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There are five parts to every cheerleading jump:
It is necessary to understand all of these to test, analyze, and train for better cheer jumps.
Of the 5, two can be improved upon immediately by focusing on body awareness:
4. Momentum from Shoulders and Arms, and
5. Aesthetics and Fine Tuning.
One may immediately feel and see results after focusing on the wind up, without weeks of training. Great news, right?
To illustrate what I am going to explain, picture yourself driving in a car without a seatbelt (for some of you, this is already natural - bad habit). Your car slams into a tree. Upon impact, what happens to your body? It continues in the same direction it had been going. Your body's momentum was going forward, and wants to continue going forward. The same effect will occur if you powerfully swing your arms and abruptly stop them in the jump's motion — T, Candlesticks, High-V — your body will continue its momentum upward.
I usually demonstrate the effectiveness of this technique by locking my knees and placing all of my weight on my heels with my toes flexed (making it impossible for me jump). With a fast wind-up and abrupt stop, I am able to lift myself off of the ground about 1 inch. People who have stronger shoulders than I may be able to gain a few extra inches. Those with less power may not lift off of the ground, but could notice that their body feels lighter. This equates to a higher jump, which means slightly more hang time, although minimal.
Note: warm up before powerfully swinging your arms around. Your shoulder girdle may not be ready for the “rude awakening.” If you do not warm-up... the best-case scenario: feeling a pin-prickling sensation throughout your arm. The worst-case scenario: surgery, and months of recuperation and physical therapy. Not fun.
If you want to strengthen your shoulders so that you may increase the lift you get from the swing, try this exercsie:
Aesthetics and Fine tuning is the easiest to work on, but the hardest to execute. It takes diligent practice in front of a mirror, friend, coach, or video camera. When performing the jump, your mind needs to be "switched on" to body awareness. Body awareness is the ability to feel the position you're in.
Let's say you need to point your toes in your pike jump. Video record yourself, or have someone watch you, doing a pike. After you perform your jump, take 10 seconds to ask and answer this question: "How did that feel?" If you can answer correctly with what was recorded or seen... then your body awareness is good.
Note: It will not help your body awareness if someone tells you what you did wrong. You need to coach yourself when it comes to feeling your own body. Make sense? Good!
The next 3 aspects require drive and passion. You will need to push yourself or have someone push you to become better in these areas. The exercises I provide here are SPORT SPECIFIC to cheerleading jumps. What is Sport Specific training? In a phrase, "Train like you perform."
As always, before you begin any training program, it is best to check with your physician, coach, strength coach, personal trainer first and receive an approval from them.
Now it's down to the nitty gritty. By far, the number one tool to help you with your Cheerleading Jumps (Toe Touch, Pike, Hurdlers) is working on your jumping power. In order to become better at jumping, you must do what? JUMP!
Squat jumps, Lunge jumps, Leap Frogs, Cheer jumps with a partner. Any jump you can think of that sounds fun, DO IT (not off bridges, that's falling). I recommend Squat Jumps: stand with feet shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly out; squat down to a comfortable level; then jump as high as you can; land softly into another squat; repeat. When jumping or landing, be sure your knees do not buckle in... as this may cause damage to your muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Do 12-20 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
!! IMPORTANT !! Do a couple warm-up sets of squats before jumping AND make sure your landing is soft and ninja-like before doing repeated jumps.
After your physician/trainer has approved that you can begin jump training, test yourself to see how high you can jump. Every 4-6 weeks, test yourself again. If you plateau, add weight by holding dumbbells at your sides, or using a weighted vest, etc. There are many exercises that can be done to help your jumps, and you may ask me (Ryan, at the Cheerleading Stunt Academy) anytime.
The Jump Test (vertical jump):
Work on your jumps until the distance is 18+ inches.
The four types of stretching:
There is one myth with stretching and it's time to put it into the false file: "static stretching before a workout is good." Wrong! "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a sec... That doesn't seem right," you might say to me.
Here's why: Static stretching before powerful movements decreases the power by a significant amount! Do not static stretch (stretch and hold) before jumps. "So, then... what should I do?" you might ask me.
You're very responsive, I like that. Use Dynamic Stretching before training (working the same muscle that's being stretched, like a squat or lunge). This will help your muscles to warm up and elongate at the same time.
With the myth busted, we can move on to improving and gaining more flexibility. The tool to use for this is PNF Stretching (or partner stretching), and for most individuals... you'll see an immediate flexibility gain. It works like this:
It is important to take deep breaths and relax your muscles during any stretch (it will help you, trust me). There are many variances on this type of stretching which are also beneficial and are worth researching. You may contact me for more suggestions about variations as well. It may take one stretching session, or it might take awhile before you see the gains you are looking for, but keep doing them week after week (3 times per week) until you reach the level you desire.
Lastly, training the muscles surrounding your pelvic girdle are a must for any cheerleading jump. The main muscles to focus on are:
There are, like usual, numerous exercises to specifically condition these muscle groups. The most notorious—famous or well known, typically for some bad quality or deed—exercise is the seated straddle leg lifts (not powerful). I do not recommend seated straddle leg lefts if your goal is to improve your cheerleading jumps because they are not sport specific to... well, you get the picture. In order for your jumps to have a strong SNAP, you need to SNAP (powerful movement).
Seated straddle leg lifts would be a great exercise if your goal was to have a solid "Press Handstand from Straddle" in gymnastics.
Other, more useful, exercises are straight-leg kicks or V-ups/Pike-ups (powerful movements which mimic the movements found in your jumps, hooray!). The exercise that I personally used to improve my ‘snap’ was hanging from a pull-up bar and snapping my legs to the bar (piked or straddled).
Rule of Sport Specific Training: Think about how you perform, then find a safe and effective exercise that mimics that very same movement. This is how Sport Acceleration programs function! Genius, right? It is, because it makes complete sense.
While kicking does help you get to that picture-perfect jump, returning to a tight "clean" position when you land is just as important:
Work your inner thighs (kick back or inward).
Work your lower back and butt muscles (back extensions, donkey kicks, or kettle-bell swings).
To finish this article up, there are some things I'd like for you to understand before embarking on your new mission:
Ryan Jensen was the Program Director and a Lead Instructor for the Cheerleading Stunt Academy (a cheerleading instruction company that offers Private Cheerleading Camps and Competitions) and has been a Cheerleader for High School, College, and All-star teams since 1999. He has three degrees, all from the University of Northern Iowa. Two of which are related to Fitness & Sports. He has been certified through the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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