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Cheerleaders are known for their pep and physical fitness. In addition to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, cheerleaders need to stay physically fit. Strength, endurance and flexibility all are aspects of a successful cheerleader. Set a workout schedule that includes cardio and strength training workouts as well as exercises that increase flexibility.
Before starting any workout, warm up your muscles. Spirit Cheer, one of the first companies to implement cheerleading camps and competitions, encourages cheerleaders to spend five minutes or so running in place, jumping rope, jogging on the treadmill or any other activity that helps raise your heart rate. After warming up, spend a few additional minutes stretching all major muscle groups. Use exercise equipment designated for stretching or perform static stretches, such as shoulder rolls or knee raises.
Once you've warmed up, spend 30 minutes or so on some form of cardiovascular exercise. Examples include running on the elliptical machine, swimming, step aerobics, cardio kickboxing and dance class. To prevent overtraining, potential sprains, strains and other injuries and/or premature exhaustion, Spirit Cheer advises working out at 75 percent of your maximum heart rate. Use a heart rate monitor to keep track of your heart rate throughout your workout.
For cheerleaders to perform stunts such as partner lifts, pyramids and basket tosses, it is important to build strong muscles. Spend time performing strength training workouts either using exercise equipment or your own body weight. Focus on large muscle groups, such as your arms, back, legs, glutes and shoulders. Examples of bodyweight workouts include pushups, pull-ups, situps, partner leg lifts, plus squats and lunges. Perform 10 to 12 reps of each exercise, then work your way up to 75 to 100 reps.
To help increase your flexibility, as well as prevent injuries, enroll in a yoga or Pilates class or perform stretches at home. Cheerleaders use many major muscle groups including the hamstrings, quads, glutes, abdominals, chest, shoulders, back and pectorals. The Stretching Institute recommends incorporating three types of stretches that focuses on these major muscle groups. Start off with the elbow-rotator stretch by placing one arm behind your back. Rest the back of your hand against your back. Grab your elbow with your other arm and pull the elbow forward gently. Other stretching exercises to try include the lying knee roll-over stretch and the standing, high-leg bent knee hamstring stretch. Warm up before your workout routine as well as before performing advanced stunts. Include stretching exercises at the end of your workout routine, too.
The jumps, tumbling and stunting of cheerleading require a high level of fitness. General cardiovascular workouts, such as running, biking or in-line skating, should lay the foundation for your training program. In addition to cardio workouts, training to get yourself in shape for cheerleading should include strength, balance and flexibility components as well. Start slowly with fewer repetitions, working your way up to the targeted amount for each exercise.
Upper Body Strength
Cheerleaders need a strong upper body for tumbling and basing stunts. Pushups are very effective for improving upper body strength. When doing pushups, it is important to use correct form. If necessary, start with your knees on the ground in a modified pushup position to keep perfect form. With your hands wider than shoulder-width apart, keep your body straight as you lower it toward the ground. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in toward your spine the entire time. Start with just 10 pushups, working up to four sets of 25 pushups.
Strong core muscles will help with tumbling, stunting and jumps. V-ups are an especially good way to train your core muscles for cheerleading, as they also incorporate your hip flexor muscles, which help get your legs higher in your jumps. Lie on the ground with your legs straight and your arms above your head. Lift your arms and legs about six inches off the ground and pull your abdominal muscles in toward your spine. Bring your arms and legs together as your body forms a V position. Lower back down, not allowing your arms or legs to touch the ground. Repeat 10 times. Work up to completing 10 sets of 10.
Lower Body Strength
Strong legs will improve your height in jumps, the difficulty of your tumbling and your steadiness in stunting. A wall sit is a great way to strengthen your lower body. Start with your back against a wall and your feet about two feet away from the wall and about shoulder-width apart. Your toes and knees should point straight forward. Pull your abdominal muscles in toward your spine. Lower your body down until your legs form a right angle. Hold for up to one minute. Take a one-minute break and repeat. Work up to doing five one-minute wall sits.
Good balance is important to all cheerleaders, especially to those flying in stunts. Modify yoga's tree pose into a liberty to improve your balance. Stand on your right foot with your left leg bent. Your left thigh should be parallel to the ground, with your left foot alongside your right knee. Keep your arms in a hi-V motion with your abdominal muscles pulled in tight. Balance for up to one minute on your right foot before switching to your left foot. When you have mastered this balance on the ground, try balancing while standing on a couch cushion placed on the ground to add some instability to the exercise. Repeat the exercise three to five times on each foot.
Full body stretching is very important for cheerleaders; however, some of the most beneficial stretches to focus on are split stretches and straddle stretches. Use a wall straddle to improve your extension in your middle splits and toe touch. Lie on the ground with your rear against a wall. Extend your legs straight up in the air with your toes pointed. Make sure your abdominal muscles are pulled in and held tight. Allow your legs to fall open into a straddle position, keeping your toes pointed. Hold this position for several minutes, as your legs to sink closer and closer to the ground.
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In order to prepare your body for the rigors of cheerleading, you need endurance, strength, flexibility and balance training. When possible, choose cheerleading-inspired exercises because they train you in the same ways you will perform in cheerleading. A progressive plan that increases in difficulty over a two-week period is an effective way to make the gains you need.
