Updated: Apr 1, 2019
By now, we’re all pretty much aware that conditioning is not just something cheerleaders do after shampoo. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, cheerleading can be considered a sport by anyone who understands even the basic concept of athleticism. Whether it’s recognised or supported is an entirely different story. The fact is that every year, we send out teams of 20-30 people to flip, lift, throw, jump, and burn out for 2:30 minutes on a competition mat. They probably do this a number of times a year, and it takes a lot of hard work (and the best part of our sanity) to prepare them. Conditioning is to cheerleading like dough is to pizza. You can have all the fancy stuff on top but without a solid foundation it’s all going to fall through. The question that’s still on everyone’s lips is still: “we don’t have time” - “we tell our athletes to do it but we have no way of checking” or even “we’ve done loads of conditioning at training before but it wasn’t really working”. So here is how you solve this. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The KEY to implementing conditioning at training is to ensure the workouts are learned and trained OUTSIDE of practice so that it does not eat into your coaching time. This, and making sure that athletes do this in between training was the key element in creating the INTENSITY™ program. It’s an easy 3 step approach:
1 - TEST AND MEASURE
Once a month or every two months, take 10 minutes instead of doing a regular warm up to test how many of these exercises the athletes can do in one minute. Give each athlete a pen and a Fitness Tracker and start the stopwatch. They have ONE minute to do the first exercise. 2 minutes rest, then then next. The best part is that it’s time-efficient, they self-test, they are in competition with themselves, and it’s not skill related. Collect them in a box and distribute them again at the next fitness test.
2 - GIVE HOMEWORK
It’s perfectly normal to expect a competitive athlete to train at least TWICE during the week outside of team and additional skills training. Not only that, it’s NECESSARY. (Flyers should also be stretching every day for flexibility to see improvement). The best way to do this is to give them a ready-made workout which has been video-recorded to do at home for the next week (we recommend each workout be a minimum 20min of HIGH INTENSITY cardio training + muscular conditioning) with names of exercises that they will remember when you call them out at training.
3 - CHECK AT TRAINING
This is where you ensure your athletes are actually doing the work at home. All you need to do is say the words: “Alright, everyone find a space and give me 20 Ninja Sequences” (or whatever exercise you pick among that week’s workout) and you’ll probably see one of two things happening: panic in their eyes, confusion, and maybe a few of them getting down and doing the exercise. So you’ll instantly see who’s done their homework and who has not. You can then choose two forms of discipline to ensure they all do their homework:
A - Give those who clearly have done their homework a rest, and those who haven’t extra reps to make up for their lack of homework.
B - Ask those that have not done their homework to attend an extra conditioning class.
C - Give the ENTIRE team extra homework for next week and reduce their homework when you’re confident they’re all falling into rank.
Regardless of which option suits your team best for step 3, it’s 5 minutes you can use as part of your warmup every week and requires no teaching, demonstration, tracking or fussing. The three-step approach is very effective, and it makes the process of ‘eating the elephant’ much more manageable because it’s broken down into bite sizes. The key is to keep the consistency throughout the entire season: make sure at every practice you give 1 piece of homework and check it the next week as part of your warmup or training.
Athletes try to achieve the highest possible skill in order to place on their desired team. This is a great time to test the fitness level of athletes in addition to their cheer skills because those with higher fitness levels are less likely to get injured and they will be able to cope with the fast pace of the team. Athletes with poor fitness might fall behind or suffer from injuries due to a deficient body - this can be a frustration to the athletes, coaches and team as a whole so it’s important to place athletes on a team not just based on their skill ability but also on their entire fitness ability as well.
Athletes usually learn the new skills that they will use for the rest of the year at intensive cheer camps. Fitness levels may fall behind the ability to correctly execute the skill being practiced, making the skill more time-consuming to develop and unsafe to perform. This can explained by athletes having just gone through an extended rest and recovery before the camp, or because the effort required exceeds their body’s potential at this time. Break up the day by teaching your new conditioning workouts and exercises.
Hold a separate clinic to teach the warmup and conditioning exercises that will be used until the next competition. If you do not have a fitness professional on the team or you would like to get external help, get in touch with CheerConditioning.Academy.
The warm up section of cheerleading training is usually the one that is most overlooked and where time is not used at its best. The first 15 minutes of training are essential to help you make the most of the training session, i.e. set the tone, build the strength, stamina and endurance for the rest of the season just as you would with any other skill. An effective warm up uses a combination of skill-specific drills that are designed to develop appropriate muscle sequencing, technique and enhance the natural mechanics of the athlete’s body. This is NOT the time for developmental flexibility as it will compromise explosiveness and joint stability. Instead of stretching for flexibility, stretch for full mobility.
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Adding an entire section of strength and power training during a cheer practice is not always realistic due to time constraints, and also not beneficial to the athletes. Unnecessary muscle fatigue caused by conditioning during training is likely to weaken the joints and reduce the muscle power for when athletes need it the most: to train and develop their cheer skills. Using short bursts of targeted activity and rotate through the muscle groups will make the best use of time.
The last five minutes of a cheer training session should be dedicated to increasing the long-term flexibility of the athletes, lowering the heart rate back to normal and preventing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). Not stretching at the end of the session could completely reverse any flexibility progress and cause injury / soreness in the following days.
In addition to setting homework with home workouts, offering a regular conditioning class or doing home workouts in-between training is really the best way to develop the conditioning of your athletes. This way, their strengthening, flexibility, speed, power and all other athletic elements can be trained at their best by pushing their body on days where they don’t have to conserve their energies and joint integrity for skills.