Cheerleading requires whole body fitness. It is not a sport where you can solely condition one part of the body and be successful. There is one section of body in particular which connects nearly all aspects of cheerleading, from stunting to tumbling to jumping, the core. The core area of your body is also known as your midsection and the muscles within this section all work together to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Balance is a skill incorporated heavily throughout cheerleading and is reflective of your level of core strength. As a result, it is equally important for flyers to be flexible as it is for them to have good core strength.
Core strength can be tested in many ways, but a simple way to gauge your core strength is to time a plank hold. In a plank, you hold an adapted push up position (everything is the same as a traditional push-up, but you rest on your elbows with your forearms against the ground). Be sure that you have created a straight plane with your body. Avoid allowing your hips to sag or elevating your butt. These mistakes will not give you a true result. Being able to hold this position comfortably while resting on your toes and forearms for one minute is the sign of a good foundation. Planks can be used as conditioning exercises as well.
Not only will having good core strength improve your cheer skills, but it will also drastically decrease your chances of injury, especially to the back area. Now that the importance of core conditioning has been established, check out the great exercises below to help you strengthen your core muscles and count down the days until you see improvement in your tumbling, jumps and stunting!
As stated above plank holds are great as exercises too! Try this version of the plank hold to elevate the difficulty of the original version.
Elevated Push Up
Find a structure about one to two feet off the ground (a bed or an exercise ball work great). Assume a push up position with top of your feet resting on that structure and your hands on the ground. Similar to the plank, you want to ensure that your back is straight and that you are contracting your stomach muscles to truly benefit from this exercise. Hold this position for as long as you can, rest and repeat.
Hollow Body Hold
Lie on your back and elevate your feet about six to eight inches off the ground. Avoid going any higher because it will diminish the gain of this exercise. Your arms should be placed straight above you (elbows near your ears). Lift your arms and shoulders off the ground. At this point all that should be touching the ground is your butt and back. Tuck your chin into your chest so that you are looking at your toes. Hold this position for as long as you can, rest and repeat. If you need to take this exercise down a notch, begin by placing your arms down by your side. This will reduce the strain on your midsection. If you would like to elevate this exercise, try a steady rock while in this position. Remember, even if rocking, your feet and shoulders should not hit the ground and the focus should still be on contracting the muscles in your midsection.
Begin sitting on the ground with your knees bent and feet planted in front of you. Extend your arms straight out in front of you. Your elbows and knees should almost align. Lift your feet off the ground and slightly rotate backwards. Extend your legs out parallel to the ground. Hold this position for one second and bring your legs back in bent toward your chest. Do not allow your feet to touch the ground. Repeat this motion for 8-10 reps. Rest and repeat.
Get your cape ready because in this exercise you will look like Superman in flight. Begin lying face down on the floor with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms extended straight up (elbows by your ears). Simultaneously, lift your arms, head, shoulders, and legs off the ground as high as possible. This is a slow and controlled lift. Do not jerk your body into this position. Hold for one second and return to the beginning position. Repeat for about 8 – 10 reps, rest and repeat.
In this exercise you will begin on lying flat your back with your legs extended straight out. Your hands should be positioned at your sides. Next lift your head, shoulders and feet off the ground. You should elevate both ends about six inches above the ground and look toward your toes. Once in the elevated position begin fluttering your feet (lift one up while pushing the other down and alternate). During the fluttering motion focus on contracting your stomach muscles. Try to push your stomach muscles into the ground. This is a timed exercise. Set one minute as a beginning goal and decrease or increase as necessary.
Also remember there are many common exercises that will also work your core muscles such as sit ups, crunches and v-ups. The most important thing about doing these exercises is consistency. Create a daily schedule that allows you to commit at least thirty minutes a day to conditioning and you will see results soon.