Cheerleaders, despite what some people think, are also athletes. They are not just yell leaders on the sidelines. These girls, boys, men and women train hard to be able to have strength and cardiovascular endurance to produce high flying stunts, pyramids, and still be able to lead cheers for the crowd during a 3 hour football game.
The need for a higher level of fitness is especially apparent when there is a squad that exists solely to compete, competes along with cheer duties at their school or Pop Warner league, or at the high school or college level.
In order to provide this higher level of fitness, cheerleaders must also do strength training exercises in addition to increasing their cardio endurance. By focusing on strength training 2-3 days per week, all cheerleaders, regardless of age, will be able to do the stunts and builds required for a higher level of performance and help keep their bodies running efficiently.
Here are the top five strength training exercises, using only body weight, that coaches can incorporate into their cheer schedule:
1. Push ups
Push ups are a pretty traditional exercise that has tons of variations. Regardless of how many different variations you use with your cheerleaders, such as tricep or diamond push ups or dive bomber pushups (something you find Navy SEALs doing). The great thing about push ups is that it works the entire body. Also, dependent on the position of the arms during the push up, you can target different areas of the biceps and triceps. Push ups are also great for core work when your cheerleaders have correct form.
To avoid injury while performing push ups, make sure your cheerleaders keep their backs straight, hips down (in line with the back), and that their head is inline with the rest of the body. This is regardless of whether the push ups are performed on the toes or on the knees. Also, to ensure the push ups go down far enough, have a partner put a fist on the ground and have the person doing the push up go down far enough to hit the fist.
How many push ups to do? You can have your cheerleaders do sets of 10-12 push ups, or you give them a period of time, such as two minutes, to do as many as they can (more like a fit test).
2. The Plank
That plank is like being in the starting “up” position of the push up and just staying there. It is often done in yoga and pilates classes and is great for working the core muscles of the abdomen and lower back.
Because the position is the same as a pushup, I would not recommend doing this on the knees. However, a modification can be made by starting on the elbows, rather than the hands with the arms extended.
How long do you hold this pose? Aim for an end goal of 2 minutes straight. To build up to the 2 minutes, start with cycles of 30 seconds and gradually increase the amount of time the pose is held until your cheerleaders can hold the pose for two minutes straight. Remember to tell them to breathe.
3. Mountain Climbers
This is a great exercise for the core and upper body. There are a few variations but the basic exercise is performed by starting in the push up position, just like the plank pose. In the most basic version, one knee at a time is brought to the corresponding arm (right knee to right arm) and then switch legs. Continue to alternate legs and increase the speed for 20 second intervals. Your cheerleaders will not necessarily like the exercise, but it’s good for them.
4. Pull ups
Most people know that pull ups are great for developing upper body strength. We tend to think of this as an exercise only guys do, but it is for guys and girls. Although there are many variations of this exercise, including different grips to work different muscles, let’s concentrate on the most basic ones.
If you are at a gym with a simple pull up bar, then use the grip where your hands are shoulder width apart and your palms face away from you. Bring your chin above the bar and come back to a hanging position. If your cheerleaders cannot do one on their own, then use assisted pull ups. Have the cheerleader doing the pull up bend their knees and cross their feet at the ankles. Then, another cheerleader will hold on to their feet and assist with the pull up. If you happen to have access to a gym where there is a pull up machine, you can find one that does the assistance for you.
How many to do? Aim for 20 unassisted pull ups in a row for the guys and 10 unassisted pullups in a row for the girls (unless your girls want to give the guys a run for their money).
This is the only lower body exercise on the list because cheerleaders get a lot of lower body work during regular practice. But as far as lower body exercises go, this is one of the best as it works the leg muscles and promotes stability and balance by using smaller muscles to stabilize the cheerleader.
Lunges can be done in place, stepping forward or backward, or by walking forward. For the most part, stick to forward lunges and, if you want them to really work on balance, have your cheerleaders perform the walking lunges.
Important points to remember:
– keep their hands on their hips so that they develop better balance
– remind your cheerleaders to keep the forward leg at a 90 degree angle, do not let the knee go past the ankle
– the further out they step, the easier it will be to keep proper form and really work the large muscles of the legs
If you are doing forward lunges, be sure to do about 12 for each leg and no more than 4 sets of them. If this gets too easy, then increase the resistance by adding weights or bands.
Keep in mind the physical age and development of your cheerleaders when adding in these strength training exercises. While you can add these in with cheerleaders as young as 8 years old, I would not advise it for ages younger than that. Kids younger than 8 have a harder time with coordination and balance. Cheerleaders of that age need to focus on basic cheerleading skills, such as the cheers themselves, and gaining confidence as they get better. Fitness will come for them as a byproduct, not as the main goal.
Wendy Stewart, Certified Personal Trainer
The Push Up Workout
Active.com: The Plank Pose
Mountain Climbers Exercise: Two Variations
Military.com: Tips for Better Pull Ups
Ask The Trainer: The Lunge Exercise