Modern cheerleading is a far cry from the pom poms and mini skirts of the early 1990s. Todays’ cheer athletes are committed to building strength, confidence, and learning how to work as a team. The recent demand for high-quality cheerleading mats and equipment is a reflection of these changes. Professional-grade cheerleading mats help athletes build strength, learn skills, and master a range of new and exciting stunts. The latest generation of cheerleading mats are designed to prevent injury and are adaptable to the needs of each squad. This article takes a look at some of the ways that cheerleading mats are utilized to support today’s teams.
There are a range of fun and rewarding skills that both beginner and advanced cheerleaders work to master over the years. L-Sits, handstands, backsprings, basket tosses, and cartwheels are just a few of the skills and stunts that athletes can look forward to learning on the mat. A range of good quality cheerleading mats can protect athletes by providing a stable base and a cushioned landing surface, helping to minimize injury while building skills.
Modern cheerleading utilizes a technique developed in gymnastics called, “tumbling”. Tumbling can include a range of movements including twists, flips, rolls, and jumps. These moves add movement and speed to a cheerleading routine. Beginning cheer athletes must master their forward and backward rolls on the mat. Handstands, cartwheels, and jumps should also be practiced on the mat, not a hard surface, during the early days of training. The right mat will help to protect the spine as strength and confidence are built over time.
More advanced cheerleading athletes can work on mastering more complex moves like handsprings, back handsprings, and aerial cartwheels. Air floors are an excellent option for providing consistent floor support during longer tumbling combinations. Beam-shaped mats are perfect for practicing skills that require attention to alignment and balance. Other moves like Toe Touches, Pikes, Herkie’s and Double Nine’s must also be practiced on an appropriate mat in order to prevent injury.
Today’s cheerleading competitions feature amazing pyramid formations and jaw-dropping routines that have flyers launching gracefully into the air. These stunts make cheerleading the fun and addictive spectator sport it is. However, these stunts are the most complex and risky to master. New NCAA regulations are now providing rules and guidelines over the correct cheerleading mats that should be used to prevent injury for athletes around the nation. Luckily, manufacturers are now providing a range of appropriate options that meet and even excel these new regulations, protecting athletes as they soar to new heights.
Crash pads and landing pads can be used in combination with an airfloor during training to shorten a landing and provide extra support. Depending upon the level of skill of your team, this equipment set up can be the perfect way to master L-Stands, Shoulder Sits, and Basket Tosses in the early days of training. Make sure to assign a skilled spotter while the squad works on each stunt, especially if you’re dealing with a younger or less-experienced group.
So, now that you’re excited to learn stunts, how do you get there? In order to start learning these skills and new stunts, cheerleaders must develop balanced strength in their legs, core, and upper body. In fact, cheerleading provides an intense workout for all of the body’s key muscle groups. These exercises can be done on the mat and will help build the strength needed for a performance.
Strong leg muscles are necessary for both basic stunts like Thigh Stands and advanced tricks like Aerials Cartwheels. Leg strength is also crucial for jumps, lifts, and dynamic cheer moves. Do your knees a favor and try these basic exercises on the cheerleading mat.
Cheer lunges strengthen the quadriceps, glutes, and inner thighs, and are often integrated in various poses and positions throughout a routine. While practicing these lunges, make sure that your bent knee never extends past a 90 degree angle. This will prevent your knee from over-extending, and put less stress on the joint. Make sure to try both side lunges and front lunges in order to build strength in a range of muscle groups. Doing this exercise on the mat helps build balance while reducing impact on the ankles and knees.
High-powered jumps and spins are an exciting part of most cheerleading routines. Therefore, athletes need to master these strength-building moves. Start crouched on the mat, with knees bent and hands touching the floor. Quick burst up and jump in a star position, with hands and feet extended at a 45-degree angle. Repeat. To increase the challenge, add a push-up after each jump. This exercise not only safely builds leg strength, but also tones the core and supports aerobic endurance.
Flips, holds, tucks, and other cheerleading skills require a good deal of core strength. For example, a flyer must hold their entire core strong in order to flip through the air with grace and land safely on the mat. Luckily, there’s no lack of mat exercises that can promote lower, side, upper, and deep abdominal strength.
Crunches are one of the best ways to build core strength on the mat. Switch it up and make sure to try different combinations of bicycle crunches to work the obliques, raised-leg crunches to strengthen the lower abdomen, and V-shaped crunches that work the entire rib cage and upper abs. Doing these exercises on the mat will protect and cushion the spine, neck, and lower back.
Planks and side planks are one of the most efficient ways to work the entire core. Doing this exercise on a cheerleading mat helps protect wrists, shoulders, and knees. Start with your knees on the mat, then place your hands on the mat, directly underneath the shoulders. Ensure the entire upper body is in a straight line, and hold. Once the wrists, shoulders and arms are stable, extend your feet and try working into side plank holds. Add leg-raises for an extra challenge.
A good quality cheerleading mat provides comfort and warmth, helping athletes comfortably relax into each stretch. In order to stay healthy, cheerleaders must spend time on the mat stretching and warming up. This helps prevent injury and over-extension, which is especially important for flyers. Flyers must hold difficult positions that require flexibility in the hamstrings, back, hips, and shoulders. Stretching on the mat before, during, and after each training session is key to building flexibility over time. Just remember to warm up for at least five or ten minutes before working into a series of stretches.
The Scorpion pose is a classic cheerleading that is mastered over time. To work into this pose, the athlete must stretch on the mat at least two to three times a day. Start by lying on the stomach, then push up onto the palms, gradually straightening the arms. Eventually work on reaching back to grab a foot. With time and practice, you’ll be able to do this pose in a standing position, and eventually, in the air. The key is to start with small and steady stretches on the mat before moving forward into the pose.
The bridge stretch is key for cheerleaders who are working to accomplish the back handspring and other back-bending positions. This stretch helps cheerleaders develop both strength and back flexibility. Start by laying on the mat, then place your palms against the floor under your shoulders, gently pressing up to arch the back. Keep your feet and hands securely in contact with the floor and make sure to only extend the arch gradually. Over time, athletes will develop the shoulder, leg, and core strength needed to kick over and out of the bridge, as is done during in a handspring. Practicing this on a high-quality mat is much safer and more comfortable than on a gym floor.
Select a mat that has been quality tested for size, flatness, pressure range, stitching, and material strength. Choose to work with a company that is equipped to provide cheerleading mats that abide by the appropriate regulations. Select cheerleading mats that come with great customer service – a two year warranty is a good standard to look out for. Most importantly, don’t skimp on the quality or size of equipment. The safety of your team is depending on it. If in doubt, check here for more guidelines on cheerleading mats regulations.