Cheer 5: Let Your Body be Flexible Not Your Morals

This is the series that wouldn’t end, yes it goes on and on my friend… Well we’ve looked at the basics of cheer, strength training for it, power training for it, and conditioning for it. That leaves flexibility and a bonus article that honestly I’m a lot more enthusiastic for that one, then talking about flexibility. Now for a baseline I’m a fan of a simple two part test, stand up tall with your feet together. Now look down. Do you see your toes? (yes/no). Now bend down and try to touch your toes (yes/no). If you can answer yes to both questions you are doing fine.

Ok, well it is not that easy. Your goal is to be mobile enough to get in all the positions that you sport requires. This involves differing levels of flexibility in different joints and muscles. For the sake of this post, mobility is the ability to move in to and out of different body positions. Flexibility is your ability to force yourself in to a position and hold it. Think the difference between doing a squat and using weight to push yourself down (or using your own muscles to pull you down) a bit farther. We strive for better mobility, but sometimes this requires better flexibility.

If you have inadequate flexibility/mobility you are either not going to be able to perform a movement (like holding a heel stretch) or you will have to perform it in a method that is more dangerous/inefficient to hold (holding a coed extension and leaning back too much with your spine or pressing her in front of you). Let’s go through a basic list of common areas that can be tight on cheer athletes and what we can do to increase that mobility and hence their own performance.

There is a little physiology that I will bring up here which is your muscle spindle (detects stretch on the muscle) which causes a muscle to contract, and your golgi tendon organ (GTO) (detects stretch on the tendon) which causes a muscle to relax. So holding a stretch you will feel your muscle tighten due to the muscle spindle. Certain techniques will activate your GTO which in turn will allow you to go further in to the stretch than you did before. This is why we like to think about relaxing in to a stretch, not fighting in to it.

Methods

There are a few subtly different ways to help enhance flexibility. Most folks think of just straight up stretching (holding a position while you are lengthening a muscle of multiple muscles). This does work, but there are slightly more effective (and brutal) methods to helping increase your flexibility. These methods are PNF, band assisted, and myofascial release stretching. Be careful when using these methods to not go too overboard on this and risk injury. Hard training always has its risks no matter if you are talking lifting, running, or stretching. So be sure to start easy and work your way up.

Programming

Like anything else you do you want to program for it. Doing this infrequently enough will get you no changes. Doing this too frequently will find you greatly increase your risk for injury like any other type of training. Your initial goal should be to do this twice a week (as in intense sessions). If progress is not made on that amount, add it up to four or five sessions a week. I’m more of a fan of not doing a dedicated flexibility training session, but building this in to the cool downs of my other training days. Try actively stretching the musculature that you just trained at the end of the workout and that seems to help with recovery and performance. Also, don’t be afraid to stretch a bit before your training. Yes, research shows when you hold a stretch for a long period of time (more than a minute) it decreases peak power output, but riddle me who the hell holds a hamstring stretch for five minutes and then tries to do max deadlifting? Just show some reason and try to advance your stretching over time by holding your stretch longer, or using more intense modalities (methods) to increase the flexibility. Keep in mind like everything else that you train this ability is constantly in flux, spending all day sitting and standing will just tighten you up. Your flexibility training has to have a greater cumulative effect than the rest of your life where you might not move much at all.

Bases

You don’t need to be the best contortionist for this, but having good enough mobility will keep you healthy and allow you to actually stunt with greater ease. The goal here is to mobile enough to be safe with your performance, not to turn in to a pretzel with this training. There are a few joints that you want to make sure that you highlight:

Shoulders

Shoulder mobility, specifically your ability to hold a person overhead without having to hyper extend your low back. This is often due to having tight lats and other pulling musculature which will in turn limit your overhead holding position. You also want to have enough range of motion in your shoulder so that you can hold a good position with your elbows up and not straining your rotator cuffs.

Wrists

If your wrists are tight you won’t be able to hold a person in the air comfortably, or it will force you to put them in a forward toe position (makes the girl fall forward some, not comfortable at all). Hitting the wrist flexors and extensors with not just resistance training but also with stretching will allow for better movement quality and less discomfort.

