Updated: Mar 31, 2019
by Coach Sahil M.
It's no secret how far the sport of cheer has come in the last ten years. Every season, the boundaries of stunt difficulty, creativity, and execution get pushed further than we ever thought possible. But this boundary-pushing comes at a cost; higher physical demand on athletes. If you're a male cheerleader that aspires to compete at the international level, possessing elite strength is a necessity.
THE 2 "FLAVORS" OF STRENGTH; GENERAL AND SPECIFIC Think of general strength as an attribute that's achieved through tried and true methods. Great examples of this are body weight exercises and common weight lifting movements like the squat, dead lift, and bench press. Specific strength on the other hand develops attributes that are uniquely required to excel at a particular sport. For example, when building strength and conditioning programs for amateur MMA fighters or Brazilian Jujitsu practitioners, many of the traditional lifts and exercises are altered to make it more sport specific. Instead of making them do rows and pull downs using a normal bar or handle, rope attachments are used to increase grip strength, which is specific to their sport. Today I'll be revealing the top 3 lifts that will build the specific strength attributes which are needed to become an elite male cheerleader. Let's get to work, gentlemen! Side Note: Ladies, feel free to join in and try these exercises for yourself. These lifts are great for all cheerleaders and won't make ladies look like the hulk: especially if you lower the resistance and train more reps.
1) UNILATERAL VERTICAL DUMBBELL PRESS
Yes I know, it sounds like a mouthful. But if you break down the name for a second, it will make more sense. "Uni" means one, "lateral" means to the side. Vertical means... well, I sure hope you know what that means. You'll be doing a one sided press with a dumbbell while it's held vertically.
WHY? Why press one side at a time instead of holding a barbell or two dumbbells? By doing each side separately, more core and supportive muscles are required to complete this effectively. Which are super important when you're responsible for holding a human above your head. Safety Note: The size and shape of dumbbells vary depending on the brand, so it'll be up to you to find ones that have an appropriate shape and flat head so you can do this exercise. If holding a dumbbell vertically feels dangerous or unsafe in anyway, just grab it normally and do the press. You'll still gain 90% of the benefits. At some point, you have to evaluate the risk/reward. If you hurt yourself, I am not responsible! WHEN YOU SHOULD DO IT: My recommendation is to do this lift on leg day, arm day, or a "pull" day. Days when you aren't doing too many other pressing movements (i.e don't do this on bench day or a stunt heavy day).
2) PAUSED FRONT SQUATS
Think about the "toss to hands" for a second. Where exactly is the load positioned relative to your Coronal Plane? If you want to Google "Coronal plane" quickly, go ahead. But for everyone else, it is the plane that cuts the body in half (back and belly). If you answered "frontal" then congratulations, you get a cookie! Doesn't it make sense to train your leg power and strength with a frontal load? The majority of your squatting should be done based on what you need in cheer. I also do not recommend using the Olympic grip (where the wrists are bent backwards). This is for safety reasons, you are already putting lots of stress on this joint.
WHY: Why the pause? Slowing down the tempo builds up lactic acid. Not only is this fantastic for fat burning, but it trains you to explode without relying the "stretch reflex" of your muscles. As well as building strength and stability at the bottom ranges of your movement. Once you get strong at paused squats, expect your standing tucks and fulls to become very, very high. WHEN YOU SHOULD DO IT: This should be done on your regular leg day (which we know you already have, right?). Since these are so demanding, be sure to start the workout with these, then move on to the others you have planned for your leg workout.
3) DUMBBELL POWER CLEAN & PRESS
Imagine you've been paired with a new flyer who is super talented, and she has more muscle mass on her right leg than you do on your entire body. Her technique is great, and she jumps for you.. but tossing her in the air still feels as if you’re getting nowhere. Here’s what you do: get strong at the Dumbbell Power Clean & Press. WHY? If there's one exercise here that will develop your overall "tossing" power, it's this one. Please note that the "clean" is a hip dominant movement. This is an exercise that will directly improve skills such as toss to hands. This means it needs repetitions to achieve mastery.
My suggestion would be to find a certified personal trainer or coach and ask them to teach you a technically sound barbell and dumbbell clean variants. Doing a lazy PowerClean with a bag of Doritos isn't a cause for concern, but doing it with 50 pound dumbbells in each hand is something to do with care. WHEN SHOULD YOU DO IT: I recommend doing these early on in your workout and not on days you have intense cheer practice. If you have to, do these after practice and lower the weight. The last thing you want to do is go to practice with a fatigued nervous system and sore muscles.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Please remember that these lifts aren't mean to substitute your basics but rather supplement them. It’s highly suggest to still do your regular conditioning program. Add these lifts in as if you were adding fuel to fire and don't get hung up on the amount of weight. The perfect amount of weight is something you can lift for 6-10 reps without it negatively impacting your form. Safety Note: If you aren’t able to use perfect form for all reps, lower the weight. It's just that simple. Remember that working out is to strengthen your abilities in cheerleading.
If you enjoyed these exercises and want more, then consider becoming a premium member of CheerConditioningAcademy. Premium members will get access to the full 10 lifts designed to increase the specific strength of male cheerleaders along with access to the entire CCA library of exclusive content such as videos, workout guides, articles and product discounts!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Coach Sahil M. is a certified Gymnastics coach, founder of TumblingCoach.com, and a prior record setting Powerlifter. He travels the World helping coaches implement the most cutting-edge training practices, safe spotting techniques and advanced tumbling progressions so their athletes can achieve maximum performance at competitions. Want To Work With Coach Sahil? Tumbling Clinic Inquiries: www.bit.ly/tumblingclinic Coach Sahil's Products: www.tumblingcoach.com/store