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The Anatomy of a Cheerleader

It is fairly well known that flexibility as a cheerleader is very important.  We spend hours and hours a week working to achieve the highest level of flexibility possible.  However, flexibility alone is not the best answer.  Cheerleaders are notoriously imbalanced when it comes to the legs.  The quads (thigh muscles) are usually very strong due to tumbling and stunting.  Additionally, the hamstrings are usually VERY FLEXIBLE due to the high volume of stretching, but typically are not as strong.  This imbalance of strength and flexibility can cause a majority of the pain and injury that cheer athletes experience in the lower body.  The hamstrings play a pivotal role in stability of the pelvis and overall athletic ability.

The Hamstrings

The hamstrings are a set of muscles on the back of the leg that are responsible for bringing the foot toward the butt (a process called knee flexion).  They begin on your sit bones and run down the leg and attach right next to the top of your calf muscles.  Another very important job that the hamstrings do is help prevent sliding of the thigh bone and the shin bone on one another.  When the hamstring is weak and too flexible, it begins to lose the ability to do these jobs and it puts other structures (like the ACL) in a place where they have to work harder than they should which can lead to pretty serious consequences.

Hamstring Injuries

If a muscle (or muscles) is lacking in one of its functions, it is likely that it will eventually have a failure.  In the hamstrings, this failure is usually seen as a “pulled hamstring”, an avulsion (some of the hamstring muscle actually pulls away from the sit bone), or the hamstring affects other joints like the knee.  Due to its unique anatomy, it can be challenging to rehab (depending on where the injury is within the hamstring).  Most muscles have a belly and two tendons, one on either side.  The tendons are are the portion that attach the belly to a bone.  The hamstring has what’s called an intramuscular tendons which just means that instead of having a tendon on both ends, there is a tendon that actually extends further into the muscle (imagine a popsicle stick extending into the popsicle instead of just sticking out of the end).  Instead of trying to rehab an injured hamstring, let’s working on preventing the injury in the first place

Injury Preventions

Building strength in the hamstring is the best method to safeguard from injury.  We can do this very effectively using only our body weight.  The absolute best way to do this is to use eccentric, or “negative”, exercises.  Eccentric simply means that we are loading the muscle while we are elongating it.

Example:  Imagine you’re doing a pushup.  When you’re at the top and you slowly lower back down to the ground…that lowering portion is the eccentric (or negative) portion.

We can do a very effective, bodyweight, eccentric hamstring exercise called a Nordic Negative.  We start by kneeling on both knees with our feet anchored behind us either with an object or with a person.  Keeping the body straight and upright, slowly begin to lower toward the floor with the hand in front of the chest, ready to catch yourself.  Once you can no longer control the descent toward the floor, reach out with the hands and “catch yourself” before you land on the floor.  Walk the hands back up and repeat 6 total times.

The goal is to be in full control of the lowering and to get as far down as possible before you reach out to catch.  By adding in this exercise 2x per week for a few sets of 6, we can dramatically decrease the amount of hamstring and knee injury that we see in cheerleading.

#hamstring #nordicnegative #rehab