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Cheerleading Workout

November 1, 2005 Print This ArticleShare

Author: Michael Greeves

Cheerleading - The Sport

Traditionally thought as a non-athletic activity, Cheerleading has evolved increasingly into a competitive sport that involves dangerous and demanding stunts that include lifts, throws, catches, tumbling runs, and jumps. These activities require a high degree of flexibility, strength, power and agility. Cheerleading tryouts, lengthy practices, and specialized training camps have brought performance level to that of many other sports, which is far more demanding than traditional perception. Cheerleaders are no longer side-attractions at sporting events, but have become a competitive activity in itself, from making the school’s squad team to competing nationally against other teams. Like other serious athletes, cheerleaders who want to excel at this physically-demanding sport must possess top physical conditioning -- they must use a well-designed strength and conditioning program.

Cheerleading - The Demand

A 2004 study by Thomas and colleagues shows that the fitness levels of collegiate cheerleaders were comparable to those of other college-level athletes. As part of their routines, cheerleaders must lift, throw, catch, tumble and jump. These explosive activities require power, which is fueled by the ATP-PC energy system. Strength is also important because they must often lift, hold and balance another cheerleader on their shoulders or hands for a period. This strength is fueled by the anaerobic system. Their routines can average several seconds to about 2 ½ minutes, so between maneuvers they must have good recovery, which is facilitated by the aerobic system. These systems must all be trained to their maximum capacity in order to optimize performance.

VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen the body utilizes to create physical work. The scores for female cheerleaders were similar to those reported for female basketball, dance, gymnastic, swimming, tennis, and volleyball athletes; the score for male cheerleaders were similar to those reported for male basketball, football, and tennis athletes (Thomas, 2004). The conditioning for cheerleaders is, without argue, appreciably high.

Many maneuvers involve kicking and splitting, indicating a requirement for great flexibility. Active and passive stretching is an important part of the cheerleaders training program.

Cheerleading - Injuries

Ankles, back, wrists and hands are the most frequently injured body parts (Jacobson, 2004, 2005). A study of high school cheerleaders show that injury rate is comparable to that of other sports (Jacobson, 2004). Jumping, throwing , catching, and even missing can be tough on the body and sometimes dangerous. Although it has been suggested that a reduction of injuries can be accomplished by enhancing the number and training of spotters, mandating floor mats for difficult stunts, restricting stunt complexity when surfaces are wet and encouraging safety certification of coaches (Boden, 2003), injuries in cheerleading have also been said to be related to inadequate conditioning (Hutchinson, 1997). So, despite the many factors that contribute to cheerleading injuries, a well-designed strength and conditioning program may reduce the risk of injuries in cheerleaders.

The Cheerleading Workout

Cheerleading requires lifting and holding another cheerleader, therefore it is important that you use proper strength exercises. These exercises include squats, deadlifts, and presses, and they effectively tap into your anaerobic energy system. For cheerleading throws, jumps and other explosive maneuvers, you must train with power exercises, including Olympic-style weightlifting, plyometrics, and box jumps; these exercises train the ATP-PC energy system, a major contributor to almost all the maneuvers found in cheerleading. To meet the flexibility and agility demands of tumbling, you must include an effective flexibility program that includes both passive and active stretching.

It is important that the aerobic system contributes to optimal recovery of the anaerobic and ATP-PC energy systems. This is what allows you to move from one maneuver to another with ease and with horse power. Having a strong aerobic system, however, doesn’t mean that you have to always participate in steady-state aerobic exercises, such as jogging or running on the treadmill. The aerobic system can effectively be trained through the use of circuit-style training, employing intense exercises from both the anaerobic and ATP-PC energy systems. During the rest period between these intense strength- and power-based exercises -- a time in which your heart rate recovers -- the body dips into the aerobic system, thus conditioning you aerobically. Another efficient method of targeting the aerobic system for cheerleaders is sprint-repeat training. This also conditions the anaerobic, ATP-PC and aerobic systems concurrently.

Strength in the trunk is important to reduce the risk of back injury. Although heavy squats, deadlifts, and various Olympic-style weightlifting sufficiently strengthen your trunk muscles, direct trunk exercises can still be used, such as back extensions and abdominal exercises. Ankle strength is important to decrease the risk of ankle injury, and this is addressed with the use of plyometric exercises.

A well-designed workout program -- with proper progressions that follow the schedule of cheerleading performance -- is critical to maximize your performance and decrease the risk of injury. If you want to perform at your best, you must use the best program! Train hard. Train smart.

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