Hips

Tight hip flexors and glutes will make it difficult to tumble well, much less will you be able to hold someone overhead or on your shoulders without having to hyper extend your spine (back). Hip flexor stretches are easy to find online and are easy to do along with glute stretching. Just take a little time to read up on this.

Ankles

Your ability to ankle dorsiflex and plantar flex (feel free to google) is important, specifically your dorsiflex range of motion since this will allow you to use your leg drive in stunts from hands to extension without risking pushing the stunt forward due to lack of mobility.

 

Flyers

Well they need pretty much everything to be flexible and mobile to do their job. Really having high levels of flexibility and mobility will make it easier to hit just about any stunt and make them less likely to be injured (to a point, hypermobility will increase this risk). There are a few joints to highlight that need extra flexibility to allow for certain stunts.

Hips

Really this is the big one, since holding a heel stretch requires large amount of flexibility. If you are tight you are not going to be able to hold a stretch for long, much less will it look good in the air. This comes down to hamstring flexibility and hip flexor flexibility since the leg up in the air needs to have flexible hamstrings and the leg they are standing on needs loose enough hip flexors to let them hit that position without being hunched over. Key here is to attack both sides individually and together. So do some work stretching the hamstrings (one at a time to increase the intensity) and the same with the hip flexor work. Then do some actual stretches where you pull the stretch either on the ground or standing.

Summary

Stretch out accordingly folks. A mobile cheerleader is a good cheerleader. You don’t need to be like Gumby here, but make sure that you are working on this. Your body is constantly shortening your muscles when you aren’t using them, so be sure to do this frequently and listen to your body accordingly when you are trying to increase range of motion.

Gumby
Example of a good stretch. Keep up the good work EKU cheer.
Advertisements

The Devil’s Dictionary – Lifting

A long time ago a friend introduced me to Ambrose Pierce’s Devil’s Dictionary which was equal parts awesome and hilarious. I’m not really in the mood to talk about anything of substance this week, so this is my attempt at some humor. Be prepared for a heavy dose of sarcasm and if this offends you, get a sense of humor. None of us are getting out of this life alive. Without further ado, a few definitions for different terms in the area of sports:

Raw lifting: Utilizing only; shoes, belts, sleeves, and wraps to lift as heavy as possible. This is the type of lifting you do if you are afraid of lifting something that is truly heavy.

Equipped lifting: Utilizing the same stuff as raw lifters only now with lifting suits and shirts. This is the type of lifting you do if you are afraid of lifting something that is heavy without the help of your underwear.

Unilateral training: What you preach makes people strong when you are actually hurt and can’t lift heavy.

Olympic lifters: people who aren’t actually strong, but like to make people think they are by jumping weights overhead and constantly looking for a way to fix their technique that doesn’t involve getting stronger.

Power lifters: people who aren’t actually strong, but like being fat and having excuses for being big. They are constantly looking for equipment to make them lift more without training to make themselves actually stronger. Likely to have some type of Nordic or otherwise motivational tattoo.

Strongmen/women: people who aren’t actually strong, but like to move weird and random shit. They are constantly looking for ways to cheat weights up or wrap themselves in a neoprene body suit

Crossfitters: people who aren’t actually strong, but like to move the goal posts and ask you about your “Fran time”. It can only be assumed this is referring to a rodeo like experience. They are constantly looking for ways to share their training on social media and indoctrinate others in to their cult

Bodybuilders: people who aren’t actually strong, but like to look at themselves in the mirror. They are typically approximately 100 weeks out of being stage ready, but they carry around gallon jugs of water and are honest about not really being strong and being very vain, unlike other lifters (as in every other lifter). 90% likelihood of a bicep tattoo or tribal tattoo.

Men’s Physique competitors: Figure competitors, because who needs legs anyways?

Powerbuilders: people who aren’t actually strong, and are the illegitimate child of powerlifting and bodybuilding. They suck equally at both, but like to think they are at least mediocre at each (they aren’t).

