The toe touch is the most widely used jump in cheerleading. It is usually the first one that most cheerleaders use and when done properly can showcase a cheer athlete’s strength and flexibility. In order to do what would be considered a “good toe touch”, there are a few things that an athlete should focus on. Strength and Flexibility.
Flexibility for a Toe Touch
Flexibility is one thing that cheerleading coaches and athletes recognize as a key component of being a good cheerleader. Most teams spend ample time pushing athletes to the limit in regards to flexibility; spending a huge focus on athletes being able to perform splits. While this is a good strategy to implement, it is lacking with regards to full development. We MUST match that flexibility with strength.
When an athlete does a split, they are creating flexibility in the groin muscles (on the inner thighs) and the hamstrings (back of the leg) so that when they jump, they have more freedom of range of motion to bring the legs up to the sides. The goal is obviously to have the legs come up and high as possible. In order to get the legs up, there must be muscle strength that pulls the legs up. Additionally, to land safely, the legs must be snapped together so that the feet are back under the athlete before they land. This is why strength building is just as important as flexibility (if not more important).
Strength for the Toe Touch
The primary muscles that bring the legs up during a toe touch are called the hip flexors (psoas and iliacus). They are a set of muscles that originate on the spine and attach to the upper part of the inner thigh. When these muscles are weak, it can be more challenging to add height to the legs during a toe touch. Luckily for us, there is a very effective exercise that can help to strengthen these muscles AND it puts the athlete in the exact position they would be in during a toe touch…the split.
We start with the athlete sitting on the floor with the legs extended out to the side. Once they are comfortable, they should sit up nice and tall (to mimmic keeping the chest up during a real toe touch) and turn the upper body toward one of the legs and place the hands on the floor on either side of the thigh. While keeping the torso upright, the leg straight, and toe pointed; raise the leg 6-12″ off of the floor and then slowly lower back to the floor. Make sure to keep the movement under control and avoid slinging the leg up and letting it fall down. The athlete should notice that they feel the work happening in the upper part of the thigh or hip. The sensation should be one of working a muscle, not pain. After completing one side, switch to the other and repeat.
A little extra…
Additionally, you can work both legs at the same time. Start with the hands beside and behind the thighs wile sitting in a straddle. Once this becomes less challenging, move the hands in between the thighs, resting on the floor just in front of the body. Lastly, try with the hands off the floor completely. Check out this video for a demo!