Some people like to joke that cheerleading isn't a real sport, but cheering actually involves an incredible amount of physical and mental dedication. The United States Sports Academy reports that this high-intensity sport causes more than 65 percent of all catastrophic injuries among youth athletes. Only one sport is more dangerous, and that's football. Keep your body performance-ready and reduce the risk of injury by practicing proper cheerleading conditioning techniques.
Tailored Conditioning Routines
Every cheer team has its own strengths and weaknesses. The National Cheerleaders Association recommends that your conditioning efforts reflect this. Have teams practice yelling a cheer as they perform line drills or run laps, suggests the NCA. If you are conditioning at home, take a moment to identify which of your skills need a little extra help so you can address them during your routine.
Being a talented cheerleader requires more than a toned, flexible body. Confidence makes it possible to jump, flip and remain calm in front of a large audience. Start by practicing moves that you or your team struggle with. Do them again and again until you feel comfortable with your level of skill. Remind yourself that one mistake does not make you an unskilled cheerleader. Build a team's confidence by gathering members in a circle and having each teammate list her best cheer-related skills, as well as the best qualities of other cheerleaders on the squad.
Flexibility helps cheerleaders perform dance moves, cartwheels and splits. Stretching increases flexibility, but experts have different opinions about when athletes should stretch. Mayo Clinic takes a "better safe than sorry" approach regarding pre-workout stretches. The site warns that studies show mixed results about the effectiveness of stretching before a workout, but states that stretches may help reduce injuries and improve flexibility. The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps believes that post-workout stretches are best and favors static stretching, a popular technique in the sports world that involves holding a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Cheerleading uses muscles from many different parts of the body, but the legs and hips are extra important. Focus on exercises that increase flexibility in the lower part of the body.
Cheerleaders don't get a chance to stop and rest during a routine. Improve endurance by practicing high-energy skills like running and jumping. Have your squad jog around the track or gym for a specified period of time, rather than a certain distance, for optimal results. Avoid frequent rest breaks during practice by ensuring that your endurance conditioning routine quickly moves to different body parts, such as 30 seconds of intense upper-body movement followed by 30 seconds of pushups or lunges.
Cheerleading includes many physical demands, including the ability to catapult your body through the air and lift teammates above your head. These physical demands may result in injuries if your body is not conditioned properly. A study published in the "American Journal of Emergency Medicine" shows that sprains and strains are the most common injury types for cheerleaders, and 34 percent of these injuries occur during stunts. The study suggests that athletes reduce the risk of sprains and strains by focusing on strength-related exercises and conditioning, such as squats and dips.
- The American Journal of Emergency Medicine: Epidemiology of Strain/Sprain Injuries Among Cheerleaders in the United States
- Cheer Coach Magazine and Advisor: Mental Training and Motivation: Preparing Your Athletes for Competition
- MayoClinic.com: Stretching: Focus on Flexibility
- U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps: Stretching
- Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images