Cheerleading is a demanding sport that requires a high level of fitness. Cheerleaders train on a near-daily basis to improve their strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness; but exercise is just one piece of the puzzle. Cheerleaders must also be mindful of their diet; a large part of overall fitness depends on foods that are used to fuel the body. Eating the wrong foods can be detrimental to a total training plan.
Strength training is necessary because it improves balance, helps to maintain a healthy weight, strengthens the bones, improves sleep and improves mood. Cheerleaders must be strong and lean to be the most competitive, and strength training three days per week, on alternating days, is the best way to achieve this. Some of the best exercises to improve strength include traditional push ups, lunges, squats, crunches, planks, triceps dips and sit ups. Each exercise should be done in three sets of 12 and the plank should be held for one to two minutes.
Flexibility is the hallmark of cheerleading. Having good flexibility helps to improve athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury. Flexibility is necessary to perform the various tumbles, jumps, kicks and splits that cheerleaders do with each routine. Flexibility training is best done after completing cardiovascular exercise because the muscles will be sufficiently warmed up and ready to be stretched and lengthened. A good flexibility routine will focus on stretching and lengthening all of the muscles; each stretch should be held for one to two minutes to ensure optimum lengthening of all major muscle groups in the body.
Cardio for Cheerleaders
Regular cardiovascular exercise builds endurance, reduces body weight, reduces blood pressure and increases insulin sensitivity, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association. Running, swimming and cycling are all good options for completing cardiovascular training because these will get the heart rate up high enough to ensure you are getting the benefits of the workout. Cheerleaders should aim to work out at 60 to 80 percent of their maximum heart rate for 45 to 60 minutes at least five days per week to build endurance and help maintain it.
Cheerleaders require the proper amounts of calories, fluids, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals to perform at their athletic peak. Carbohydrates provide energy and should account for about half of the day's calories. It is important to consume complex carbohydrates because or their vitamin and mineral content. Protein is needed to repair body tissues after physical activity; only about 10 percent of calories need to come from protein sources. Fluids are critical to prevent dehydration and cheerleaders should be getting about a half cup of water per 10 to 15 minutes of training. According to a study published in the "Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine," female athletes need more potassium, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, sodium and especially iron, than non-athletic women. But these needs can be met through a balanced diet, rather than with supplements.
- MedlinePlus: Nutrition and Athletic Performance
- Colorado State University: Nutrition for the Athlete
- American Council on Exercise: Flexible Benefits
- Journal of the American Heart Association: Exercise and Cardiovascular Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Why Strength Training?
- Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: Nutritional Needs of Female Athletes
- Cleveland Clinic: Pulse and Target Heart Rate