Updated: Mar 30, 2019
You start your run into your pass and in your hurdle step, your ankle rolls... and even though you try to push through you can barely muster the strength to finish your handspring. You immediately begin feeling the effects. The pain throbbing throughout your ankle; the queasy feeling in your stomach from your body’s shock response, the tenderness when you try to apply weight to it, and finally the worry and fear of how long it will keep you out.
The most common injury for any athlete in youth sports is a type of roll, hyperextension, or sprain/ strain of their ankles. When contact with the ground is made, that part of the body takes most of the force and is then disseminated by muscles, joints, and other parts of the body. For those of us that have experienced an ankle injury first hand, it’s not a endearing experience.
YOU'RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOUR WEAKEST LINK
Youth athletes are most susceptible to these injuries because of the immaturity of the bones, ligaments, and tendons in their feet as well as ankles. Being in an industry that arch support in footwear isn’t “popular” and sacrificed for lighter shoe weight, it has led to ankle issues and in turn, larger issues in our athletes; including ACL tears and lower back fractures.
How we train and prepare our ankles is beyond important for cheer due to the amount of repeated high impact we put them through at every practice. Between jumping, tumbling, stunting, and dancing; the precise footwork and explosiveness needed is unimaginable. Not only ankles need to be be strong, but they need to be exact in their movements. Any misstep can be catastrophic for not just the foot, but the knee, and joints along your kinetic chain.
Dorsiflexion stretch & strengthening exercise with #BodyBeforeSkill
Dorsi-what-now? Dorsiflexion. Ok, imagine we say "point your toooees!" - now imagine the exact opposite of that. Ie flexing your foot backwards towards your shin (but you can also dorsiflex your wrists, by bending your hand backwards). Your ability to have good dorsiflexion in your ankles is possibly even more important than your ability to point your toes. Why? Because pointing your toes make your skills look pretty and get you top points on the scoresheet, but good dorsiflexion is what will prevent your ankles from busting when you land or get high impact in a squat or landing position.
Poor dorsiflexion is the result of a tight achille's tendon and calf muscles: if this is the case, when you heavily land a tumble, jump or catch a cradle beyond your current range of dorsiflexion - it can cause you serious injury to your ankle and achille's tendon. Dorsiflexion is something that is not easy to improve unless you focus on it as part of your regular conditioning. On CheerConditioning.Academy you can find an entire workout dedicated to improving this.
Have you ever "thrown" a skill without particular attention to your form? Not only this will reinforce poor "muscle memory" but you have no idea how dangerous this can be, even career ending! Your body is designed to remember every action you make, even the wrong ones! The nervous system and your muscles register and save all the movements you do: regardless if they are correct or incorrect - so ensuring that you consciously aim for perfect technique every time you throw a skill will reinforce your correct movement chain, which makes you less likely to injure yourself (and get top scores on the mat, of course!)
If you start to build good habits and muscle memory now, it will save you pain and years lost rehabilitating. Ankle problems are some of the worst and most frustrating injuries because of the ease of recurrence. Build them strong utilizing proper motion correctly now to ensure you still can walk at 50. Start doing these things now and you will see the effects very quickly, while helping you on your way to cut calf muscles!
HOW TO SAVE YOUR ANKLES BEFORE YOU EVER HURT THEM
There are a few key steps to ensuring your ankles are where they need to be:
Ensure that you have the proper footwear with ample support for your arches.
All warm-ups and cool-downs should that is designed to maximise your performance: whether it's at practice, classes or private lessons to ensure your body is ready to go. As a member, you can find a number of warmups and cool-downs on CheerConditioning.Academy (CCA) under the #BodyBeforeSkill playlist.
Always roll out and stretch your feet and ankles thoroughly, EVERY SINGLE TIME before and after a workout, practice, lesson.
Your trainer or coach should include exercises for feet/ ankles to help you strengthen whilst working on the mobility of your ankles and wrists. If you need help with ideas, again you can find more exercises in the CCA member area.
Ideally, if you are serious about this sport, you should get a baseline assessment form a certified training or health professional to give you guidance on what your weaknesses/ susceptibilities to injury are.
Including a dynamic warmup stretch at the start of your training session will help mobilise all of your joints and activate your muscle groups, without compromising their explosiveness and stability.
These steps are your guide to being sure that you are ready to go for your training session. If you already have had ankle issues, then after you see your doctor, seek out a certified corrective exercise specialist or physical therapist to help you get back to 100%. Many times there are issues we don’t even realise due to previous injuries that come back and cause new injuries or recurring injuries.
This article was brought to you by Justin Schneider of CheerConditioning.Academy and CheerBandz - combining knowledge and workouts from the CCA along with using CheerBandz you can help build correct range of motion, increase flexibility, core strength, and your technique right at home! When your coach asks you to work at home, these resources and working with Cheerbandz can be a great way to get higher jumps, stronger tumbling, and better body positions!