What Effect Does Cheerleading Have on Exercise & Female Athletes?

By Debbie Lechtman

There is more to cheerleading than pompoms and midriff uniforms. To perform stunts and tumbling passes, cheerleaders must develop athletic skill, power and flexibility. Because the sport is all about the team, girls must learn to work well with others for the best results. All of these factors can have a positive effect on an athlete, both physically and emotionally.


After months or even years of practicing the sport, cheerleaders become incredibly flexible. Flexibility is especially important when it comes to mastering jumps and stunts. When a cheerleader isn't flexible, she risks injuring herself. Coaches at schools such as Victory Cheerleading in North Carolina, for example, offer classes dedicated entirely to cheer stretches, such as the scorpion, scale, heel stretch and overstretch.


Cheerleaders are strong. According to Hillsborough Dukes Cheer, athletes must include strength training in their conditioning regimen to facilitate the performance of partner lifts, basket tosses, pyramids and tumbling. To build muscle, the organization recommends doing 10 to 12 repetitions of situps, pushups, pullups, partner leg lifts and leg lunges during practice. As the cheerleader grows more fit, she can bring the repetitions up to 75 to 100.


Cheerleading builds cardiovascular fitness. During competition, cheerleaders perform stunts, tumbling moves and energetic choreography in just 2 1/2 minutes. To successfully complete every part of the routine, cheerleaders must build plenty of endurance. You can do this by running, jogging, dancing, swimming or kickboxing, for example, at about 75 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes or more.


Because of its spirited nature and emphasis on teamwork, cheerleading is a fun sport. For many girls, this will serve as motivation to stay active and benefit from exercise. According to "Psychology Today," motivation to work out comes from several factors present in cheerleading, such as partner work, love for the activity, goal setting and competition. In fact, cheerleaders are so motivated to exercise that in 2002 Northern Michigan University found that 62 percent of cheerleaders also participate in another sport.

Safety Considerations

Cheerleaders must always take safety precautions to avoid injuries. Lower body injuries are especially prevalent in this sport, although upper body, torso and head injuries are also common. To reduce the risk of hurting yourself, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only training under the supervision of a certified coach. It also advises cheerleaders to work on the appropriate strength training and flexibility exercises and not to tumble or perform stunts on hard surfaces.


About the Author

Debbie Lechtman is a writer living in Hartford, Conn. She has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. In the past, she has worked for major national publications, specializing in fitness and wellness. Currently, she works as a writer and copywriter and is awaiting the upcoming publication of two short stories in literary magazines.

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