Natural lifter: someone making excuses for not being big and strong because “they don’t do steroids”. Highly likely to not be able to squat twice bodyweight and post on internet forums that anyone who does must use steroids.

False-Natty: someone who says they don’t do steroids but suspicious gains 20 pounds of muscle in a month while proclaiming it was simply squats and milk. Also, the “backne” is just genetic, totally not a side effect.

Geared lifter: Someone who uses steroids to get bigger and stronger. Highly likely to never have been a great lifter without drugs, but likes to post on the internet about how “people couldn’t do what they do”, which is true since those folks don’t do steroids.

High bar back squatting: the method of squatting that angels and Jesus promote and the only way to be a good Olympic lifter

Low bar back squatting: the method of squatting used by demons and Baal which destroys any lifter it touches and destroys any chance of winning for Olympic lifters.

Deadlifting: a movement that will cause your spine to both explode and disintegrate at the same time. It is like looking in to the Ark of the Covenant. There will be no survivors.

Sumo deadlifting: half a deadlift.

Bench press: the most American lift, it involves laying down first and then moving weight through a small range of motion. Still people find ways to cheat this as much as possible and like to regulate it as much as possible, also very American.

Press: Also known as standing press, military press, and stupid. This is the way you make your shoulders explode much like the deadlift. Should be avoided at all costs since simply lifting your hand above shoulder level is dangerous and will destroy your shoulder and kill your mother. You have been warned.

Barbell hip thrusts: The dumbest exercise ever created second only to the shake weight.

Foam rolling – things you do to help you avoid real training.

Dynamic stretching – things you do to help you avoid real training.

Lacrosse ball rolling – instead of playing a sport with the ball, roll around it. Who needs to be an athlete when you can treat the scar tissue produced from training once?

Snatch – a movement to never just google without the word “barbell” in front of it, never look at the google images here. Olympic lifters do this, so it can’t be that hard.

Power Snatch – What you do when you suck and can’t actually do a snatch right.

Muscle Snatch – When you suck even more than the people that power snatch. This is when you can’t bend at all and really aren’t athletic. Pretty much just freestyle lifting.

Clean and jerk – once again not a sexual euphemism, but be careful about seeing google images on this one. Another Olympic lifting movement that involves other sexual double entendre like “rack position”, “ass to grass”, “split jerk”, and “squat jerk”. This might be some strange type of fetish.

Power clean – Read power snatch.

Muscle clean – another word for overhand curls, with dynamic hip action.

Thruster – A movement in crossfit that prepares someone for vigorous procreation, however it is somehow related to “Fran” so many questions remain.

Kilos – a unit of measure that is not ‘Merican, but people use it for things other than cocaine. I don’t understand.

Kettlebell – A weird Russian implement you use instead of heavy barbells to rationalize your fear of actually lifting something heavy.

Bosu Ball – Meant for use as a toy in the bedroom and instead used as another way to avoid real training that is actually going to make you better.

Physioball – Those big air filled balls that the annoying person you work with sits on all day and talks about how great it is. Just another way to make yourself feel better about how you don’t work hard like eating 100 calorie packs. Because when you eat 100 calories packs you are still eating shit food.

Kettlebell swings – slightly better than a hip thrust, but this is like saying you are slightly less moronic. At the end of the day you are still a moron.

Summary

I hope that this was slightly entertaining for you folks. This was all meant as a big joke. I use/fall in to nearly every category I brought up here, except the bosu ball, I don’t use those since I have standards. Thanks for taking the time to read it and if you think I should ever do this again let me know.

Max and I
Have a sense of humor folks. Picture from strongman back in the day with Max, myself, and the creeper in the center.

