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Want better Cheerleading Jumps?
The tips, techniques, and drills for improving your toe touches, pikes, hurdlers, and others.

"The Big 5 to Cheer Jump Training"

Ryan Jensen - Personal Trainer, ACSM-HFS.
December 07, 2009

Quick Reference

There are five parts to every cheerleading jump:

  1. Jumping Power (height)
  2. Core, Hip, Groin, and Leg Flexibility
  3. Core / Hip Power (snap)
  4. Momentum from Shoulders and Arms (lift)
  5. Aesthetics and Fine Tuning

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.

Recruiting the Shoulders and Arms in your Cheer Jumps

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:

  1. Stand with arms at sides holding a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Without bending at the elbows, raise arms up to "T," then return to side
  3. Find a weight that is perfect for 12-15 repetitions for 3 sets.

An Aesthetic Toe Touch (that extra "something")

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.

Getting the height you need to hit that amazing Pike

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):

  1. Wrap tape around the tip of your finger (sticky side out)
  2. Stand next to a wall
  3. Reach up and touch the wall (leaving the tape)
  4. More tape (see #1)
  5. Jump as high as you can and touch the wall (leaving the tape)
  6. Do #5 three times and use the highest piece of tape
  7. Measure the distance between the #3 and the highest piece

Work on your jumps until the distance is 18+ inches.

Stretching the Truth?

The four types of stretching:

  • Static = stretch by holding (during or after a workout)
  • Dynamic = stretch by working (before a workout)
  • Ballistic = stretch by bouncing (don't do)
  • PNF = stretch by holding and working (during or after a workout)

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.

How to increase Flexibility

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:

  1. Partner stretches you until slight discomfort (not pain), hold for 15-30 seconds.
  2. Use the same muscle that was just stretched and push against your partner for 15-30 seconds.
  3. Relax your muscles and allow your partner to stretch you for another 15-30 seconds.
  4. This may be repeated 3+ times or until you are finished.

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.

Putting the “Snap” into your Hurdlers

Lastly, training the muscles surrounding your pelvic girdle are a must for any cheerleading jump. The main muscles to focus on are:

  • Hip Flexors (the muscles you use when you do a chorus line kick)
  • Glutes and Hamstrings (the muscles that kick your legs behind you)
  • Inner/Outer hips (the muscles that snap your legs outward and snap your legs back together before landing)

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).

Last words of advice

To finish this article up, there are some things I'd like for you to understand before embarking on your new mission:

  1. Consult your physician, coach, parent, personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist beforehand. They may find that you are lacking in certain fundamental and critical elements which need to have primary focus before beginning a plyometric (jump training) routine (e.g. weak stabilizers, damaged joints, etc.). A lifetime of pain and regret could become reality if you do not take this primary step.
  2. Make sure you are performing proper technique. This can be done by recruiting your coach, or a personal trainer / strength coach (nationally certified) to critique your movements.
  3. Go slow, take baby steps... your body will thank you later.
  4. There are many ways to do the wind-up, swing through, follow through, cleans, transitions between jumps, etc. Continue to do what your team is doing.

Happy Jumping.

Quick Reference:

  1. Jumping Power: - 2 days per week.
    • One session is hard, the next session is easy.
    • Squat Jumps work your whole leg.
    • Jumping Rope works your calves.
    • Try “X-Jacks” to work your inner and outer thighs.
  2. Flexibility: - during or immediately following your workout.
    • Do dynamic stretches prior to practice, not static
    • Do static stretches during or after practice.
    • Use PNF Stretching Techniques for immediate Flexibility gains
      1. Someone stretches you for 15-30 sec.
      2. Push against them for 15-30 sec. It helps if your partner slowly allows you to push back to resting position.
      3. Relax and allow your partner to stretch you again for 15-30 sec.
      4. Push against them for 15-30 sec.
    • Deep Breathe and relax your muscles while stretching
  3. Core/Hip Power: - Every workout.
    • work on powerful movements when using your hip and butt muscles
      • Leg kicks, fast leg lifts, hanging leg lifts, V-ups, Pike-ups, Assisted Jumps, etc.
      • To work your backward kicking muscles (butt):
        1. Put one foot on a high platform/step/chair
        2. Push up and jump off of the platform
        3. Land on the platform with the same foot you jumped with
        4. Slow your body down and land with the other foot on the floor
      • Using Resistance tubes or bands / ankle weights (properly) can also help these areas.
      • Strong Kicking motions in a pool
      • Do not perform seated straddle leg lifts and other slow moving exercises
    • Crunches, Crunches, Crunches (powerful)
      • Fast crunches
      • Side crunches
      • Twisting crunches
  4. Recruit Arms/Shoulders: - Every jump.
    • Arms at your sides, swing them fast up to a “T,” Stopping abruptly
    • To strengthen your shoulders:
      • Hold a medicine ball at your chest, then push it powerfully into the air above your head (elbows in front or to the side)
      • Shoulder flys with dumbbells or resistance bands: arms straight at sides, raise to "T" and then back down.
  5. Aesthetics and Fine Tuning: - Every jump.
    • Work on body awareness and feeling where it is positioned.
      • close your eyes and use a mirror/friend, then open your eyes
      • video record yourself, answer "how did it feel?," check to see if you're right

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.

Cheerleading Stunt Academy
1107 Garfield Court
Davenport, IA 52804

Web Site:
Phone: 309-314-4965

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