Gone are the days when cheerleaders stood on the sidelines without breaking a sweat and "rah rahed" while shaking pom poms. Today's cheerleaders participate in a heavy-duty contact sport that demands a high level of athleticism, strength, flexibility, balance and endurance, all of which are driven by the power of the Core. Cheer now requires a high level of discipline, long practice hours, and infinite bravery. According to the Sports Injury Center and National Cheer Safety Foundation, over 70% of cheerleading injuries are strains, sprains and soft tissue injuries, and cheerleading accounts for over 65% of the catastrophic injuries in female sports. The athletic demands of today's cheer can no longer be ignored.
These young athletes (most aged 5-18, unless they continue through college and professionally) dance hard, lift their teammates overhead, tumble like gymnasts, and get tossed around like confetti at a wedding. Take a moment to think about the strength it takes to do all that! It's no wonder that hamstrings and groins get pulled, backs get injured, knees, ankles and wrists get sprained, and shoulders get dislocated. And because cheerleaders often start stunting very young, there is a high potential for strain on immature joint structures that may not have yet developed the muscularity to keep the joints stable.
The best coaches take conditioning seriously and stress safety. They drill basics, teach progressions, and do a great job trying to keep their teams healthy. But with the high number of injuries sustained performing super human feats, it is clear that cheerleading has developed into a sport that deserves athletic kudos and requires a high level of cross training in order to be successful and healthy.
So whether you're a solid base or a flyer who craves anti-gravity, cross train for success. A strong conditioning program starts with solid Core strength, flexibility, balance, healthy body mechanics, and addresses the muscular imbalances of the sport. Don't let the smile and pep fool you. Cheerleading deserves serious respect. Train both your body and mind for success. Go Team!