Cheer 6: I have come here to Cheer you…

Yes, I skipped number 5 much like talking about the Rocky films and went straight to six, this is my Rocky Balboa. The final film in a glorious series about an old man who still has fight in him and something left to do (I really sound like I’m talking about myself now). I want to touch on a bit of the psychological game, how I mentally approach what I do. A few quotes on how to approach your training:

“Hope is not a strategy. Luck is not a factor. Fear is not an option.” ― James Cameron

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” ― Archilochos

Not motivation, but dedication

Motivation is a daily thing, you can be up or down. You can be excited after watching a Rocky training montage or another team’s achievement. This is something that waxes and wanes. Something that the winds of change can easily modify. Don’t worry so much about motivation, focus on dedication.

Dedication is stepping up every time to the plate. Doesn’t matter how you feel, how beat up you are, how bad your day is going. You come in the gym and step on the mat and you throw down. Each day you are dedicated to getting better and pushing yourself forward.

What type of culture do you want to create? A culture where you accept failure? Where people come in poopy and sit down on the mat when they are having a bad day?

No

You want to be on a team that celebrates injury? That crowds around everyone’s little booboo and scratch? You want to be on a team that always refers to other teams as better than you? You want a team that thinks just showing up to practice is enough? That you don’t need to do any other training outside of your sport?

No

You want the people who will tape themselves up and get back out there. You want the teammate that will sacrifice themselves for the team regardless of what else is going on in their life.

Be dedicated.

When I train hard I’m lucky to be surrounded by like-minded people. Are we doing the same weights? No. Are we doing the same exercises? No. Are we working towards the same goals? No. Are we driving towards our own goals? Yes. Are we pushing each other to achieve their own goals? Yes. Are we dedicated to our causes? Yes. Each time I am lucky enough to train at the EKU athlete’s weight room I’m surrounded by football players, softball players, baseball players, and other athletes that are driving hard towards their common goals. Each athlete motivating one another. (This doesn’t even start with the actual strength coaches who are also striving). How are you not supposed to push yourself to higher levels?

Just earlier today I was deadlifting and not the most excited for it, but on the platform next to me was Jacked Mogli, and across from him was the Pale Samurai from the baseball team. They are both ripping their cleans like a man trying to rip the head off of a lion. When you are in this environment of dedication it is impossible to not find that motivation and drive forward. That momentum from their dedication pushed me forward effectively and I hit my weights. Being in that type of environment of collective dedication is motivating. This is what gets you to invest the blood, sweat, and tears.

commit to the pull
Grit, or a deadlift that from blocks still took about ten seconds to lift.

Grit

Let’s be honest here, learning new skills can be fun, but it can also be brutal (I remember a time with Prozac working pyramids where he had inspiring words for us). This is where you need to build your resolve, enhance your BS tolerance, to steel yourself to the hard winds of change. Really it all comes down to developing grit. A new pyramid or stunt might take over ten attempts to finally get just to hit once, and not even cleanly at that. This is where you need to develop your grit. I can wax and wane the poetic on this part, but it really comes down to developing the ability to delay gratification and to keep yourself from complaining. No one likes whiners, and everyone wants to be a winner. Our best athletes at EKU that are improving (notice the improving statement) are often the ones that complain the least.

cheering at Kansas.jpg
Prozak is on the right, this being during one of the basketball games at KU.

Last week I was speaking with some students about what we do with our life. I made the joke that when I die I want people at my funeral to be gathered around (all two of them) and say something to the extent of: “he had such great potential, but he never did anything with it.” “He could have been great but he never sat down and worked hard.” “He always did the bare minimum and not one ounce more.” Sounds like a great way to be remembered right? This was my thinly veiled attempt to try and get one of those students to try and work harder (and I was obviously in a sarcastic mood). I’m more a fan of Rollin’s thoughts on this at the end of this interview at 11:11. Sitting down and working hard is what allows you to achieve your potential, so show some grit.

Mindset

Another mental game that I believe in is adopting the growth mindset. This is where you come from the point of view that there is always room to improve and that you are still developing. How many people do you know that have been stuck at the same skills for years and without even a flicker of getting any better? That is an example of a fixed mindset, where they can only go so far and no farther. Keep yourself in the place of the student, constantly learning and improving. Adopting a growth mindset is what allows you to go from being mediocre to truly great with time, effort, and dedication.

