of the most crucial. Let the team enjoy this time because second place can be quite an accomplishment for many teams. You will have plenty of time afterwards to celebrate your win!
Everything listed above for cheerleaders and parents can and should be asked of the coaches as well. The main point we want to convey to coaches is that you are the hallmark for sportsmanship and etiquette in your gym. If the kids see a Facebook comment bashing another gym they will post one as well and it will most likely be even worse than the one you posted. If they hear you say your team was robbed or “the judges got it wrong” they will repeat this as well two-fold. You are the one that the kids will look to for the appropriate reaction and this will stay in their minds for years to come. That’s a lot to ask of coaches but is a responsibility that must be stepped up to in a positive light. It does not matter how many times we parents have preached sportsmanship and etiquette; if the coach does not practice it then we have lost.
As all-star cheerleading becomes more accepted as a sport in the world’s eyes we need to realize that our practices are being watched as well. Not just by spectators or outsiders to the sport but by our children as well. All-star cheerleaders have to battle the stereotype of the bad cheerleading attitude from the beginning. Let’s not give the public or our fellow fans any reason to believe these stereotypes are true!
By Bill Presson