Updated: Apr 28
Have you ever felt like:
Jumps are not improving?
You cannot hold a handstand?
You find it hard keeping stunts stable?
Your tumbling skills are not progressing?
Your landings are heavy?
You’re sustaining sprains, strains and injuries?
Many things could be the issue, but for the majority, the most common issue is this:
YOUR UPPER BACK AND BUTT ARE ASLEEP.
Snoozing. Taking a vacay. Missing In Action. Out to lunch. Lights are on and no one is home.
That’s correct. You might be “squeezing” your butt and “every muscle in your body” but really, the main muscles that should be working are actually fast asleep and preventing your athletic progress (and potentially causing you injury!)
With over a combined 100 years of expertise from all our staff cheering, coaching, and training experience here at CheerConditioning.Academy, we have identified the biggest physical issue that affects the majority of athletes: both in terms of skill development and causes of injury.
Photography by Emanuel Berthe
Cheerleading is a sport that is very focused on learning “WHAT” to do (what grip, what counts, what rule, what arm movement) but there is still not a big focus on HOW we do these things: this is where we want to help.
We want to make you better, and right now we’re telling you a hard truth: YOUR UPPER BACK AND YOUR BUTT ARE ASLEEP - time to wake them up!
The truth is that the majority of cheerleaders today are using the FRONT of their bodies (ie your "anterior chain") instead of also using the back of their body (ie your "posterior chain"). Think of this:
What muscles are you squeezing when you’re in a “hollow” or cradle position?
What muscles are you using to stabilize a stunt?
What muscles are you focusing on in your handstand?
The majority of athletes are so focused on using the FRONT of the body that the back side just forgets to come into action. It's like you forget to switch on 2 out of 4 engines if you're trying to pilot an airplane. Try this test:
Try to move your right ear up and left. Impossible?
Now try to move your right butt cheek up and left. Also impossible?
That’s because if we have poor control over our glutes, it means that just like our ears, we’re just not familiar in using them with control.
This is what’s causing the issues: instead of using the FULL power of our bodies (just like an airplane uses all 4 engines instead of just 1 or 2) - we are only using half of what our body is capable of because many athletes are not activating the right muscles during conditioning or skill training. You can do as many handstands and hell-squats as you want, but without consciously ACTIVATING those muscles, all the hard work could be pointless.
Now what about those high level Worlds and Summit athletes? Are their butts and backs asleep too? The likelihood of their butts being completely asleep is fairly minimal: it is BECAUSE of their advanced body awareness (proprioception and neuromuscular-efficiency) and conditioning that they are able to progress to such level of skill, among many other things too.
Photography by Emanuel Berthe
So what do they have that you don’t have? Awareness and core stability. Maybe this was natural, maybe they were coached into it. But now, you know too so the next step is ACTIVATION! Here are a few things you can do at home and at training.
UNDERSTANDING MUSCLE ACTIVATION
Saying “squeeze" is not just not good enough. You could be aimlessly squeezing (ie, clenching) your muscles without this being of any use. Try this:
Put your arms into a T, with strong fists and squeeze your arms REALLY REALLY HARD into a T motion. Now while you squeeze, try to bend it. Impossible? You’re right! ACTIVATING is not the same as CLENCHING! Clenching won’t help you if you’re tumbling, jumping or lifting. Try this instead:
Clasp your hands to your chest. Relax your arms, shoulders and neck. Stay relaxed and now use the back of your ARMS to SQUEEZE INTO a high clasp. If you kept your shoulders and neck relaxed but activated the back of your arms and felt this, congratulations! You have correctly ACTIVATED your tricep muscles into working action.
EXERCISES YOU CAN DO AT HOME TO HELP ACTIVATE THE RIGHT MUSCLES:
Squats and Lunges. Keep your knees over your toes and fully, fully engage those glute muscles throughout the full movement of your lunge and squats. Engage the core and tuck your tailbone under like a "scared dog". Your buns of steel should be burning HOT at the end of a workout, not just the front of your legs.
Tricep dips: use your full hand (spread your weight equals through ALL your fingers) and activate the back of your arms. Does it burn? Well done! Your triceps are now awake!
Planks and Pushups: relax the area around your neck and squeeze your shoulder blades together and down towards your lower back. Basically think of Uncle Fester from the Addams Family, you want to look the opposite of that. Still squeezing your core and glutes engaged, thats how you do a plank or pushup!
Headstand and Handstands: focusing on the same three points above combine it all together to fully stabilise your inversion using MUSCLE CONTRACTION (not momentum, ie throwing yourself against the wall).
If your posture isn't neutral and correct, you won't be able to correctly engage the muscles you want and these exercises will be all for naught. To brush up on what your posture and equilibrium of posture needs to be, check out our Cheer Tip Tuesday that breaks each part of posture down for you and can help you get those abs you've been dreaming of!
If you need a little more help, our INTENSITY Cheer Conditioning and our new #BodyBeforeSkill workouts on CheerConditioning.Academy include plenty of tutorials and workouts to help understand and fix these issues in more depth, including our brand new HANDSTAND WORKOUT.
Good luck with waking up those sleepy muscles, and remember to tag @CheerConditioning.Academy on your instagram videos if you would like some personalised tips and support! For more #BodyBeforeSkill tips and ideas, please follow me on Instagram @JessicaZ00
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