Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Photography by Emanuel Berthe
In the last few years, the team at CheerConditioning.Academy has been working relentlessly to pinpoint what causes the most problems when performing cheer skills, both in terms of performance and injury. Our team of cheer and sports performance specialists have accumulated countless hours of study and observation in an attempt to help cheer coaches and athletes understand why and how you can transform your cheer skills, based on the most common athlete shortfalls.
What we discovered, is that there are 5 main areas that seriously hold back the majority of cheer athletes:
Poor core strength
Poor shoulder mobility & strength
Poor general awareness of the body during skills
Poor nutrition for sports performance
If you’re not familiar with these concepts and why they are so key to your cheer skills, here is what you NEED to know!
WHAT IS IT? Quad dominance is when you utilize your front side of your legs, rather than distributing your power and strength between the front (quad muscles) and the back (glutes and hamstrings). The majority of cheer athletes have an imbalance where they use the front part of the leg, rather than all of the available muscle groups.
WHY IS IT RELEVANT? Firstly, if you’re using and building only half of your leg muscles you’re only using half of your power. It also means that you are physically imbalanced. For example if you are a base with quad dominance and you throw a basket, you’re only able to muster half the power. When you catch the basket, you risk falling forward and catching unsafely. Also, forget rebounds and reloads if you are not activating your glutes, hamstrings and adductor muscles!
HOW DO YOU FIX IT? Quad dominance can only be fixed by 1) learning how to ACTIVATE your glutes and hamstrings with proper posture/ core engagement 2) Adding skill-specific conditioning to your training that targets glutes and hamstrings 3) ACTIVELY being conscious of using these muscle groups when performing cheer skills, using the muscle memory you learned during your conditioning. CCA Members can watch our BBS Training: Fix Weak Glutes video on the CCA portal HERE, which includes a short test to see if you are quad dominant, exercises on how to fix this, and how to implement it into cheer skills.
WHAT IS IT? Core strength is not abs. It’s not having a washboard stomach. Abs are superficial muscles, whereas the CORE muscles lie beneath (think of the inner layers of an onion). The sad reality is that the majority of cheer athletes have a weak core and they don’t even know it. One way you can easily spot poor core strength with an athlete if their lower back “dips” (ie their butt sticks out) like a duck!
WHY IS IT RELEVANT? Poor core strength is not just a problem for flyers (hello floppy cradles!), but it’s even more important with basing, jumping, and tumbling skills. A poor core means that your upper body and lower body strength is disjointed and you’re creating a “strength gap” in the middle - almost as if there is a broken link in a chain. Plus, a weak core means that if a skill falls heavily and unexpectedly, it increases risk of injury anywhere in the body.
HOW DO YOU FIX IT? Firstly you need to identify how strong or weak your core is because it’s not linked to how many situps you can do! Now that you understand the importance 1) use progression conditioning to strengthen your core 2) understand how to activate your core during various cheer skills 3) ACTIVELY engaging the core and using it correctly in your cheer skills until it becomes habit. CCA Members can watch our BBS Training: Fix Weak Core video on the CCA Portal HERE, which includes a short test to see how strong your core is and exercise progressions to help you fix this and implement into your cheer skills!
WHAT IS IT? It is the inability to bring back your arms behind your head, WITHOUT your ribs popping out while at the same having enough strength to hold weight or tension. You can easily see this when athletes perform a bridge: 1) is the head vertically in line on top of the hands or are the hands in front of the head? 2) can they hold a stable bridge for a long time or do they look like they are about to collapse?
WHY IS IT RELEVANT? If you have poor shoulder strength (ie you cannot perform a stable bridge or handstand) you can’t expect the athlete to have ANY strong tumbling or basing skills. It would be like holding a tent up with plastic straws. You can nag an athlete all you want about technique, but unless they have shoulder mobility and strength you’re simply asking them to do something their body is not capable of... you can fix the “grip” all you want in the stunt but if you don’t have solidity under the grip it’s all rather pointless.
HOW DO YOU FIX IT? The only way to fix poor shoulder mobility and strength is making it a focus point as part of your cheer training. By adding bridge and handstand work in your warmup, and adding flexibility work in the cool-down. You might think you “just don’t have time” but you wouldn’t believe how much time you are actually saving because you will be spending a lot less of it fixing wobbly stunts and tumbling. CCA Members can watch the full BBS Training: Shoulder Flexibility & Mobility episode on the CCA Portal HERE, for a complete stretch routine that addresses this specific issue.
BODY AWARENESS DURING SKILLS (PROPRIOCEPTION)
WHAT IS IT? This concerns the issue that most athletes don’t have a clue of how to operate their own body when it comes to performing a skill. They might know the counts and the technique, but do they know which part of the body they need to use?? Probably not - and unfortunately a lot of coaches also lack this knowledge as well.. but you don’t have to have a degree in Sports Science in order to know the basics: having a checklist of things to watch out for when performing skills can make a world of difference!
WHY IS IT RELEVANT? Not knowing the basics of how your body works when performing a skill is like driving a stick-shift car without knowing how to use the gears.. this is the recipe to crash! You don’t have to be as proficient as a formula 1 or a rally driver, but knowing the basics will make a whole lot of difference!
HOW DO YOU FIX IT? As a coach, being aware of the major things to look out for when performing skills and helping your athletes being more conscious of how to use their bodies, is key. We are in the process of producing a new “Stunt Optimisation” episode for the CCA Portal which helps to identify how to best use the body during stunts to maximise performance, but also we have an entire library of videos and articles to help you dig a little deeper.. of course there is always the book Body Before Skill: Sports Performance for Cheerleading that is an entire manual on this subject!
SPORTS PERFORMANCE NUTRITION
WHAT IS IT? It’s not eating salad to look skinny. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s about using food as fuel to maximise performance. It’s science. It’s the kind of fuel you put in your car so that it can perform for you instead of crashing and burning.
WHY IS IT RELEVANT? Many of us see food as something that tastes good and fills us up: yet food is so much more than that. The chemistry of each type of food has an IMMEDIATE and LONG TERM effect on how your body performs. Would you drink 4 espressos before going to bed? No, because it will keep you awake all night.. yet so many cheer athletes eat the the wrong thing before practice and at competition that results in falls, without even knowing it!
HOW DO YOU FIX IT? Again, some basic awareness! You do not need to be a nutritionist to know what you should eat or not. A few simple guidelines can make a world of difference. We have a quick downloadable guide for athletes and parents (just subscribe to our mailing list to get a free download copy) and we also highly recommend the book by our dear friend and CCA contributor, Coach Sahil M: The Cheer Diet
We hope that learning a little bit about these 5 key areas will help you have your “AHA” moments next time you look at a skill that’s going wrong: some things just can’t be fixed with technique or timing. Sometimes, we just need better bodies! We hope this week’s #CheerTipTuesday was useful to you and we welcome our CCA Members to explore the #BodyBeforeSkill videos on the CCA portal to really get to grips with this fascinating world of Sports Performance for Cheerleading!
Personally, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped me collect and combine the knowledge, resources, know-how and observations needed to put together this valuable information: Holly Cammell, Justin Schneider, Bernette Beyers & Vayden Beyeveld.
Jessica Zoo, Founder - CheerConditioning.Academy
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