When working I constantly try to remind myself that I have room to improve. This can be with work, teaching, writing, researching, and even training. In this mindset I can keep looking for ways to improve and move forward. Stay with the growth mindset and keep finding ways to be even better.

Wrap up

The greatest limitation put upon your body currently rests behind your eyes and between your ears. Your mind can either be what holds you back, or what allows you to actualize (and weaponize) your own body. Cultivate the power of your mind through improving your grit and mindset, but at the end of the day make sure that you are dedicated. Dedication means doing everything right, not just showing up for practice, but taking care of your body and your life outside of practice so it doesn’t negatively affect everyone else there. Thanks for taking the time to read this long series, I hope you got something out of it. If there is something cheer related or otherwise you would like me to write a bit on just let me know.

the-gang.jpg
So be dedicated. Find that group that pushes you be better every day.

Training to Cheer 4: Live Free or Cheer Hard

Conditioning to be a better cheerleader. Near the end of a series that started off with basic assessment of cheer, went in to strength training, and then talked briefly about power training. Now this segment will talk about the energy systems used in cheerleading and what can be done to enhance performance by training accordingly to enhance them.

Energy Systems (Cardio)

To start off the body is made up of more than just your ability to go. It (energy production) can be pared down to two halves to start. Those two halves are your aerobic system (with oxygen) and your anaerobic system (without oxygen). Your anaerobic system is the first that you use when training, but it has the shortest duration. That system comes in two different flavors which I will break down a bit more in a moment. One big key to keep in mind with your energy systems is that they are never operating in a vacuum. You will be using all of them any time you train, what changes is the emphasis you have on certain parts of the system in your training. Another big key to keep in mind is that you are only metabolically enhancing the muscle fibers (not just groups) that you are training here. So, running is great for running, but that isn’t going to really help your stunting endurance or tumbling endurance as much as working those movements will carry over (metabolically).

Aerobic

Your aerobic system uses typically carbohydrates for fuel during exercise. You can also use fat as a fuel (and protein to a lesser extent), but most high level athletes are using carbohydrates as fuel. This system utilizes the oxygen that you take in to get you far more energy than you can produce without it (and not the metabolic byproducts with it). This system however, does require oxygen, so if you don’t take in enough oxygen you won’t be able to use this system (like maximal sprinting). This is the base and background system for all energy production in the body. This system also requires a long time to develop and not only do you improve your heart’s function, but also your blood improves (more of it essentially), and you get better blood flow to the exercising muscle that you have trained aerobically. This is important, since your carryover to your performance is specific to those muscles. Turns out running miles helps to get better at running miles, but you aren’t building stunt endurance like this.

Anaerobic

This is your short term system that comes in two different flavors. The shortest of the short is your ATP-PCR system which lasts up to about 15 seconds (this is where creatine comes through since it makes up the phosphocreatine which is a donor for energy to ATP (it’s the PCR part of it)). The second half of your anaerobic system is anaerobic glycolysis. This is where your body metabolizes glucose (sugar) without oxygen present. This produces lactate, which by itself is not a bad thing (good fuel source actually), but it also produces a proton (hydrogen ion). These protons when they accumulate make your muscle more acidic (drop the pH) which in turn burns and drops your performance. You can probably tell that there is a limit to how long you can go with using this system before you see a drop in performance (sixty seconds or less for most, maybe up to two minutes for some full blown masochists). Once this system is exhausted all you are left with is your aerobic side for performance.

The pyramid

I like to think of your energy systems like a pyramid. At the top we have the ATP-PCR system, followed by anaerobic glycolysis, then aerobic glycolysis, and finally beta oxidation (fat metabolism). So you can build up each part of this pyramid to enhance the pinnacle of your performance, but how long you can hold that performance for is all about the level that you are on. The base, which is wide, lasts a long time. The top, which is narrow, lasts only for a few seconds. Your goal is to develop the whole pyramid, but emphasizing what you need the most for your sport (or are the most lacking in).