As a cheerleader, you need endurance to perform the cheers, dances, tumbling, jumps and stunts required. Aerobic activity that gets your heart pumping and your lungs working harder is what you need to build endurance. Do at least three sessions of aerobic activity each week during your program. If you wish, you can do aerobic activity at every workout. For a cheerleading-inspired endurance activity, consider performing your cheers and dances in quick succession, similar to an aerobic dance routine. Do not take breaks in between the cheers or dances. Perform each element multiple times if necessary in order to fill up the allotted time. The first week aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity. In week two, increase your endurance section by at least 10 minutes.
Raw strength is needed to get your body off the ground in complex jumps and difficult tumbling skills. Lifting another cheerleader off the ground is no easy feat. Include a strength training component at least three times per week in your two-week workout. Take one day off in between to allow your muscles to recover. Exercises that use your own body weight for resistance are the easiest to incorporate because they do not require any equipment and can be done anywhere. Consider squats and lunges for your legs, pushups for your chest and arms and crunches to build a strong core. A great core-training exercise that mimics the motions of a jump is the V-up or jackknife situp. Start on your back with your legs straight and your arms extended overhead. Lift your arms and legs off the ground at the same time, bringing your body to a V position with only your rear in contact with the ground. Lower back down to the starting position, but do not let your arms or legs touch the ground in between repetitions. Perform V-ups in sets of 10. By the second week, do three to five sets of 10.
Cheerleaders need to be extremely flexible. The straddle position of a toe touch jump and the arched position of a scorpion stunting position call for pliable muscles and a wide range of motion in your joints. Stretch every day during your two-week program. Warm up your muscles prior to stretching, and hold all stretching positions for 30 seconds. Include split, straddle and bridge stretching positions. Improving flexibility takes time. Do not expect miracles by the end of two weeks. Flexibility training is something that you will need to continue long after your two-week workout program has ended.
Good balance will help you steady yourself in a stunting position, provide a strong foundation for the stunt and land securely after tumbling and jumps. Train for balance at every single workout you do by executing stunting positions on the ground. For example, stand with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms in a high V position overhead. Practice proper alignment by pulling your abs in toward your spine and relaxing your shoulder blades. Perform one-foot positions, like a liberty and heel stretch as well. During week one, execute your positions on solid ground. By the second week of your program, attempt these positions on something that will challenge your stability. If you have access to a wobble-cushion, which resembles a flattened stability ball, perform your stunting positions on it. Otherwise, simply balance on a pillow or a couch cushion.
While cheerleading has evolved to include more gymnastics moves and pyramids, it hasn't left cheerleading jumps behind. Proper technique, stretching and a lot of practice can improve your jumps both in height and form. Try not to get discouraged if you don't notice immediate results--improving your vertical jump and flexibility takes time and repetition. Always start with a proper warm-up prior to practicing cheer jumps and end with an appropriate cool-down that includes stretches.
A 2004 study by Ian Shrier reports that regular stretching improves jump height and reduces the risk of injury and soreness. Stretch each section of your leg used to execute jumps with appropriate moves such as hamstring, quadricep and calf stretches. It is also important to stretch your hip flexors and inner thighs.
In a seated straddle position, turn your body toward one leg and gently reach for your foot. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Sit up and repeat on the opposite side. This stretch works the hip flexors, hamstrings, inner thighs and lower back, which are all used when performing cheer jumps.
Perform a butterfly stretch by sitting with your knees bent and the soles of your feet touching one another. Keep your back straight and hold the tops of your feet. Gently press your knees to the ground, stretching your inner thighs. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat several times. Breathe as you hold each stretch, only stretching to the point of comfortable tension.
Seated Toe Touches
Cheerleading jumps use a variety of muscles, including hip flexors, which help lift your legs into position when doing toe touches, hurdlers or other jumps. To isolate the hip flexors and abdominal muscles, sit on the floor in a tuck position with your knees pulled in to your chest. Balance so that your feet come slightly off the floor, and keep your arms at your side.
While seated, quickly spread your legs and arms into a toe touch position, then return to a tuck position. Perform the exercise several times to work on balance. Focus on pointing your toes, straightening your legs and elongating your back. Use this exercise to practice "sitting back" in your jumps, the proper technique for cheer jumps. Varsity.com recommends starting with three sets of five, working up to 15 repetitions.
Perform straddle lifts by placing your hands on each side of one leg while seated in the straddle position. Use your hands to balance so that you do not use your abdominal muscles--focus on using your hip flexor. Lift one leg two inches off the floor and hold for two counts, then relax. Point your toe, keeping your leg straight. Repeat the exercise on the other leg. Do five repetitions on each leg. As strength and flexibility increase, lift both legs at the same time.
It may seem too simple, but the best way to practice cheer jumps is to practice jumping. Do jumping drills on the ground to build endurance and practice timing. Try five jumps each of T-jumps--bring your arms out to a "T" as you jump straight up--tuck jumps, left and right hurdlers, pikes and toe touches.
Start by resting between each set of five, and add more jumps as stamina increases. Practice cheer jumps on a trampoline when possible. Performing jumps on a trampoline gives you height and the opportunity to work on technique and form. Use caution and safety measures when jumping on a trampoline.