How to improve your flexibility is an ongoing challenge for cheerleaders, dancers, and those doing gymnastics. Safe stretching is a learned art.
It's especially important for those who are not in dance classes learning ballet technique, to learn proper warm up, and proper stretching positions.
If you are in high school or college cheer leading it's easy to justify a short-cut and skip warming up - especially if you're hot and sweaty just from getting to practice on time! Yet warm up and cool down are important for making your hard work pay off. Also, and just as important, your stretching is more effective.The time taken to warm up protects you from injuries. Stress fractures, joint pain and muscle strains are the least of what can happen if you fail to warm up.
Warm-up gets your body activated for the intense activity of all the choreographic repetitions you will do in any given practice. It wakens your reflexes, or your automatic physical reactions to your own and others' movements. Your heart rate and breathing will increase, pushing oxygen and glucose to your muscles and raising your body temperature. The result is, your muscles get warmer, move and stretch more easily, and will be less painful afterwards. Once warmed up, your metabolism runs high for the duration of your practice, resulting in better fat-burn off.
Your warm-up should work the same muscles you'll be using while exercising. If you are going to be doing a lot of jumps, a slow motion warm up of jumps would be slow controlled squats. Slowly straightening up, controlling your posture, and holding your core muscles, will prepare your muscles and your concentration for a fun and safe session.
Using slow motion versions of your arm movements will warm up your shoulder/neck/arms and upper back.
After five to ten minutes of this kind of warm up, you can do some gentle stretching in all the positions you will be using in the choreography.
After practice, you can repeat your stretching more intensely. Better to take time here while you're really warmed up, and then throw on some sweats to go home in. (Even if you are going somewhere to grab a bite and socialize, better use the time to stretch rather than primp. You are serious, right?)
Cool-down gradually. Just walking around two or three minutes, pausing to lunge and stretch your calves, makes it easy on your circulatory system (heart/lungs/blood flow).
Stretches are technical and must be learned in detail. Warming up in order to maximize your efforts will help you get more flexible for cheer leading, and avoid injury. I hope that all you cheer leaders who can't schedule in dance classes will visit our articles on safe stretching and dance technique.