With a myriad of complex jumps and stunts involved, it takes some serious strength and flexibility to be a cheerleader. Not only will training to improve your strength and flexibility help you jump higher, but it can help you prevent injuries from falls and strains. Exercises including strength training, plyometrics and kinetic band training can help you improve -- but if you're a minor, keep in mind that all training exercises should be done under the supervision of a qualified coach or trainer.
Traditional Strength Training
Cheerleaders need strong legs in order to jump higher and faster, so you need traditional strength training. A healthy routine focuses on all the major muscle groups, so don't overlook the arms and back. However, the majority of the power for jumps will come from strength in the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, and the stability will come from the core muscles of the abdomen. Twice a week, perform at least two sets of weighted squats and lunges. To isolate the glutes, perform two sets of glute bridge exercises. You can also use machines such as the leg press in the "up" position, pointing and flexing your toes to work the calves, as well as the hamstring curl and the leg extension machines. Ideally, perform two to three sets of two to three exercises for each muscle group, two times a week. For the core, add in pullups, dips and planks, holding the planks for as long as you can, for a total of two to three rounds.
Plyometrics is a form of rapid jump training that builds explosive power. For each exercise, jump as high as you can, keeping your knees aligned over your ankles and your chest tilted forward slightly, so it's over your knees. As soon as you land one jump, launch into the next one. Start with your feet together, bend your knees and jump up into the air, starting the next jump as soon as you land the previous one. After 10 jumps, rest a few seconds, and then jump off with one foot and land with the next, repeating the pattern for a total of 10 jumps on each side. Also do box jumps, jumping up onto a 1-foot high box, landing back down on the ground, and then immediately jumping onto an 18-inch box. Go back to the shorter box and repeat the cycle 10 times. Then do the box jumps with a single foot. Another option: do your regular cheer jumps 10 times in succession.
Resistance Band Training
Another option for building explosive power is using kinetic bands. With the bands wrapped around your thighs, you'll perform your regular cheer jumps, such as arabesques, herkies or toe touches, thus adding resistance as you jump. Perform multiple jumps in sequence, and when you remove the bands, you'll find your jump strength and flexibility can be greatly improved. Kinetic bands come with varying levels of resistance for beginners, intermediate and more advanced users and are made by various companies, so be sure to follow the installation and usage instructions that came with the bands carefully to avoid injury or strain.
The most common types of injuries in cheerleading are strains and sprains, suggests Ohio's Nationwide Children's Hospital, so proper warm-ups and stretching should always be part of your routine. Static stretching before your workout doesn't really help, so to warm up, do five to 10 minutes of light cardio, such as jogging or cycling and then dynamic stretches like arm circles or leg kicks. Stretching for flexibility should take place at the end of practice or at the end of your workouts. To stretch for the straddle jump, sit down in a straddle position and allow your chest to fall toward the floor. Raise your chest up, and then reach your arms toward one leg, keeping your chest facing forward. For the pike jump, place your legs in front of you and allow your chest to fall forward. Work on your side or single-leg splits by contracting your muscles slightly and then allowing them to relax. When they relax, sink deeper into the stretch.