No matter how strong you are, you can still experience injury if you don't properly stretch your muscles before and after training. Tricking has a high risk for torn ligaments and tendons. We exert a lot of unnatural force on our limbs. If your body isn't ready, your connective tissues could tear. This leaves you in pain and unable to train — and no one wants that.
Don't worry, though. With proper stretching, you will not only protect yourself but lay the foundation to get stronger. Here's what to do.
Always Warm Up
Your muscles are a rubber band. If you put a rubber band in the freezer, it gets crisp and inflexible...and if you stretch it, it will snap. Always warm up with a quick jog or other cardio.
Elevate your heart rate to at least 60-70% of your target heart rate before training. This is the best range in which to build strength. Just 5 minutes of aerobic exercise is usually sufficient. You can run a few laps, do jumping jacks, dance it out — whatever you want to do.
Stretch Your Legs
Your legs take a lot of beating during tumbling, because you're jumping and landing a lot. Always stretch your hamstrings and quadriceps first, because those are complex muscles that are prone to injury.
Some easy hamstring stretches include:
- Forward folds/toe touches from standing
- Forward folds/toe touches from a lunge position (straighten the front leg to stretch the hamstring, and engage your back muscles to lower your torso toward your foot)
- Pigeon pose from yoga
- Leg lifts from a supine position. Use your hands or yoga straps to pull your foot toward your head.
To stretch and activate your quads, do some lunges and squats. (Tip: maintain a 90-degree angle of your frontward leg and the floor in a lunge position.) Other helpful stretches include:
- Dancer's pose from yoga
- Lunge with your back leg's knee down. Square your hips and press forward.
- Splits. This is tricky for a lot of people, Only attempt after sufficiently warming up your quads and hamstrings. Keep your torso upright and your hips pointing straight forward.
And don't forget your ankles. You don't have a lot of muscles down there, but you do have a lot of ligaments and tendons. If your Achilles tendon snaps, that's the end of your training for a long time. So do some ankle rolls, toe raises, and simple toe touches. Here are some of my favorite exercises:
- Kneel and sit back on your feet with your toes pointing away from your behind.
- If that's not enough, lean back on your hands to curve your feet and deepen this stretch.
- Stand in front of a wall and place your hands on it. Walk your feet backward and straighten your legs until you feel a stretch across the back of your calves and ankles.
- Do a downward dog and work on bringing your heels toward the floor.
Stretch Your Arms
Your wrists are also injury-prone areas. The looser they are, the better they can accept impact — which is a big part of tricking. It's important to maintain straight, engaged forearms and secure hand placement to avoid repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Ever heard of carpal tunnel syndrome? That can happen during tumbling practices because you're putting constant pressure on your hands and wrists.
To keep yourself safe and limber, do these exercises:
- Kneel on the floor and rotate your arms so that your fingers are pointing toward you. Press your palms to the floor to feel a stretch on the inside of the wrist. Keep your arms straight.
- Then, flip your hands so your palms are facing upward. Press the backs of your hands to the floor.
- Place your hands flat on the floor, fingers pointing away from you. Lean forward so your weight shifts onto your hands for a gentle stretch.
- Extend your arms behind your torso and squeeze your lats, teres major, and delts to raise them. You can have a partner (gently!) apply upward pressure to help the stretch.
Stretch Your Back
Back bends and general core support are crucial to tumbling. So, it's important to keep your back muscles limber. This also feels super good for recovering from the work day, whether you work a desk job or spend all day on your feet!
First, bring one arm across your chest and use the other arm to squeeze it close to your torso. Engage your latissimus to drive down your shoulder and allow the stretch to happen across your triceps. Repeat on the other side. This group of muscles and tendons is pretty tough, so it's important to stretch. If it does get injured, it's a long recovery. So, play it safe and stretch it out.
You can also stretch your abs and pecs with cobra pose.
Hanging is the best way to decompress your spine. You can achieve this with a simple pull up bar. Engage your trapezius and lats to pull your shoulders down; don't actually do a pull-up. Work on expanding your pectorals and contracting your scapulae, then vice versa, to strengthen your upper body while allowing gravity to lengthen your spinal column.
Remember: you need to be warmed up to stretch, and you don't want to stretch to the point of injury, A good rule of thumb is 5 minutes of cardio followed by 10 minutes of stretching. Then, do your training session. Conclude with 5 minutes of cool down stretching.
Limber, strong muscles and tissues help you train safely. There's no right or wrong metric for stretching, so don't compare yourself to others! A good rule of thumb is to stretch only until you feel a bit of discomfort. If you feel a burning, searing, or ripping pain, stop immediately! "No pain, no gain" is not true. You only want to push your body slightly beyond the comfort zone. In time, you'll be able to achieve greater flexibility and strength.
I hope you've found this article helpful! Remember, it's always better to train safer than to force yourself into your goals. Everyone's body is different, and I'm here to empower your unique training journey. Feel free to follow me on social media and YouTube for video demonstrations. I also travel around the world, so keep in touch to learn when and where I may be able to directly coach you on safe training!