Building the base of the pyramid

This requires doing legitimate aerobic work, turns out the two main ways to build this is long slow distance work (twenty minutes to over an hour of sustained effort) or high intensity interval training (HIIT) that can give you a large amount of the same improvements that you would get from the long distance, but do it in shorter amounts of time. I’m a big fan of using tempo work for building that aerobic performance. For tempo work simply run the length of one football field do a set of pushups, run back to where you started, do a set of abs and then repeat again. You can run backwards here, slide, etc. Just get in the volume by not stopping this circuit for the same twenty minute minimum. Google tempo training or look up examples from Joel Jamieson. Also, bodyweight circuits can be a good method here.

Building the top of the pyramid

This is requires things like short sprints and repeat. You can do things like repeated suicides, 300 yard shuttles, stunting with your partner, etc. Key here is work hard in short bursts. Another great avenue here if you are a base (even a flyer) is to do Javorek complexes. I’m a big fan of them (complex one and two thanks to Rick Perry), when you can do them with fifty pound dumbbells or 115 pounds on a barbell for three or more rounds you will be in pretty good metabolic shape.

Summary

So here is some basics on how to do a better job when it comes to cardio or conditioning along with some basic knowledge of what it means. For cheer I would do tempo work for the months in the summer and in to December (if you are competing in January). Add in the anaerobic work in early November and you will be sitting pretty when it is time to actually compete. When you get in to actual two a day practices drop your additional conditioning (maybe some light recovery runs) until after competition is over.

Another question from Ryan:

Mike,

Thank you for answering my questions. I apologize if some of the questions seem basic. I do have another. What do you think would be the best way to find a flyer’s “given size” in relation to her maximum strength? Do you simply look at her skills/performance? Do you test her vertical/lateral jump? Should you pick a basic speed/power test and monitor the athlete over time to see if the athlete is peaking or slipping off?
Thank you for your help!

Thanks,
Ryan

Ryan, first off thanks again for your question. Let’s break this down, at the end of the day the most important metric to track with an athlete is their actual performance. Vertical jump is great for its solid indicator of recovery (jumps go down when you are tired or still have fatigue from previous training sessions). Plug the vertical jump performance with the body weight in to the Harman jump equation and you have a good idea how their power is changing. You should aim to look for where they hit their peak power to weight ratio (will take some practice to find). Lateral jumps aren’t really a good choice, but broad jumps are good due to the fact they are easy to measure and are larger numbers to measure so you see small changes with greater ease. When in doubt just figure out what is important to that athlete’s performance that you can quantify, or is highly related to performance (once again the jump is a good idea). I would suggest if the jumps are too much to follow, I would use a strength or power set to indicate preparedness. Things like the gymaware unit, tendo unit, eliteform, etc. can all measure bar speed which is a great indicator of where an athlete is at. Also, you can just ask them how they feel. Mood tends to be a good indicator of recovery and over all wellbeing. If an otherwise upbeat athlete is lethargic or otherwise down lets you know when they are a bit under recovered. A good example of this is notice how nationals practicing starts to get people on edge and decrease their tolerance of other people.

On the maximal strength point, you can’t really set a ratio of strength to size that I can think of as a hard and fast rule due to the fact that different leverages, fiber types, body sizes can all combine to give different optimal strengths for a flyer. When in doubt find where the athlete needs to improve and work from there. Some flyers who are midlayers or top girls don’t have enough leg and torso strength to maximally perform tumbling, jumping in to stunts, or simply holding themselves in the air. In this case squats are on order (deadlifts too just to be safe). If they aren’t able to hold a handstand or don’t flick hard enough on their tosses then more upper body strength (specifically pushing) is on order. This is where you would have the athlete work on dips (the real kind not the one with a bench involved) and military press strength (or even handstand pushups if they are diesel).

Thanks again Ryan, I hope that this made some sense and is useful to you. Let me know if you want me to clear anything up or add anything to this.

1930217_526156725760_2662_n.jpg
Lesser known fact I’ve actually done two half marathons and one full. Noticed how I never used the word “run”.