Back flexibility exercises for gymnasts, cheerleaders and dancers

Whether you are involved in dance, ice skating, gymnastics or cheerleading, you won't be able to execute impressive tricks without a high level of back flexibility. A lot of athletes are naturally stiff in the back and find this to be one of the hardest areas to stretch. To get the appropriate level of back flexibility, you need to do some super intense stretches. A cobra just isn't going to cut it. Improving back flexibility is also the best way to prevent injuries during practices and competitions.

Add the following back stretches to your routine and watch your back flexibility increase tenfold.

Bridge

This is a basic back stretch that can be modified to fit the specific athlete's level of back flexibility. If you aren't very flexible, you can practice pushing just a few inches up into your bridge. As you gain back flexibility, you'll be able to straighten your arms further and further. More advanced athletes should work on getting their hands as close to their feet as possible. Other challenges include doing a bridge on your forearms (instead of your hands) or on your chest. To stretch your shoulders and practice for back walkovers, use your feet to push your weight over your hands. You can also try pushing your feet off of the ground and click your heels while balancing on your hands.

Scorpion

The scorpion is frequently used to impress judges in cheerleading and dance team, but it also provides a great way to stretch your back. Cheerleaders usually have to be able to do scorpions on the left side. This is unfortunate, since most cheerleaders also happen to be less flexible on the left. Take your left ankle in your left hand and pull it up over your head. Use you right hand to grab the other side of the ankle. Try to get both legs as straight as possible. When using the scorpion as a stretch, be sure to repeat it on both sides.

Backbend Split

Kill two birds with one stone by working on the backbend split. This is another good stretch for developing your scorpion. For dancers, it is a great way to improve firebird jumps. Sit in the splits and pull the calf of your back leg up. Your back foot should be pointed at the ceiling. Grasp the ankle with one hand and try to touch your foot to your head. For an extra challenge, hold the back ankle with both hands and try to balance in the stretch.

Stephanie Gustafson grew up in dance and gymnastic studios. She spent four years as a member of a nationally ranked college dance team.

Note: This article was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Sign up here to start publishing your own sports content.

Updated Wednesday, Oct 5, 2011