I have a question for all the cheerleaders out there... how do you get fit for cheer?
A cheerleading routine is completely different to most other sports - we jump, stunt, tumble and dance for 2 minutes and 30 seconds straight. We use explosive power and strength but we also need endurance to ensure we can give it our all in the dance break at the very end. General fitness just doesn't cut it when you need to go full out.
Please Note: This advice is not meant to replace treatment by a medical professional, always use caution and common sense, seek additional support if needed.
To get fit for cheerleading, you have to train for cheerleading. Your training needs to be "sport specific". This means that when you train, it should mimic how you perform. An hour of jogging may be great for your general fitness and staying healthy but it will help very little when you're on the competition floor.
The best form of training to replicate what we do is high intensity interval training, usually referred to as HIIT. This type of training involves a high intensity "work" period where you push yourself really hard, followed by a short "rest" period where you either relax or work at a far lower intensity. This is similar to a cheer routine where you're stunting, jumping or tumbling all out but you then have 8 counts or so to breathe while you move to your next spot, or wait for your turn to tumble.
The Science behind energy
Understanding how our body uses energy throughout a cheer routine is the first step to knowing how to train for a performance.
Our body draws energy from three main systems. These energy systems convert fuel - from food - into a currency that our muscles can use for movement (ATP). Because cheer routines are only 2:30 we mainly use the first two systems. For short bursts of explosive movement, like jumps, we use the creatine-phosphate system. The CP system is great at producing lots of energy really fast to power high intensity movement but it doesn’t last very long (less than 10 seconds). Once we’ve run out of the fuel for the first system we cross over to our anaerobic system which has more fuel stored and doesn't burn energy quite as fast so it can keep going for longer, but not at such a high intensity. We continue to use our anaerobic system for the rest of our cheer routine but from about 45 seconds in we are also slowly beginning to use our third energy system. The aerobic energy system can keep going for a very long time but only at a low intensity. Throughout the routine our CP (first) system will recover enough to provide short bursts of extra power when we need it to tumble, jump and stunt! Between each full out our first two energy systems need enough time to fully recover so that they can provide enough power next time.
So what was the point of explaining all that?
Well, using the earlier analogy of jogging, if we we're to run slowly for an hour we would be using our aerobic energy system. When we train one energy system it gets better - like training a muscle to get stronger. Unfortunately we don't use our aerobic system much in a cheer routine, it's less of a jog and more like a fast run with a few sprints thrown in. If you want to get good at sprinting, you have to practice sprinting, you also have to leave enough time between sprints to recover or you will run slower and slower each time. Cheerleading is just the same - we need to train our first two energy systems to provide power for a whole routine and the more we train them specifically for that job, the better they will get at doing it.
This means we need to practice pushing our energy systems hard for the duration of a cheer routine, not longer so that we start training our aerobic system instead. HIIT training is a great way to mimic the ups and downs of a cheer routine, pushing through explosive movements (like we would for jumps, stunts and tumbling) followed by lighter activity (choreography to your next spot).
On a side note: I just wanted to clarify that our team trainings that usually last for hours, rather than minutes, do rely on our aerobic energy systems to get us through. When we do intense movement within that training we use our other systems in bursts and give them a chance to recharge as we listen to corrections from the coach, mark through skills, practice low intensity skills or go to have a water break.
Not only is it important that the training you do works your energy systems in the right way, you will get the most benefit from movements that are similar to what you need for cheer. You can train your energy systems using high intensity intervals of running as we touched on earlier but this doesn’t translate perfectly to cheer. Research shows that our bodies adaptations to training are not only intensity specific but also movement specific. This means to be fit to perform cheer movements you have to practice cheer specific movements. The best way to do this? Running your routine full-out! It may seem like your coach is trying to torture you but training your routine full out as many times as possible will prepare your body for competition.
Unfortunately we can’t practice full out by ourselves at home. A cheer specific HIIT workout is the next best thing! Training the muscles, movements and energy systems needed to improve your ability to get through full outs at practice and on the competition floor.
To put together a cheer HIIT workout, you need to find and put together exercises that work your body in a similar way to stunting, jumping and tumbling. Fortunately we’ve done the hard work for you.
Click here to get a FREE at-home cheer HIIT workout!
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TRAIN FIERCE x