All those pikes, herkies and split jumps may look easy when you see them on TV, but cheerleaders actually have to work pretty hard to pull off those feats with ease. If you're struggling to gain height in your jumps, spend a few days each week working on several types of training. Over time, you're likely to find that you're stronger and can jump higher and longer.
Gaining Explosive Power
Plyometrics is a form of jump training that can help you develop explosive power in your legs. It's a technique used by gymnasts, dancers and ball players, as well as cheerleaders. The most basic way to do this type of jump training is to place four wooden boxes, about 12 to 18 inches high, in a line with about two feet of space in between each box. Your gym may have such boxes.
You'll then jump up and over each box with both feet, as you might during a tuck jump, not stopping to take a break in between each box but continuing to jump over every one. Landing and then quickly jumping again is an important component of plyometrics, because it trains the muscles to contract and lengthen quickly. Also try jumping onto the top of the box, starting in a low squat position, or jumping up onto the box with a single foot. You can also practice plyometrics by simply jumping upward from a squat position, landing back into a squat and then going directly into another jump. Do this 10 times in a row.
The muscles of your legs, hips, butt, core and arms are all recruited when you do a cheer jump, and thus they all need to be strong. Resistance or weight training is a sure way to gain power in all these areas. Try free weights, a sled press or the Smith machine to do squats, a beneficial compound exercise that works the quadriceps, butt and hips, as well as some of the muscles of the lower leg. Hold a pair of dumbbells and do lunges, which also work the quadriceps and butt. While you have the dumbbells, do a set of bicep and tricep curls. Do 12 to 15 repetitions of each exercise using a weight that makes it feel as if you're almost unable to finish the last few reps of the set. Take a short break and then do a second set. Work the core and upper body by doing two sets of 10 standard or assisted pullups, as well as pike pullups in which you hang from the bar and then pull yourself up as you raise your legs to touch your feet to the bar.
Another way to improve the height and quality of your cheer jumps is to do a series of jump drills during each practice. If you practice these with your entire team, it has the added benefit of allowing all of you to practice jumping in sync. The Varsity cheerleading website recommends practicing your team jumps using an eight-count, in which you start in a high "V" for the first count, hold it for a second count, start the jump on the third count, get to the crest of the jump on the fourth count, land the jump on the fifth count, hold the down position for the sixth count and then stand with fisted hands on the hips for the seventh and eighth counts, and then start over. While using that count pattern, practice doing five "T" jumps with your entire team, followed by five tucks, then five hurdlers, and then five pikes. That's 20 jumps in a row, which also makes a pretty good cardio workout. You can also add other team jumps into the mix, such as the toe touch or double jumps.
A Word About Stretching
Flexibility is also an important component for preventing injury and pulling off higher jumps -- but take care to do the right type of stretching before your workouts or a game. Those static stretches you may be used to doing, such as the seated straddle, may actually be decreasing your muscle power. Before a workout or game, do dynamic stretches instead, for example, squats, lunges, leg kicks and arm circles. These mimic the exercises you're going to be doing and are more appropriate to do before a workout, suggests the Cheerleading Stunt Academy of Iowa and Illinois. If you want to do static stretches, do them during or after your workout, and perform partner stretches to get a deeper stretch. This might include sitting while facing another cheerleader in a straddle position, and pulling on one another's hands to increase the width of your straddle.